Breaks as a key to happy productivity
Perhaps you are familiar with this situation: An important project has to be completed today and at the same time one urgent e-mail after the next pops up. Our natural reaction in such a moment is to speed things up! The last thing that comes to mind is to take a break. As paradoxical as it sounds, this is exactly what would be the most effective thing to do in that moment. Science has already proven this in numerous studies (e.g. Sio, Ormerod, 2009, Donovan, Redosevich, 1999).
However, it is important to mention at this point what we mean by a break. Because not all breaks are the same. The better we manage to let our brain relax during a break, the more effective it is. We're not talking about "I'll-check-my-Insta-Feed-breaks" or "I'll-get-a-snack-breaks", where you mentally dive into other topics or just let your thoughts bubble away. Such pauses tend to be energy drainers. What we are talking about is mindful pauses, where you take distance from your thoughts and you are only in the moment. Even tiny mindful mini-breaks of 1 to 10 minutes have a huge effect and provide you with energy for a fruitful and joyful day - for happy productivity. Curious about why this is possible? The following three insights have convinced us in this regard:
1. AFTER A BREAK YOUR BRAIN IS ABLE TO SET PRIORITIES BETTER.
Especially when we have a lot to do, the ability to prioritize is even more crucial. Which tasks does it make sense to dwell on longer?
In our brain, the prefrontal cortex is responsible for these decisions. In this region of our brain occurs planning, decision-making, and prioritization, among other things. This area is strongly affected by whether we take breaks or not. During breaks, we process what we have experienced and create new synapses. Without taking rests, it is much more complicated for us to decide what is important and what is not. Therefore, we work less productively, as we get stuck on irrelevant things.
2. YOUR CREATIVITY CAN FLOURISH EVEN BETTER AFTER A BREAK.
Creativity encompasses much more than just artistic activities. Almost every job's success depends to a large extent on how creatively we approach a problem. Being creative means generating something new or finding creative solutions to change conditions and pose challenges. So creativity is very essential for how productively you work. If you find at least one creative workaround, you will save a lot of time.
The Good News is: Each of us is creative! This is the conviction of Ernst Poeppel, who was professor for medical psychology at the LMU in Munich for a long time and who dealt intensively with the topic of creativity in his research. In his opinion, creativity cannot be induced, but the right framework conditions can be created so that creativity can unfold. Pauses are vital for this, as the brain recombines existing information during the breaks, thus making new ideas possible in the first place. He says, "You simply have to give the brain a chance and let it think in peace. That's the only way new thoughts can emerge."
Just when you need a solution to a particularly important issue, take a little break next time. Even as a team, if you're just stuck in a workshop or meeting, take a little creativity mini-break. You'll see that ideas will bubble up much easier afterward, and you'll have more fun.
3. MINI-BREAKS WILL KEEP YOU FOCUSED
The ability to concentrate on a task is also impacted by small mini-breaks in between. The explanation for this is quite simple: We synchronize ourselves with our natural rhythm. This is how our body and our brain like to work at their best. Researchers, such as Ingo Fietze, professor at the sleep medicine campus of the Charité hospital in Berlin, believes that our performance fluctuates in a 90-minute rhythm. Tony Schwartz calls this rhythm "pulse and pause." Quite naturally, our concentration decreases after 90 minutes. If we follow this impulse of our body after a mini-break, we can continue to work afterwards in a concentrated and relaxed way instead of struggling through the "fatigue hole". Not only does ignoring the need of break feel uncomfortable, it's also a fallacy to think you'll finish faster if you choose to ignore this urge.