Upgrade Your Human Machine: Take a Break to Get More Done. (Do Less to Do More)
In this 4 part series, we’re going to look at some steps you can take to upgrade your complex human machine. Part One, talked about taking lunch to the lunchroom and the benefits that come from taking a break. In part 2, we’re going to look at concentration and taking breaks from long stretches of focus.
What kinds of tasks put you in “the zone” and how does taking breaks improve your overall concentration? Tell us in comments and thank you for subscribing and sharing! Sign up to have parts 3-4 delivered right to your inbox.
Join us. We’re changing how humans work forever.
These things are NOT “normal” for human machines:
- Mindless speed-eating while multitasking
- Focusing on repetitive tasks for a long time with consistent efficiency
- Staying in a box for 8+ hour durations
- Hunching forward for extended periods of time, seated
- Extended periods of intense stress - physical, mental, emotional
Have you ever worked for a long stretch of time without taking a break? Have you ever read, then re-read a paragraph without retaining any comprehension of the material? Have you ever sat for so long at the computer working that by the time you do get up to go and get something to drink from the break room, you forgot what you went in for by the time you got there?
I FORGOT WHY I CAME OUT HERE.
Taking a break improves concentration. It feels counterintuitive in our task-oriented work culture to stop doing something to do it more. However, taking a 10 minute break will improve concentration and focus for hours whenever you break the routine input to your brain. In "Brief diversions vastly improve focus, researchers find,” University of Illinois psychology professor Alejandro Lleras says:
We propose that deactivating and reactivating your goals allows you to stay focused… 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!
According to Bloom, Kinnunen, and Korpela in, "Exposure to nature versus relaxation during lunch breaks and recovery from work: development and design of an intervention study to improve workers’ health, well-being, work performance and creativity," published in Published in BMC Public Health, the authors discuss recover from work stress via relaxation (such as meditation) versus exposure to nature (such as a park walk). The authors write:
It has been shown that unwinding from one’s job demands (i.e., recovery) is important for reducing the negative effects of work stress . Recovery refers to the process during which an individual’s functioning returns to its pre-stressor level, and depleted resources are replenished . In fact, in modern society, which is characterized by a hectic pace of life, efficiency and competitiveness in a global economy, it is likely that lack of recovery is a greater health problem than the absolute level of strain itself .
Much like a weight lifter who is training for a maximum Personal Record (PR) lift, recovery and rest are important for thinking and concentration tasks too. Your muscles, skeleton and neurons in addition to the rest of your human machine have to give everything 100%+ for a maximum lift. In a similar fashion, your brain gives 100%+ during focused tasks at work. If a weight lifter does not allow for proper recovery after lifting heavy before another lift attempt, she or he will run the risk of injury and probably won’t perform as well as desired. Your performance during focused tasks at work are also impacted if you don't allow proper recovery. We know that the human body has limits with physical activity because we sweat, our muscles ache, and we become physically fatigued. We’re all familiar with these signals when it comes to physical activity, and if we listen to our bodies, we know when it’s time to rest and when it’s time to give it hell.
KNOW WHEN IT'S TIME TO REST.
SO YOU CAN TOTALLY GIVE IT HELL!
...MAX LIFT #FTW!
IT'S NOT "JUST" THINKING...
Thinking is also a physical activity and your mind and body need to recover to perform at 100% next time. The trouble is that the physical cues when we reach mental fatigue are sometimes different than "physical exertion" alone and are often overlooked because we live in the “red zone” for so much of our workday. As discussed in “Grizzly Attack!” - our brain’s just can’t differentiate between mortal danger and huge presentation. We spend so much time stressed to "Level 11" we become used to the feeling of "Grizzly Attack!" and we don't realize what the signs of fatigue are because "OMGGGG" has been normalized.
When we’re working hard, forgetfulness, irritation, and frustration can mean it’s time for a break. Writer’s block, lack of creativity, and boredom can mean it’s time for a break. Spelling errors, needing to re-read, arithmetic errors, and accidentally saving over files can mean it’s time for a break. Headaches, muscle tension, inflammation, and upset stomach can mean it’s time for a break too. The signals are there. And it’s ok to listen!
IT'S OK TO TAKE A BREAK.
You'll get more done in the long run!
Bloom, Kinnunen, and Korpela continue in, "Exposure to nature versus relaxation during lunch breaks and recovery from work: development and design of an intervention study to improve workers’ health, well-being, work performance and creativity"
For instance, feelings of recovery after work breaks were associated with more vigor and work-family facilitation before bedtime.
It’s not a break unless you attain some level of recovery during it. If you get up from your desk, but are still emailing about it from the bathroom stall, that’s not recovery. Recovery happens when you detach and rest from the task. It’s the same in lifting as it is in thinking. You have to let go to gain more. The “vigor” that he authors discuss is that go-to energy that you can tap into when you need it. It’s that ability to “think on your feet” in a meeting with a customer. It’s not being tired and sore all the time. It’s the ability to play tag with your kids when you get home. Recovery is important. It’s the time when your body can repair and improve for when you need it most. Bloom, Kinnunen, and Korpela write:
...the type of activities service employees engaged in during their daily work breaks influenced their emotions and their affective displays in customer interactions. Restful and enjoyable activities (called respites) provided greater recovery than more effortful and not preferred activities (called chores).
The benefits of taking time to give your brain some space are profound. Before you get ready to plow into your next tough project, set a timer for 50-60 minutes. Put away your phone and turn off your social media notifications. Concentrate and dedicate the time to the task. If your task is creating a badass pivot table, then only work on that pivot table during the 50-60 minutes. If your task is merging a mailing list, then only work on that. If your task is folding a week’s worth of laundry, just fold. Email and Twitter can wait. You will get more pivot tables, mailing lists, and laundry done in an uninterrupted 50-60 minutes than you will if you “work on it all day” whilst simultaneously “multitasking” tv, social media, phone calls, email, snacking, or whatever. During “timer time” just set it for 50-60 minutes and only do that thing. When the timer goes off, hit save or close up the hamper and step away from the workstation.
Whether you color, grab a snack, play a game, take a walk, meditate, or exercise - doing something away from your desk or workstation to break the repetitive nature of your day will improve performance overall. You only need a few minutes, but step away from your project. Be present in the moment and know that you are doing something wonderful for yourself by letting your human machine have some recovery time. You are upgrading your human machine so that every time you set to a task you are able to complete it in the most efficient and strong way possible.
Share with us in comments how you take a break and do you notice that you get more done with improved concentration!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Karen Gasparick worked for 20+ years in design offices. While slaying PowerPoint presentations and bringing bad-assery to the holiday potluck lunch, Karen also found fitness and real, honest wellness. Karen lost 130 pounds, and gained ROBOT Level Strength!
Karen is now “H.R.I.C.” (Head Robot In Charge) at The PurpleROBOT Network. Contact us to learn about workplace wellness workshops, seminars, and training today! Karen is an RKC Certified Kettlebell Instructor, loves outdoor adventures, and lives in Milwaukee, WI. She can be reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org