It’s one thirty in the afternoon and I have been sitting in this chair for nearly six hours. There is a conference call droning on that I shouldn’t have accepted, a half-eaten energy bar by my keyboard, while I multi-task with emails, instant messages, and the occasional pop-in question.
Sound familiar? Have you ever felt like this on a Monday, or any other day?
As I look around the office, I am not alone. People rarely take time for lunch anymore, let alone eat together, and the only people I see taking regular breaks are those who smoke.
That was two years ago. Before I gave myself permission to begin taking breaks on my own and with my team.
Permission seems to matter. The #1 reason that people don’t take breaks is they feel guilty; primarily due to the lack of their managers and leaders taking breaks.
When I started taking short breaks with our team, very few wanted to join me. I was fairly new to the organization, and even though I was a couple of levels up we needed to get everyone involved for them to feel it was acceptable.
We began with a 5-minute standing stretch routine 2x per day and then started a 15-minute walking break team. The positive effects were amazing:
- In just 5 minutes we were smiling and our faces relaxed.
- After two weeks, people were interacting more freely and someone suggested eating their lunch together in the conference room – something they hadn’t done for years!
- Within 6 weeks, people were freely discussing challenges and developing solutions together on our brief walks. I witnessed solutions developed between groups who normally do not interact in the day.
So with all of the scientific data and examples of breaks being beneficial, why haven’t we adopted change on a larger scale?
It appears to involve leadership. In many professions, very few leaders are seen taking breaks. Law firms, accounting, financial services, business administrators, and healthcare workers are notorious for long hours with few breaks.
We need to give ourselves and our employees permission to take breaks, unplugged.
Two minutes, 5 minutes, or 10 minutes is truly all it takes to lower your stress and recharge. Disconnecting for short periods from a project or task actually adds time to your day by creating endorphins that fuel creativity and improve decision-making.
Try it. Here’s a 3-minute break you can do most anywhere.
Please share your ideas or ask a question at email@example.com.
One thing I have learned in trying something new, is that having friends along for the ride makes it much easier and fun. My inspiring friend has reminded me the importance of scheduling fun breaks in my calendar, even when my work week screams “No!”.
Think about this: in just 3 decades we have added multiple ways to connect people, such as computers, voicemail, internet, email, text, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter (to name a few); yet we have spent hardly any time on learning how to disconnect.
There’s a reason that we have those aha! moments in the shower. It’s one of the few places we can unplug.
You’ve heard the term, doing more with less? This is the environment most people are working in. People are stressed. For you employers, in addition to absenteeism, employee turnover, and productivity costs, stress negatively impacts hypertension, acid reflux, and diabetes – all major drivers of your health care costs.
Eighty percent, yes 8 out of 10 workers, are stressed in their jobs. Pay level has been listed as the #1 reason for stress until 2013. As of 2013, “work load” was referenced just as often, according to Huffington Post.
To continue adding work or hours to the work day is not sustainable.
So, how did we get here? My point is we are here. The question is how do we change? We need to put energy into adding short, mindful breaks back into the work day, just as we have invested in wellness programs. It matters to people and their health, and to the bottom line.
Taking a 10-15 minute break is one of the best things you can do for immediate stress relief. When you return, you will be more productive. Scientific evidence has supported this since the 1920s and that evidence keeps growing.
The only way to take a break is to do it. Find an inspiring friend, schedule a 10-minute break and do something fun. Play a quick game, listen to a couple of songs from a new band, or just be still. You will want to do it again; I promise. And you can.
I talk with people every day who believe that working longer hours allows them to get more done. The truth is, adding hours to your work day is likely not producing better or more work. In fact, evidence points to the contrary. Decades of research shows that we humans produce better work when we take time for short mental breaks during our work day.
After months of research to launch BreakTogether, this message stands out: Mindful work breaks are crucial to happiness and productivity.
Harvard conducted research in the the late 1920’s that revealed increased productivity after mid-morning and afternoon breaks, which ultimately led to scheduled breaks as part of the labor movement and the beginning of human resources protecting the rights of workers.
Somehow that thinking has not followed us into the 21st century working in office and technology environments, yet it is just as important. We need to bring back the work break. Think recess for adults.
As much as people may agree that breaks are important, as Ron Friedman points out in the Harvard Business Review, it is really difficult to actually take them. Changing our work day is possible. Whenever I am trying to build a new healthy habit, it makes a big difference when I am doing it with someone else, which leads me to an idea.
