Taking a break at work: are you taking enough?

Taking a break at work: are you taking enough? I don’t mean the quick toilet breaks. Or, 5-minute grab a coffee break or grabbing lunch on the run breaks. I mean those times you pause or do something which gives your brain a chance to recharge. Those break at work moments when you give yourself enough time to switch off and focus on something less taxing; when you get the chance to be inspired by something new; when you get to swallow your food before taking the next bite or get a chance to breathe properly.

Tiredness is often given as a reason by my clients as to why they can’t get promoted, to be the best leader or make decisions or spend time working on finding that next great job cite tiredness as the reason. They complain of feeling constantly exhausted, unmotivated and lacking energy. Mostly blaming the to do list and always being on the go.

Tiredness brings out the worse in everyone. From sloppy mistakes, to irritable reactions, to poor decision making and to lack of creative thinking. So yes, it’s true, tiredness will definitely play a part in our chances in getting a promotion and being the best we can be every day. However, having too much on a to do list isn’t the only reason you are tired and unenergised. Another reason can be rooted in our relationship ship with the act of taking a break at work.

So, why are we not taking a break at work as much as we should?

Here are some of the reasons I’ve noticed over the years through my work with people and teams;

  • Some people wear busy as a badge of honour. They may complain about the lack of any break but secretly they love the praise and recognition it can bring when they are seen to be always working.
  • Some people struggle with the guilt in stopping when others are still hard at their desks. Forgetting or not realising those people may have taken a break, may plan on leaving early or have a subtle way of taking a break which they may have not noticed.
  • People forget! Possibly, it’s because they get into deep ‘flow’ and forget the time. But, very often they simply forget because they put it off until the next task is completed and then the next. Too often it is the rumbling tummy at 3pm which signals to someone they didn’t stop for lunch.
  • Many people have no true connection with their health and wellbeing priorities. This means when in the throes of work we can lose perspective on what is truly important in the long run and lead ourselves ineffectively.
  • I’ve never heard someone say ‘breaks are bad for you’ so there is a general understanding of the positive benefits of taking a break. However, a true understanding of why productivity actually increases when you take more constructive breaks is lacking. As with most things If we don’t know the why in something we lack motivation to follow through.
  • People mistake working hard as always working. Maybe for example, they were once praised or rewarded for putting in the hours and this has left a self-sabotaging belief which the inner gremlin chatter feeds on.
  • People are too concerned with what other people think. There is often a worry taking a break will be perceived as lazy. Furthermore, they worry it gives off the wrong signs about their ambitions, dedication or their understanding of the importance of the work to be done. The guilt and shame gremlin chatter can be paralysing and keep you working when you really should stop.
  • Another worry may be linked to a fear that more work could be on its way. By taking a break some people often state they are concerned it flags to others wrongly that they have ‘time on their hands’ and can take on another project or task. 
  • People have poor daily and project planning habits. Planning too much to do, not understanding what is truly required or not planning at all so they never even think of scheduling break times.
  • Some people simply don’t know how to take a break at work. Idleness aversion sets in. You know those moments when you find you have time to do nothing but then you don’t know what to do so you end up filling the time with more work or a personal chore on your list. Grabbing a book, taking a walk for a breath of fresh air or calling a friend just doesn’t compute during the working day.

Truth is, taking a break at work supports emotional, physical and mental health. Breaks also help you achieve more of what you truly want out of your career and performance. Taking a break must be re-prioritised. They help prevent stress-related illnesses, eye strain and back pain. The less worn out we are the less likely we will be susceptible to a low immune system and avoid the office colds and bugs. Plus, the more on our game we are the more likely the promotion, pay rise or change we desire will come our way.

If you are struggling to take breaks here are four things to do right now;

Be honest about the reason. 

Suspend the thought ‘I have too much to do’ for a moment. Start to properly assess why you personally don’t stop enough and for long enough. As soon as you know this then you can start to take action.

Reframe what a break means to you

  • Breaks are not a sign of laziness, they are sign of control and high performance priority.
  • Breaks don’t necessarily mean you do nothing. Find something that feeds and stimulates you in another way such as exercise, reading or socialising. Or simply find a low energy task to help you relax.
  • How long you need to break for and when you need to break will depend on you. We are all different and comparison is a habit to nip in the bud. Watch yourself in terms of the wandering brain, tired eyes and mood swings. Many experts say we should break every 60 mins for 15-20 mins. Whereas others see the benefit of breaking every 20 minutes. A study by University of Illinois found that even the briefest of diversions is benefical.
  • A proper break is one which helps you slow down the inner pace for a period of time. Deep breathing and mindfulness practices help here. Need help then add apps such as Calm, Buddhify or Headspace to your smartphone.
  • Breaks mean more productivity not less. Read this article in Psychology Today on how taking a break helps your brain.
  • Breaks are not for those with time but for those who want to make more of their time!

Learn to work smarter

If you are not taking breaks, chances are you are not working smartly. No one is smart if they end up feeling stressed, exhausted and ineffective. There maybe a tendency for too much multi-tasking or running from A to B. To be a champion juggler. Maybe, to procrastinate over the smallest things or to be unable to hold attention to the right things.

Take time to reflect and pay attention to the way you plan projects and your day. Look at how you prioritise or delegate. Consider how confident you feel in relationships and in your skills. Your struggle with taking a break is very likely a sign of a bigger issue which is the real reason holding you back.

Lead by example

If a company culture is not aligned to the benefits of taking a break, then why not be the one to lead by example. This is especially key if you lead others. Sometimes it may feel uncomfortable being the one to be different but you’ll soon see others follow.

If this article resonates in some way get in touch and let’s chat about my work smarter coaching programmes.

Victoria Walsh is a certified executive and career coach. She helps individuals, teams and businesses to keep on loving and excelling in the work they do. Find out more Book a free discovery consultation call

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