The added value of breaks

Breaks are not productive – you couldn’t be more wrong!

Well, doesn’t that sound familiar: our to-do list is bursting, colleagues, customers or supervisors need our work results and our support. Well, this means there is no time for breaks.

At this point, good self-management is what it takes. Because, if we don't cater for our need for rest and recuperation – which we may not even be aware of anymore – we become slower and slower. The consequence is that coworkers and customers have to wait for our work results even longer.

The reason is that our mind gets tired like our muscles after a long run or a work-out. With the small difference that our mind doesn’t really show us that it is tired. And when it eventually does give us a sign through blackout, lack of concentration and nervousness, it has been in a state of exhaustion for too long. 

Therefore, we need to be preventive and take care of our mind because our mind can’t do it for us. While our mind monitors the entire rest of our body, it cannot monitor itself. 

Our brain works in two modi:

  1. Stress and anxiety modus: here, we are very much focused and are able to concentrate ourselves and to perform well – however, we also have a very unidimensional way of thinking as we only walk along known paths in order to minimize risks. We cannot simply expect to have creativity and personal development in this type of modus. A very well-known picture comes to my mind in this context; it is very often used as part of mindfulness coaching: two people are walking on railway tracks, a train is coming closer from behind. They are running faster and faster to escape the train. It doesn’t come to their minds to go left or right and leave the tracks and let the train pass without being hurt!
  2. Default modus network: this modus re-connects your nerve cells when in idle mode (meditation, daydreaming, doing nothing and thinking about nothing). This helps the mind come to a rest and enables some personal development; this is called a creative break. 

It is important for us to regularly get into the default modus so that the mind does not forget in the first place how to escape from the stress and anxiety modus from time to time. If our mind is permanently trapped in the stress and anxiety modus, we will have to deal with insomnia, burnout and also anxiety disorders.

Some useful ideas for good self-management:

  • Convince yourself that breaks add value!
  • Use idle time to look into the void – do not always check your messages on your phone (well, it’s difficult for me, too, but all the more important. Because the harder it gets the more important it is to have some idle time – sorry!)
  • It is a good habit to have a break after nor more than 90 minutes during your daily work: get up from your desk, eat something, catch a breath of fresh air, engage in a relaxing dialogue, etc.
  • Plan in some timeouts during the week: meditation, going for a walk, workouts, reading, taking a bath, wellness, etc. It is important in this context to follow an activity that does not have a specific objective, thus supporting the mind’s default modus, because such activity is miles away from being performance-driven
  • No business mails and chats on the weekend
  • Holidays or a longer time off, without appointments, deadlines and pressure to perform

Well, sounds easy, doesn’t it? The fascinating thing is that people are more efficient, have more ideas and are faster after having a break. And in the end, people have saved some time despite or exactly because of the breaks.

This text first appeared in my newsletter 'Innovation on Wednesday'. It is published every other Wednesday. For subscription click here

Further reading and watching:

“The basic modus for our brain is anxiety” (Der Grundmodus unseres Gehirns ist Angst), article in German daily SZ by Alexandra Straush

“We work against the rhythm of our body far too often” (Wir arbeiten viel zu häufig gegen den Rhythmus unseres Körpers an), interview with Olaf Hars by Alexandra Straush, SZ

IN TALKS WITH: Bernd Hufnagl – Working for your brain? (IM GESPRÄCH MIT: Bernd Hufnagl - Hirngerecht arbeiten?)

Interview with Bernd Hufnagl – Better running than being all run down” - Being happy, daydreaming, happiness in life (“Besser fix als fertig” – Glücklich sein, Tagträumen, Lebensglück)

Andrea SchmittInnovationstrainerinAm Mittelpfad 24aD 65520 Bad Camberg+49 64 34-905 997+49 175 5196446
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