29 Oct Work smarter not harder: How to get more done by taking regular breaks
As consumerism, connectivity and a faster pace of life becomes the norm, we’ve become accustomed to working far longer hours than before. And as our work culture evolves to provide more flexibility – for example working from home, remotely or on the road – it’s becoming more difficult to stick to scheduled breaks. As a result, only a third of employees take a proper lunch break.
As we know at OY, when you’re freelance or running your own business, it’s especially easy to become a workaholic, and trivial things like taking a lunch break may seem like an unnecessary luxury. But taking time out from the working day could just be the key to boosting productivity.
Of course, proper nutrition is vital for both our physical and mental well-being at work, but it’s not just lunch breaks that are important. Studies have shown that taking regular breaks can keep your brain active for longer and help ward off the dreaded mid-morning or mid-afternoon slump.
We all know deep down that burning the candle at both ends isn’t healthy, but breaking up the working day is easier said than done. So, if you’re struggling to achieve a work-break balance, try following some of these simple tips.
- Don’t eat meals at your desk. In the UK, around a third of employees eat their lunch at their desks in order to “get more done”, when in fact, productivity levels tend to fall in the afternoon as a result. Even if you need to snack at your desk, try to eat your main meal somewhere else whenever possible. If there is a garden, absorb some Vitamin D (which will also boost your serotonin or “happy hormone” levels) and enjoy the solitude. If, like us, you have a café next door, treat yourself to the occasional light lunch while you take in the buzz of the surroundings.
- Focus on your food. ‘Mindful eating’ has become a buzzword over the last few decades as screens have crept into our lives and often dominate our eating environment – which means we’re not actually thinking about the process of eating at mealtimes. In short, your brain and stomach work in tandem to absorb nutrients and digest your food properly, keeping you trim and healthy, but they are unable to do this effectively if your mind is elsewhere. Stuffing a bag of crisps in your mouth to give you a quick energy boost while you’re tapping away frantically at the keyboard, or contemplating which client to phone next, might keep you going for five minutes, but ultimately it will leave you feeling hungry for more. And this in turn will distract you from your work. So set aside some quiet time to focus on – and enjoy – the food you’re eating, one mouthful at a time.
- Feed your brain. It can be hard to prepare nutritious meals in a hurry, but aim to eat the following at least once a week to keep your brain in tip-top condition: fish (contains omega 3 for brain function, development and memory); nuts, seeds, broccoli, blueberries (contain antioxidants to help slow cognitive decline); coffee and dark chocolate (rich in antioxidants but also moderate levels of caffeine to act as a stimulant); green tea (apart from helping to increase brain function, it can also help you to relax by counteracting the effect of too much coffee!); pumpkin seeds (rich in antioxidants but also contain essential nutrients for brain health including zinc, copper, magnesium and iron); and raw carrots (contain glucose for health brain function).
- Get up, get out and do something. Sitting in one position in front of a screen for hours on end can make your joints stiff and your eyes tired without you even realising. Try to stand up, stretch and/or walk around at least once every 90 minutes, if not more often. If you’re on deadline and every minute counts, don’t skip a ten-minute break in order to cram it all in, as this is more likely to slow you down. Instead, use these precious minutes to make a cup of tea, stare out of the window, say hello to a colleague, do star jumps – whatever floats your boat! – and you’ll find you get much more done.
- Turn off social media and… get social. We all check our social media accounts as a form of distraction throughout the day, but it’s not healthy to have it in the background continually. Choose a time during the day, for example your lunch break, to switch off social media completely and go and talk to other human beings – be it your colleagues, friends and family, or the local shop keeper.
- Clock watch at least once a week. Leaving the office on time has become a real taboo in recent years due to our relentless working culture, with many employees feeling as if they are frowned upon if they don’t continually stay late to “complete” all of their work. However, with unrealistic targets and ever-increasing competition, staying late when your brain is frazzled doesn’t actually make you productive – it just makes you resentful in the long term. Make a point of leaving on time when you can, and if you run your own business, encourage your employees to do the same.
It’s not easy juggling work and personal time, but building in a few breaks a day will allow you to work smarter, not harder, and keep you healthy in body and mind.