A common mistake people make when first trying to improve their time management is to think that managing your time well simply means doing as much as physically possible each day.
And that often results in not really take a proper break at all when at work. In fact, as it stands, many of us don’t even take a proper lunch break anyway and those that do can be found munching at their desks so that they can keep working throughout the lunch “break”.
But although you might think you’re being more productive by powering through the day without a break, the reality is, working in this way is far from productive and actually, it can be quite damaging physically and mentally.
And research reveals that while sustained attention to a single task is superior to multi-tasking, focusing for too long on one thing without a break results in the mind wandering and a loss of attention.
When that starts to happen, you should consider taking what has been dubbed a “microbreaks”.
What is a microbreak?
Microbreaks are frequent short breaks taken throughout the day and they have been shown to be every bit as beneficial as a long break.
This could be simply standing up and stretching next to your desk, or grabbing a coffee from the kitchen, having or hitting the floor to knock out thirty push-ups, which I sometimes like to do throughout the day as it is a good way to get in some exercise without having to block out a dedicated period of time for it. Maybe more on this later.
On the face of it, taking this type of microbreak could be seen as a potential distraction, which as we all know, Time Management Lovers, is not our friend.
Microbreaks should be voluntary and they should be short, but there doesn’t seem to be any consensus on exactly how long the ideal microbreak should be.
Studies have shown that even a one-minute micro-break can help to restore focus and concentration, but it might be more useful to take a break of up to five minutes.
Ultimately, you’ve just got to see what works for you.
Some Types of Microbreak
Did you know that most of us don’t breathe properly? The result is a poorly oxygenated body that results in low energy, concentration, etc.
Practising breathing exercises is not only invigorating and energy-boosting but it can also reduce stress, which is a common problem in the workplace.
Here is a breathing exercise you can do at your desk or in a quiet space in your office.
If you want to take this type of breathing exercise a step further, you could try one of the guided meditation apps available, such as Headspace, Aura or Breath Ball. (I’ve used all of these before and I can recommend.)
Sitting at a desk all day is far from healthy and I don’t need to harp on about the risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle here.
We all know that humans aren’t meant to sit in the same position for hours at a time, making nothing but micro-movements, so getting away from your desk for a short period gives you the opportunity to move your body and release it from the unhealthy posture that your body is forced to adopt when working at a computer.
Simply stretching, walking or holding some yoga poses will not only benefit your back, neck and shoulders but can also help you to regain your focus and give you an energy boost.
I personally like to get in a few push-ups, squats or hold the plank for a minute or two, but that may not always be an option in a busy office.
3. Regular eye exercises
If you’re at a desk all day, it’s likely you’re staring a screen all day long too.
This can be tough on your body, particularly your eyes.
Taking regular microbreaks provides an ideal opportunity to rest your eyes, which can help to reduce eye strain and possibly longer-term eye damage.
Try what some doctors call the “20-20-20 rule”.
This is where you look away from your screen at least every 20 minutes and focus on an object 20 metres away for 20 seconds. Looking far away relaxes the focusing muscle and recess fatigue.
For some more tips on reducing eye strain out work, check out this video.
Almost everyone could benefit from drinking more water during the day. Being well hydrated is known to improve physical performance and focus. Being dehydrated, however, has the opposite effect.
So, using micro-breaks to get a drink or refill your water bottle is a good excuse to take a break good use of time.
5. Watch a video
The Pomodoro Technique demands that you spend the 5-minute break between the 25-minute intervals doing something that is not associated with work in any way.
If you’re not familiar with the Pomodoro Technique, you can read my post about it here.
Working in this manner gives your mind a chance to take a microbreak and during this time, a good option might be to watch a video for inspiration, motivation or just something to make you laugh.
However, if you’re watching these on YouTube, make sure you don’t fall down that YouTube rabbit hole and come to your senses an hour later when you realise you are watching people explode melons or some such randomness.
6. Get some fresh air and sunlight
Just being outside, getting some fresh air in your lungs and catching a few rays to boost your Vitamin D levels can work wonders to rest your mind for a short while.
Sometimes the simple solutions work the best.
How to build microbreaks into your day
1. Schedule them
One of the key factors in managing your time well is having a schedule. And you should try to build a schedule with microbreaks in mind. The Pomodoro Technique essentially does this for you, since it uses focused work intervals of 25 minutes with 5-minute microbreaks in between.
If you work in an office, you may find that nobody else works in this way, so it may not fit in with established coffee/cigarette breaks. Don’t let this deter you. We’re not looking to fit in with the norms here – we’re looking to get an edge in our time management and productivity!
Check out this post: What Is The Pomodoro Technique?
2. Use them as a reward
Sometimes, I like to pair productivity with reward in order to keep myself motivated. For example, if you’re into chocolate cookies, promise yourself a chocolate-cookie when you have completed 30-minutes uninterrupted work.
This can work a treat!
3. Self-impose a break when distracted
Regardless of how disciplined you are, there are times when you’re going to get distracted.
When this happens, instead of trying to fight through your wandering mind, take a self-imposed microbreak in order to regain your focus before getting back into your work.
Time Hack Hero Takeaway
While many people may think that breaks are not necessary and, like Gordon Gekko in Wall Street, that lunch is for wimps, the fact is not taking breaks makes you less productive.
When I am planning my week, I always make sure that I schedule in times to eat and a couple of coffee breaks, as well as taking some micro-breaks throughout the day.
The best way to do this is to block out time and use the Pomodoro Technique since the breaks are built-in automatically. If you are not currently using this technique, you should try it, or make sure that you use some kind of timer or reminder to take a break at regular intervals.
Either way, building microbreaks into your daily schedule is something that is so simple to do but it can work wonders for your health, focus and productivity.
Remember, that managing your time well is not just about how you schedule your time, but also the way you operate within that schedule.
[Featured image credit: Andrian Valeanu]