5 Day Challenge: For the next 5 work days try this:
Set 15 minutes in your schedule both mid-morning and mid-afternoon in addition to taking an actual lunch break for at least 30 minutes. Ask a friend or co-worker to break with you.
It’s only 5 days. I know you can do it and you will feel much better when you try. Send me a note with your progress (firstname.lastname@example.org), and upload a picture of your break on the BreakTogether Facebook page.
There are so many unique adventures in Downtown Portland, it was hard to choose just five. These are some of my favorite things for a short break from work, or between other activities. If you want more, please contact BreakTogether. We help people get to know Portland better, one break at a time.
The following adventures include walking time from most areas of Downtown Portland:
1. Walk to the waterfront.
You can probably make it to the water in 5 minutes from most Downtown businesses. In the summer, I love to walk along the pier between Portland Lobster Company and DiMillo’s and check out the beautiful boats and yachts. It’s also a great seagull and people watching location.
2. Check out the views!
We have so many places with views in our city. One of my favorites is the top of the parking garage at the corner of Fore and Pearl Streets. The views in every direction are breathtaking. There are great vistas from most of the garages, but this is my favorite, by the Custom House.
3. Ice Cream in a Secret Garden.
We wait all winter for green to appear, and ice cream seems to be better in the sunshine as well. Grab an ice cream from your favorite place and head to the Longfellow House on Congress Street. Walk through the gated entrance and to the left behind the home and discover a beautiful garden; a lovely place to enjoy a bit of peace and the smell of flowers.
4. Expand your culinary knowledge, rain or shine.
I love to cook and learn about new things. A really fun discovery project is to head into LeRoux Kitchen on Commercial Street, or Stonewall Kitchen on Middle Street, and spend a few minutes exploring utensils you have never seen before, or food you have never sampled. You will leave inspired.
5. Portland Museum of Art.
If you are on the west side of Downtown, you really can’t go wrong simply walking into the Museum. The lobby walls have a sampling of the art inside and I like to explore the gift shop, filled with unique items. You will have to watch the clock, because you could be pulled in for hours. I guarantee a 5-minute walk-through will brighten your day, at no charge.
BreakTogether is working to teach the importance of taking breaks in your work day to increase productivity and reduce stress. Portland is the ideal spot to explore and return to work refreshed. Contact us for more information.
For years my work day consisted of a string of conference calls and in-person meetings with virtually no time in between. It was not unusual to mute my phone, run to the wash room, and hope no one asked me a question before I returned.
If this sounds at all familiar and you find it difficult to take even the most necessary breaks, you are my target audience. I now have breaks between meetings. It took huge resolve and it can be done! Especially when you realize, you have more control than you think. You can convert the non-believers by setting the example. Slowly…you will have more space to work mindfully and take healthy breaks.
TIP 1: Shorter Meetings
Unless there are strict rules within your company (hard to imagine), stop scheduling 1-hour meetings! You can set meetings for 45 minutes to give yourself time for a break. You can also set a meeting for 20 minutes instead of 30, and if you follow the next few tips, your meetings will also be more productive.
TIP 2: Clear Purpose
Verify the purpose of the meeting and whether you truly need to be there. If you are leading the meeting, make sure you are communicating your goals clearly and that you are only inviting people who are necessary to completing the goals. This is a reasonable request. If it is not clear that you are needed, or that someone you have invited is absolutely necessary, ask whether you/they can contribute through email, or a quick conversation. Understanding the desired outcome of a meeting is a reasonable request for everyone involved.
TIP 3: Prepare
Make sure you have completed any work necessary to effectively achieve your meeting goal and request that of others. While brainstorming meetings are sometimes important, most meetings could be handled much more efficiently with clear goals, preparation, a time-keeper, and facilitator. Make sure you are prepared to lead, or that the leader of the meeting has been identified.
TIP 4: Feel free to Decline
If Tips 3 and 4 are not confirmed, decline the meeting. Yes, it will feel awkward, if you are used to accepting most requests. However, declining politely, until you truly understand why you need to be there, is incredibly freeing and helpful to the person who has scheduled the meeting to take a bit more time on purpose and preparation.
All of this may sound impossible to some, yet these exact instructions were rolled out at a large national financial institution, and those who took action found they were part of a much more efficient work day – they had more time. It was hard, I’m not going to lie to you; and it is possible. Today, efficient meetings and mindful breaks are becoming part of my DNA and it feels much better. I only wish I had been given permission to start sooner. Oh wait, the permission came from me.
Take a BreakTogether soon.