The Importance of Taking Breaks


In today's audio postcard I share what I learned about taking breaks from my work and why they are so important. 

Today's question: how might your own life and work change if you started taking more breaks?

Leave a comment and share your ideas!

And, as promised, here are a couple resources to check out:

Pause: Harnessing the Life-Changing Power of Giving Yourself a Break

You Need More Downtime Than You Think

Rather read than listen?

What I want to do is just tell you – no, shout at you – to take breaks when you’re working. Short ones. Long ones. In-between ones. Breaks to rest. Breaks to play. Breaks for pleasure. Breaks to refresh your brain and your body. Just take a damn break, would you?!

But shouting at you isn’t likely to do much good. And neither will trying to boss you around. After all, you’re an adult and can make your own decisions. So I’m going to put my bull horn down and step off my soap box and simply share with you what I’ve learned about taking breaks and let the evidence speak for itself.

I thought about quoting and referring to the countless articles, studies and books I’ve read on the importance of taking breaks from your work. (There are tons – and for those of you that are interested, I’ll list a couple in the notes.) But I thought instead I’d share what I’ve learned from my own research and personal experimentation.

In short, what I’ve learned is that taking breaks from your work is essential. But I certainly didn’t start with that mind frame at all. In fact, I’d bet that the way I felt about work was pretty similar to how you feel about it. And a lot of my values and beliefs about work – much like yours, I’m guessing – came from how I was raised and the culture and society I grew up in. I was raised by hard-working people to value hard work. To take pride in the work you do and how you do it.

And fundamentally, I don’t take issue with those values about work. But where things go awry is when those beliefs get taken to an extreme. The thoughts that run through my mind sound a little something like, “rest is for the weak” and “taking breaks is for lazy people”. I wonder if those sound familiar to you. My general attitude was about working harder and pushing through to get things done.

Now, pushing through is fine in small doses – but as a regular way of operating? That’s a recipe for wearing yourself out! And that’s exactly what I ended up doing – I wore myself right out. And one day I reached a breaking point where I realized things had to change.

And in order to change how I was doing things, I had to change the way I thought – my mindset. So, I started doing my own research. And one of the first things I learned was that I needed to ease up. I needed downtime. And I didn’t need to feel guilty about it!

Now, the switch didn’t happen overnight. But as I allowed myself more time to rest and take breaks from my work, the results proved the theory. I learned from my research things like an hour and a half to two hours is about the window for sustained, focused concentration. So, I started taking 5 to 10 minute breaks from my work about every 90 minutes. To stretch, or just get up from my desk. To give my eyes a break from staring at the glowing box in front of me.

I’m a big to-do list maker and my to-do lists for things at home was always a mile long and growing. And it always felt really weird and uncomfortable to just sit and read a book, or zone out and take a break when I knew there was “so much to do!” I had to be doing stuff. So, I started putting things I wanted to do – like take a break to go for a walk – on my to-do list. I’m not going to lie, the guilt about “doing nothing” didn’t just disappear instantly.

But as I allowed myself to take more breaks and gave myself more downtime, I started reaping the benefits. I was actually able to tackle my work and get it done – rather than stare at it for hours with glassy eyes and a drained brain trying to force myself to get it finished. And I noticed I was less stressed and could deal with day-to-day frustrations with more ease.

I started going to bed earlier rather than staying up late watching clip after clip on YouTube. And when the inevitable 3 o’clock energy lull hit? I’d take a little time away from my work – have a snack, go for a little stroll around the office or step outside for some sunshine and fresh air. I was far less grouchy and it made my job so much more pleasant.

I’m an information collector and researcher at heart. So when I’m confronted with a problem, research is my go-to. But what I’ve learned is that you eventually have to put down the research and take action. And when I did and started taking breaks from my work, the results were all the proof I needed.

My hope is that in sharing some of my experience with you today, I’ll inspire you to take your own action.