Mini-Breaks, Mini-Vacations: Six Reasons They Spike Your Productivity

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes — including you.” – Anne Lamott, American writer.

We all know we need breaks occasionally to refresh ourselves at work. And sure, most of us will fight for our annual vacations; we’ll also steal away on mini-vacations on a long weekend. While we’re nowhere as enlightened as Europeans in this regard, we know the value of a few days or weeks off in terms of recharging our batteries. But not everyone takes short work breaks as seriously.

If you want to do your best work, you should take short breaks throughout the day, even for five minutes. Here’s why:

  1. They let your mind disengage its focus. Sometimes you need to think about something else for a while. Focusing too long and hard on a problem can lead not only to tiredness and stress, but also mental blocks. And who needs those when you’re trying to perform? Studies indicate brief breaks can vastly improve focus in the long run. Taking five minutes to walk around your building or climb a few flights of stairs or grab a cup of tea can freshen you up and jump-start your focus again.

  2. Your brain needs change occasionally. If repeatedly subjected to the same stimulus, your brain will eventually stop noticing it as acutely. For example: you can surround yourself with roses, but at some point, you’ll stop noticing their scent. But go into another room for even a minute and come back, and you’ll immediately notice their smell again. If you get so used to something you start stop paying direct attention to it, your performance declines.

  3. You may think you’re on a roll when you’re in a rut. Sometimes when you think you’re rolling along without a hitch, you’re suffering under a false impression. You may have become fixated on the same ideas, rather than letting your brain generate new ones. In so doing, you’ve created certain pathways of thinking. When you take a break and stop thinking about what you’re working on, those pathways can fade from memory. You come back fresh, open to new ideas.

  4. They boost creativity. Even slightly different ways of thinking may result in valuable and profitable insights. When you force yourself to focus for too long without stopping, you can start spinning your wheels in well-worn pathways, making creative thinking less likely. Break away occasionally and let the ruts heal (see #3), so you can try a new approach when you return. You may take a while to get back into gear, but if you maintain your focus, it’s worth the spin-up time.

  5. Constant thinking uses up mental resources. Your brain takes up to 20% of your body’s energy; that’s why you can work at a desk without physically moving much and still go home tired. Add to that recent discoveries that you begin your day with a limited reservoir of willpower and decision-making ability, and too much focus can drain you. A brief break, especially one with a protein-rich food or drink involved, can refill your willpower/decision-making reservoir.

  6. They let you refuel, mentally and physically. Some experts don’t count coffee breaks as real breaks, but it depends on how you apply them. There’s a reason people gather around the water-cooler, for example. You get to interact with your co-workers, exchanging information, discussing sports or kids, and talking about your weekends—decompressing in the process. That itself is important. And then there’s the caffeine. I’m a big coffee fan, because it’s a simple, legal way to get a pick-me-up and help your mind start perking along again after it’s been spinning its wheels.

Time Enough

Many of us don’t take brief breaks as seriously as we should. Maybe you don’t want to break your focus while you’re on a roll. Sometimes you get so focused you forget. So set a time and force yourself to take your breaks! Even if you briefly break your concentration, it’s worth the overall performance increase.


About Laura Stack, your next keynote speaker:

© 2019 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored eight books, including FASTER TOGETHER: Accelerating Your Team’s Productivity (Berrett-Koehler 2018). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and a member of its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at an upcoming meeting or event, call 303-471-7401 or contact us online.

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