Should You Take More Breaks At Work?

By James Clear on 27 October 2011 (Updated 10 November 2011) 0 comments
Photo: Kuzma

Time is money.

We've all heard the phrase and it makes sense. The more time we spend working, the more we earn.

Except that isn't true. It's not about how many hours we work, it's about what we get done during those hours.

Increasing the performance of our business, our employees, and ourselves isn't so much about working more as it is about working better. In order to work better, we need to manage our energy, not our time. If our energy was always high, then we could pump out top quality work no matter how long we had been at it that day.

Of course, our energy isn't always high. In fact, we're generally pretty terrible at managing our energy. In hopes of making things a bit better—and more productive—here are five ways to improve your daily energy and get more out of the same amount of time.

1. Work in Batches

Researchers Tony Schwartz and Jim Loehr have spent their time focusing on how to get people to work more effectively. What they have discovered is that our energy works on an “Ultradian” rhythm. This rhythm goes in a cycles of about 90 to 120 minutes. After that, our energy starts to fade. This is one reason why you might start the day strong, but by mid-afternoon you're struggling to make it through.

To keep our energy levels high, we need to refresh and replenish our energy in sync with our Ultradian rhythm. To put it simply, you should work for about 90 minutes and then take a break. Then go for 90 more minutes and take another break. Of course, resting isn't the only way to replenish our energy.

2. Don't Forget to Breathe

Did you know that if you simply exhale for five or six seconds, then you'll stimulate the body and mind into a state of relaxation and recovery? All it takes is a deep breath in through your nose (about three seconds). And then a full exhalation out through your mouth (about six seconds). Do that three times. It only takes about 30 seconds in total and it can often be enough to reduce stress and put you back in a state of relaxation. In fact, here is a video showing you exactly how to do it.

3. Do Less to Start

It's best to focus on a few things earlier in the day, so you can do sustained periods of work when your concentration and focus are at their peak. Leave the distractions for later.

Moreover, there is a significant body of research that shows the effects of "decision fatigue." Decision fatigue refers to how our willpower and decision making power decrease with each decision we make. This can alter all sorts of choices we make and the results usually aren't good. When we get tired, we often make decisions that we wouldn't make if we were focused and fresh.

If you make fewer decisions in the morning, then you have a full reservoir of willpower and energy to use throughout the day. You can't control everything that happens during the workday, but you can usually control how you start it. Put yourself in a position to make better decisions by limiting the choices you have to make early in the day.

4. Eat Consistently

It probably comes as no surprise that eating healthily will help stabilize your energy and improve your output. But did you know that simply eating consistently will also help? This is true even if your diet isn't the best it could be.

In fact, if you eat smaller meals every three to four hours, then you will begin to stabilize your blood glucose levels. This will provide more energy and productivity to your day. To put it simply, the body runs on food. You need to give yourself a consistent source of energy if you expect to have a consistent amount of it. If you only eat twice a day (as many busy people do), then you're going to experience serious peaks and valleys as your day goes on.

5. Pay Attention to Your Body

Your body is trying to talk to you. Are you yawning? Restless? Have trouble concentrating? These are all signals that you're low on energy.

Pay attention to what your body is telling you and then do something about it. Take a break as mentioned above. Go grab a small meal. Use the next 30 seconds to do nothing but breathe. You need to re-energize yourself to produce more effectively.

Time is money ... but only when you have the energy to make it pay.

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