When Do You Take a Break?

I started a new regimen of PT (physical therapy) to manage my vertigo a little better. Yesterday, I did a ton of leg/balance work. I did too much—I was exhausted. (Balancing on one leg challenges my brain to manage my vertigo. Yes, I need it, and it tires me out.)

I came home and tried to work. I sat looking at my screen. I finally realized I was yawning and took a nap.

I only needed 20 minutes and I was back to thinking again.

That short break allowed me to work the entire rest of the day. The break was exactly what I needed.

We take vacations as a break from work. Since I drink a ton of water I also take regular breaks during the day. (What goes in eventually comes out.) We take lunch breaks. (Well, I do. I hope you do, too.) I find that a lunch break provides me enough time to refill my creativity and fuel myself for the afternoon.

Breaks provide us a little respite during the day or during our lives to recharge.

If you are agile, you might be familiar with the idea of sustainable pace. That’s when you can keep working at the same pace for a long time, if not forever.

I find that sustainable pace varies from project to project. I often have these parts to my projects:

  • Thinking, planning, outlining, getting ready in one form or another. I often timebox this part.
  • Executing on the project. I develop the talk/workshop/client work/writing for a while and then I take a quick break.
  • Reflecting on what I just did. I might edit/cycle/reorganize.
  • Loop back to the thinking so I am ready for the next chunk. End when I’m done.

When I teach writing, I teach people to work in 20-25 minute increments, just like a Pomodoro. Plan a little (5 minutes), write for 15 minutes, reflect for 5 minutes. I find that when people manage their writing time like this, they can continue to write for just a little bit, or for hours. Yes, this is how I write my books, although I often write for longer at a time when my schedule permits.

The breaks are key. The breaks allow me to plan just enough for the next chunk of work. The reflection time is different from the writing/development time, so I can see what I’m doing and whether I want to continue that way.

If you don’t take breaks during the day, why not? When I first became a mid-level manager, I felt pulled in many directions. I allowed people to schedule meetings back to back to back. I ran from meeting to meeting. And bio breaks? I felt guilty about them!

It didn’t take me long to realize I wasn’t accomplishing what I felt I needed to. I changed how I worked. I took lunch breaks. I left meetings in time to take a bio break and get to my next meeting. Yes, I influenced the agendas. I stopped going to some meetings (a break from that meeting). Yes, taking breaks allowed me to breathe and reflect.

I made much more progress by taking breaks.

I bet you have experiences like that, too.

That is the question this week: When do you take a break?

4 thoughts on “When Do You Take a Break?

  1. Tom

    I try to take a break at least a couple of times per day. I’ve tried pomodoro, but it did not work very well for me – the 25 minute timboxes felt artificial & my work usually does not fall into equally sized chunks. So what I do is split my daily work into irregular chunks (timeboxes), preferably not more than 90 minutes long, ideally less than 60 minutes – I have read somewhere that ability to focus on anything drops rapidly after 60 minutes (that is also why I – when running workshops and trainings- split them into hour long chunks). On a good day, I am able to finish around 6 – 7 chunks of work whilst having short breaks between them that allow me to refresh & refocus.

    1. johanna Post author

      Tom, that makes perfect sense to me. (I think I said something similar but not as specifically as you just did. Maybe I needed another nap!)

      I have also found people’s attention flags so I try (don’t always succeed) to have an activity every 20-30 minutes, too.

  2. Tim Ottinger

    When I’m doing workshops or training, we have a mandatory break every hour.
    No working through the break.

    The idea is not that we’re tired and need to recover — when we get that way, it’s already too late. We’ve missed ideas and opportunities.

    We take breaks to avoid becoming tired. That way we’re fresh all day.

    And it works.

    1. johanna Post author

      Tim, I like the idea of a mandatory break every hour. When I teach, I vary the activities so there’s a little of me, some group work, some reflection/debrief every hour. I have great results when people don’t try to do their “real” work during the workshop. (I don’t know why people don’t think training is real work!) With breaks, especially the coffee break which requires people to stand up and walk around, they are ready to do the next thing.

      The “fresh all day” piece is great.

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