Five Kinds of Restorative Breaks: A Menu
You now understand the science of breaks and why they’re so effective in both combatting the trough and boosting your mood and performance. You’ve even got a break list ready to go. But what sort of break should you take? There’s no right answer. Just choose one from the following menu or combine a few, see how they go, and design the breaks that work best for you:
- Micro-breaks — A replenishing break need not be lengthy. Even breaks that last a minute or less-what researchers call “microbreaks”-can pay dividends.’ Consider these:
The 20-20-20 rule — Before you begin a task, set a timer. Then, every twenty minutes, look at something twenty feet away for twenty seconds. If you’re working at a computer, this microbreak will rest your eyes and improve your posture, both of which can fight fatigue.
Hydrate — You might already have a water bottle. Get a much smaller one. When it runs out-and of course it will, because of its size-walk to the water fountain and refill it. It’s a threefer: hydration, motion, and restoration.
Wiggle your body to reset your mind — One of the simplest breaks of all: Stand up for sixty seconds, shake your arms and legs, flex your muscles, rotate your core, sit back down.
- Moving breaks — Most of us sit too much and move too little. So build more movement into your breaks. Some options:
Take a five-minute walk every hour –As we have learned, five- minute walk breaks are powerful. They’re feasible for most people.
Office yoga — You can do yoga poses right at your desk-chair rolls, wrist releases, forward folds-to relieve tension in your neck and lower back, limber up your typing fingers, and relax your shoulders. This may not be for everyone, but anyone can give it a try. Just stick “office yoga” into a search engine.
Push-ups — Yeah, push-ups. Do two a day for a week. Then four a day for the next week and six a day a week after that. You’ll boost your heart rate, shake off cognitive cobwebs, and maybe get a little stronger.
- Nature break — This might sound tree bugger-y, but study after study has shown the replenishing effects of nature. What’s more, people consistently underestimate how much better nature makes them feel. Choose:
Walk outside — If you’ve got a few minutes and are near a local park, take a lap through it. If you work at home and have a dog, take Fido for a walk.
Go outside — If there are trees and a bench behind your building, sit there instead of inside.
Pretend you’re outside — If the best you can do is look at some indoor plants or the trees outside your window-well, research suggests that will help, too.
- Social break-Don’t go it alone. At least not always. Social breaks are effective, especially when you decide the who and how. A few ideas:
Reach out and touch somebody — Call someone you haven’t talked to for a while and just catch up for five or ten minutes. Reawakening these “dormant ties” is also a great way to strengthen your network. Or use the moment to say thank you-via a note, an email, or a quick visit–to someone who’s helped you. Gratitude-with its mighty combination of meaning and social connection-is a mighty restorative.”
Schedule it — Plan a regular walk or visit to a coffee joint or weekly gossip session with colleagues you like. A fringe benefit of social breaks is that you’re more likely to take one if someone else is counting on you. Or go Swedish and try what Swedes call a fika-a full-fledged coffee break that is the supposed key to Sweden’s high levels of employee satisfaction and productivity.’
Don’t schedule it –– If your schedule is too tight for something regular, buy someone a coffee one day this week. Bring it to her. Sit and talk about something other than work for five minutes.
- Mental gear-shifting break — Our brains suffer fatigue just as much as our bodies do-and that’s a big factor in the trough. Give your brain a break by trying these:
Meditate-Meditation is one of the most effective breaks-and micro-breaks-of all.” Check out material from UCLA (http://marc.ucla.edu/mindful-meditations), which offers guided meditations as short as three minutes.
Controlled breathing — Have forty-five seconds? Then, as the New York Times explains: “Take a deep breath, expanding your belly. Pause. Exhale slowly to the count of five. Repeat four rimes.”? It’s called controlled breathing, and it can tamp your stress hormones, sharpen your thinking, and maybe even boost your immune system — all in under a minute.
Lighten up — Listen to a comedy podcast. Read a joke book. If you can find a little privacy, put on your headphones and jam out for a song or two. There’s even evidence from one study on the replenishing effects of watching dog videos.” (No, really.)