Productivity Lie #9: no time for breaks

So here’s the reality check. Just because you are always working, it doesn’t automagically mean you are a productivity master. Take a break and refresh.


I used to work for a large, thriving corporate company where the norm was to arrive early (i.e. before your boss), leave late (i.e. after your boss), work straight through your prescribed tea breaks and munch on a sandwich at your desk while you carried on  working through your lunch hour, (that’s if you remembered to eat at all) … deeply engrossed in the busy business of busyness.

While I realize that this type of behavior is certainly not exclusive to corporate organizations, it is alarmingly concerning that in this, the 21st century, it’s not only still prevalent, but thriving.  All of my current, past, and likely most of my future clients give that uncomfortable smirk when I ask the simple question “Now tell me about your breaks?”. The retort, likely matching yours, is “What break?”

So as I type this, (cringing slightly as I think that it’s highly likely that it’s only the smokers who ever get this break thing right), I feel it my duty to inform you, in no uncertain terms, that not taking your prescribed breaks means you will never be as effective as you could be.

What productivity lies are you telling yourself?

PRODUCTIVITY LIE #9: There is never enough time to take a break

So here’s the reality check. Just because you are always working, it doesn’t automagically mean you are being productive. Bang goes the great misconception that being present actually counts for something. So while you might well need a considerable amount of convincing, please know that:

  • Boredom leads to procrastination, the number one success-self-sabotage strategy. Taking a break prevents boredom.
  • When you disengage from your work, you allow your brain to refocus. Refocus brings the possibility of a new perspective. Taking a break makes you more creative.
  • Taking a break prevents fatigue. Time to recharge means you will be more focused when you re-engage.

The three things you can do right now:

1. Check through your employment contract

Step one is all about towing the line, I guess. Scan your employment contract for the section on office hours and prescribed breaks. While the listed time might not be enough of a break for you to recharge, chances are it’s more than you’re taking right now … which means you’re breaking the law! 😉

Disclaimer: If your office hours are e.g. 8-5, arriving in the car park for 8am is not really cool. Aim for a 15 minute transition for swiping your card through the turnstiles, making a bee line for the coffee machine, saying hello to a colleague and checking in at your desk, ready to rock your work day for 8 bells sharp.

2. Crunch the time container

Now, what if you are self employed and you didn’t sign a contract with yourself or don’t care too much about labor law? What happens if ‘hanging 10’ till the 5 hour mark before eating lunch is too long for you to wait? (I think it’s way too long to be honest.) It’s simple really. At minimum, prescribe your own office hours; after all “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”, and at best, practice either of these:

  • Pomodoro Technique:

Set your timer for 4 x 25 minute work-flat-out spurts (these are called Pomodoros). After each of the first 3 Pomodoros, take a 5 minute break. Break for 25 minutes after the 4th Pomodoro and then restart the cycle. This precisely timed approach means you’ll find yourself having to get focused fast, resulting in more decisions made and more loose ends tied off.

You can download some free timer apps to help you govern your work time and your break time- we recommend Tomighty, Tomato Timer or scan this list of timers created specifically for the Pomodoro method and see which one works best for you.

  • 90 Minute Cycle:

Professor K. Anders Erricsson in his study with elite performers proved that taking a break after every 90 minute work cycle prevented exhaustion. Factoring in a 20 minute break after every 90 minute work cycle will help you work more efficiently.

If you need some help staying on track, Marinara is a super customizable app that you can alter to account for your individual work needs.

3. Take your darn break!

If taking the time to switch off completely is such a foreign concept right now, chances are you’re wondering what on Earth you’ll do during all these breaks. Well, here are some ideas to get you moving:

Take a stroll: From your desk, down the passage, through the turnstile, out of the double swing back doors, ‘hello’ fresh air and back, might be all you have time for in your 10 minute break, but it’s great to get moving and the burst of fresh air can only do you good.

Have a nap: While your office might not be of the progressive type with a chill room or sleeping pods, you can still turn your phone to silent, hunch over your arms and catch a couple of Z’s. Ten minutes is all it takes to prevent fatigue.

Eat: It might be obvious that in tea/lunch breaks one should actually eat, but it bears reminding so here goes … Eat smaller, lighter, high energy snack type meals throughout your day to prevent fatigue and keep you focused. The high carb. lunch or sugar spike snacks are so yesterday!

Grab a coffee: As a non-coffee drinker I use the term loosely but you get my drift.

Meet a colleague (or a friend, or a friend who’s a colleague): If accountability is what you need to get this break thing off the ground, arrange to meet a buddy for your break. What a great excuse to get to know someone better and work is always more fun when you do it with people you know and like.

Check in online: Yes, I’m giving you permission to check in on your social media. Update your Facebook status or tweet about how fantastically productive you are now that you take a break. This is your time, so enjoy.

Dream: Ah, how often do we allow ourselves the luxury to daydream. Find a quiet spot and go to your happy place in your head dreaming up all sorts of loveliness. It will feel like you’ve taken a holiday which is always good for efficiency.

Exercise: A power session at the gym will help shake off any workday blues. If you don’t have the time, or a great gym nearby, Ecosia search ten minute workout apps and you’ll be spoiled for choice.

Meditate: When last did you gift yourself time to just ‘be’. No dreaming, moving, coffee drinking or checking in online allowed. Meditation is a great way to de-stress; daily practice will make perfect.

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