Take Regular Breaks To Avoid Burnout
Updated: Apr 17
If you’re anything like me you can get swept away with projects, losing yourself in the oh-so-urgent minutiae and before you know it you’ve frazzled your brain and in dire need of a reset.
I used to think this was a part of being focused, task-driven and productive but it actually works the other way if you’re not careful. You still get the task done if you power through, but is it your best work?
The human brain isn’t really cut out for extended periods of focus on one task. From an evolutionary standpoint, the old grey matter was built for being aware of our immediate environment, detecting, learning and adapting to our surroundings so it’s no wonder that long sessions of concentration have a breaking point. Long sessions are also likely to spark boredom and this is bad news for productivity and output quality.
Get Some Perspective
The breaks don’t need to be too long, even a short break of 5 mins can help you to regain perspective on a project and even see it from a different angle. It helps keep us mindful of the task(s) at hand and reframe the goals you are trying to achieve.
It also helps keep you objective, which is hugely important if you are working creatively. You need to be able to empathise with the end reader, viewer or customer and imagine seeing your work through their eyes. With this perspective you are able to assess your own work with greater clarity.
OK, so this is a no-brainer (pardon the pun). We all know that for our minds to work at their best they need fuel. Make sure you keep your mind and body fuelled with regular meals and healthy snacks. I’m no dietitian but stick to low sugar, slow-release foods like unsalted mixed nuts, when you need an extra boost. Make sure to get your water requirements throughout the day in regular intervals. During your breaks ask yourself how you feel and fuel accordingly.
A Method For Everyone
Not every type of break method will suit everyone so experiment to see which works best for you. Some people use the Pomodoro Cycle method which encourages small bursts of work and shorter break periods - think 25 minutes on, 5 minutes break. After 4 cycles it’s time for a longer break of around 30 mins.
In a similar way to when we sleep, our waking alertness has a predictable rhythm. This is called the Ultradian Rhythm and is a cycle of 90 minutes of activity or work, with 20 minutes of rest continued, rinse and repeat. This reduces the risk of exhaustion and helps with alertness and focus. This is something I am experimenting with at the moment and have a Break Timer app browser plug-in to prompt me to get off my chair, stretch and get away from my computer.
If it’s not as easy to be this regimented with your breaks, then consider just scheduling two 15-minute breaks throughout the day. One mid-morning and one around 3pm when almost everyone gets a slump.
It’s up to you what you decide to do on your breaks. You could take a walk, have a snack, meditate, read a book or just about anything that you find pleasant, restful or rejuvenating.
I’m by no means an expert on this, but it seems to work for my focus and clarity and well worth trying out to see if you find any improvements to your work quality, mood and overall focus.