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- Mid day break is a reset!
Here are 5 simple tips to make the most of your mid-day break:
Stop and eat. No, really, stop. Don’t just have lunch at your desk or in your car or over the sink. Stop. Sit down. Enjoy your food while you’re not doing anything else. Your food will taste better, research suggests you’re less likely to overeat, and you’ll feel more satisfied for the rest of the day. Pinky swear.
Go for a walk outside. Even if you only have a few minutes, or even if you just want to stretch your muscles and get some fresh air. Recent studies have shown that taking a walk during lunch — even a slow-paced one — helps improve your mood for the rest of the day.
Connect with someone you love. Call your spouse, text a friend, or chat with your favorite coworker (but not about work). Make a point of reaching out for a personal connection as part of even busy days. (Once you start doing this, you may be amazed to discover how little you used to break for “frivolous” interaction throughout the day, and how much better it makes you feel.)
If you must keep going, treat yourself. We all have those busy days when we can only take a long enough break to run errands or go to the doctor or run the kids somewhere. It happens. On those days, make sure you do a little something nice for you in there. Stop for your favorite beverage, listen to your favorite music in the car; it doesn’t matter what it is, only that it’s a treat for you.
Take at least one minute to be still and breathe. You breathe all the time, right? No biggie. But how often do you really just stop everything else and sit with yourself and empty your mind and just… be? If you have time for yoga or meditation, all the better, but whether you do or not, try taking a minute or two midday to consciously re-ground yourself. You may be surprised to discover how great it feels.
Have a great lunch….and a great day!
If you're anything like me, this will sound all too familiar. The thing is, it's bad for your brain. A growing body of scientific evidence explains what many of us have learned from unpleasant experience: Push yourself through too many hours or days of work and your brain starts to push back. Ideas that once flowed easily dry up, and tasks that you should be able to perform quickly become excruciatingly difficult. If you're like me, at that point, you feel tempted to scold yourself to buckle down and work harder. That's completely counterproductive--you need to give your brain, and yourself, some rest.
In fact, scientists say you almost certainly need more rest than you're getting.
Yet a survey by Harris Interactive found that, at the end of 2012, Americans had an average of nine unused vacation days. And in several surveys Americans have admited that they obsessively check and respond to e-mails from their colleagues or feel obliged to get some work done in between kayaking around the coast of Kauai and learning to pronounce humuhumunukunukuapua'a.
To summarize, Americans and their brains are preoccupied with work much of the time. Throughout history people have intuited that such puritanical devotion to perpetual busyness does not in fact translate to greater productivity and is not particularly healthy. What if the brain requires substantial downtime to remain industrious and generate its most innovative ideas? "Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets," essayist Tim Kreider wrote in The New York Times. "The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration—it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done."
4. TAKE A NAP TO IMPROVE YOUR MEMORY
If you’ve been following the Buffer blog for a while, you’re probably sick of hearing me tout the benefits of napping. Here I go again, though, including napping in this post for an important reason: we’re naturally designed to have a second short sleep in the afternoon.
Our internal body clocks help us to regulate processes like sleeping into a regular cycle. The body clock is a group of cells called the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus, which are made up of specific “body clock” genes. These turn on and off to tell our body when to do certain things, like getting sleepy.
All of this is going on inside us all the time, but the important thing to know about our body clocks is that we have a natural dip in energy in the afternoon: right around 2 p.m. This means if you’re having a late lunch break, that’s a perfect time to grab a quick nap.
Post-nap, (assuming you sleep for a maximum of around 20 minutes, so you avoid that dreaded post-sleep grogginess called sleep inertia), you’ll have more room in your working memory for new information, since sleeping helps to clear out that holding area of any information picked up during the day. While a lot of it gets tossed out, anything important gets moved to long-term memory, so your memory performance should also improve after a nap.
Emily Hunter, Ph.D., and Cindy Wu, Ph.D., associate professors of management in Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business, surveyed 95 employees (ages 22-67) over a five-day workweek, and each person was asked to document each break they took during that time. Breaks were defined as “any period of time, formal or informal, during the workday in which work-relevant tasks are not required or expected, including but not limited to a break for lunch, coffee, personal email or socializing with coworkers, not including bathroom breaks.”
Key findings of the study include:
The most beneficial time to take a workday break is mid-morning.
