We all need a break sometimes. As I write this I am sitting overlooking a beautiful dessert view in Arizona. Our family March break is about to begin. The kids are most excited about not being in school and my husband and I are excited to have family time and be in a sunny location. But what are the other benefits of taking a step back? One is finding time to relax and changing our landscape so we can leap forward.
Scheduling breaks is important, even if it’s only a few minutes a day. As spring arrives, it’s a natural time to think about what you want to wrap up and what your new beginnings will be. Taking a break from your hectic schedule will help you become clear on what you want to focus on next and give you that added energy to spring forward.
Benefits of Frequent Short Breaks
Numerous scientific studies confirm the benefits of taking regular, short breaks. Performance starts to deteriorate after 50-60 minutes of continuous work. The research suggests this trend can be reversed by taking a break every 40 minutes. While that may seem impossible given your busy schedule, consider that your break could be simply getting up from your desk and stretching, grabbing a drink or watching a funny video. Even the use of “micro-breaks” (ie. lasting 20-30 seconds) have been found to increase speed, accuracy and performance.
Interestingly, studies have also found that results are improved when we are reminded to take breaks. Scheduled breaks are generally more effective than leaving employee to take breaks at their own discretion. Why? I suspect it’s because we assume we don’t need a break (or don’t have time) and we push through because we have so much get done. However, the physical and mental strain associated with working on our computers for hours at a time can quickly catch up with us.
If you are accustomed to marathon work sessions, consider setting the timer on your phone as a reminder to take regularly breaks. You might start with every 90 minutes and work your way up to a micro break every 40 minutes once you get into the habit.
One of the most effective ways to spend your “break time” is to practice mindfulness. There has been much discussion in the past few years regarding being mindful and how mindfulness can help organizations, leaders and employees, but what does that really mean?
Mindfulness is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis
It can be achieved by the following 7 steps (http://inspiyr.com/how-to-achieve-mindfulness/):
1. Make Time
Set aside a small block of time every day that you can commit to.
2. Find Your Place
Make sure you have access to a quiet space. Close the door and put your phone on silent and ensure you won’t be interrupted for at least 10 minutes.
3. Get comfortable!
Sit on a chair or couch, with your back straight and feet on the floor. Let your hands sit comfortably in your lap.
Take a few slow, deep breaths, about five or so. On your last breath, close your eyes.
5. Take in the present moment
Focus on what your body feels like, how the room smells, and whether you can feel any stress in your body. Allow your thoughts to drift through your mind, but try to remain a passive observer, rather than worrying about their possible implications.
Remaining in this position for ten minutes may be difficult; intrusive thoughts may present themselves the moment you feel as though you’ve managed to clear your mind. Don’t get discouraged! Remember that there is no “goal” in this sort of activity, just learn to be comfortable with yourself in the present moment.
7. When you’ve finished, make a plan and take action on it!
It can be difficult to transition from this quiet, calm state to the bustle of your life, so make a small goal, even if it’s as simple as, “When I get up I’ll make a pot of coffee.” Reflect throughout your day on the sensation of being fully present.
Mindfulness Boots Performance
A number of studies have confirmed that the practice of mindfulness leads to:
- enhanced performance
- improved sense of well-being
- reduced stress and burnout
- increased ability to remain calm in difficult work situations.
- greater insight, receptivity and clarity for oneself and others
- Greater leadership presence and authenticity
- Increased energy and sense of well-being
- Increased life span
- Greater creativity
- Improves interpersonal relationships at work
Wow! With an impressive list benefits like that who wouldn’t want to try to increase their mindfulness? Some of the ways I practice mindfulness (in a less structured way) are:
- to focus on the landscape outside my window – wherever you are you can take a minute to look up from your phone or computer and really observe the trees, or flowers, or buildings, or cars or people walking by.
- Being quiet and still –if it’s only for 1 minute before I go into a big presentation
- Spend time in nature – observe the beauty, sounds and smells
- Drive in the car for 1 minute with no music on and pay attention to my thoughts and the world around me
Enjoy the time you have away from your busy schedule, if it’s 10 minutes, a day, a week or a month. Let’s carve out some time to rest, reflect and become mindful so we can be more productive when we come back. Happy Spring Break to everyone!