Hunter and Wu found that rather than the typical culture of working hard all morning only to take a lunch-hour or mid-afternoon break, a respite earlier in the workday replenishes more resources – energy, concentration and motivation.
“We found that when more hours had elapsed since the beginning of the work shift, fewer resources and more symptoms of poor health were reported after a break,” the study says. “Therefore, breaks later in the day seem to be less effective.”
“Better breaks” incorporate activities that employees prefer.
A common belief exists that doing things that are non-work-related are more beneficial, Hunter explained. Based on the study, there was no evidence to prove that non-work-related activities were more beneficial.
Simply put, preferred break activities are things you choose to do and things you like to do. These could also include work-related tasks.
“Finding something on your break that you prefer to do – something that’s not given to you or assigned to you – are the kinds of activities that are going to make your breaks much more restful, provide better recovery and help you come back to work stronger,” Hunter said.
People who take “better breaks” experience better health and increased job satisfaction.
The employee surveys showed that recovery of resources – energy, concentration and motivation – following a “better break” (earlier in the day, doing things they preferred) led workers to experience less somatic symptoms, including headache, eyestrain and lower back pain after the break.
These employees also experienced increased job satisfaction and organizational citizenship behavior as well as a decrease in emotional exhaustion (burnout), the study shows.
Longer breaks are good, but it’s beneficial to take frequent short breaks.
While the study was unable to pinpoint an exact length of time for a better workday break (15 minutes, 30 minutes, etc.), the research found that more short breaks were associated with higher resources, suggesting that employees should be encouraged to take more frequent short breaks to facilitate recovery.
“Unlike your cellphone, which popular wisdom tells us should be depleted to zero percent before you charge it fully to 100 percent, people instead need to charge more frequently throughout the day,” Hunter said.
3 SCIENTIFIC REASONS TO PRIORITIZE BREAKS AT WORK
1. Breaks keep us from getting bored (and thus, unfocused)
When you’re really in the groove of a task or project, the ideas are flowing and you feel great. But it doesn’t last forever–stretch yourself just a bit beyond that productivity zone and you might feel unfocused, zoned out or even irritable. What changes?
Basically, the human brain just wasn’t built for the extended focus we ask of it these days. Our brains are vigilant all the time because they evolved to detect tons of different changes to ensure our very survival. So focusing so hard on one thing for a long time isn’t something we’re ever going to be great at (at least for a few centuries).
The good news is that the fix for this unfocused condition is simple–all we need is a brief interruption (aka a break) to get back on track. University of Illinois psychology professor Alejandro Lleras explains:
“…Deactivating and reactivating your goals allows you to stay focused,” he said. “From a practical standpoint, our research suggests that, when faced with long tasks (such as studying before a final exam or doing your taxes), it is best to impose brief breaks on yourself. Brief mental breaks will actually help you stay focused on your task!”
2. Breaks help us retain information and make connections
Our brains have two modes: the “focused mode,” which we use when we’re doing things like learning something new, writing or working) and “diffuse mode,” which is our more relaxed, daydreamy mode when we’re not thinking so hard. You might think that the focused mode is the one to optimize for more productivity, but diffuse mode plays a big role, too.
In fact, although our brains were once thought to go dormant when we daydreamed, studies have shown that activity in many brain regions increases when our minds wander. Here’s a look at the brain scan of one daydreamer:
Some studies have shown that the mind solves its stickiest problems while daydreaming–something you may have experienced while driving or taking a shower. Breakthroughs that seem to come out of nowhere are often the product of diffuse mode thinking.
That’s because the relaxation associated with daydream mode “can allow the brain to hook up and return valuable insights,” engineering professor Barbara Oakley explained to Mother Jones.
“When you’re focusing, you’re actually blocking your access to the diffuse mode. And the diffuse mode, it turns out, is what you often need to be able to solve a very difficult, new problem.”
3. Breaks help us reevaluate our goals
Harvard Business Review examines another prime benefit of breaks: they allow us to take a step back and make sure we’re accomplishing the right things in the right way.
When you work on a task continuously, it’s easy to lose focus and get lost in the weeds. In contrast, following a brief intermission, picking up where you left off forces you to take a few seconds to think globally about what you’re ultimately trying to achieve. It’s a practice that encourages us to stay mindful of our objectives…