Whether you manage a team or just your own schedule, a consistent cycle of breaks can reenergize the mind, transform the work day, and increase productivity. The brain goes through a pattern of alternating higher and lower alertness throughout the day, according to Ultradian Rhythm, allowing focus to last only 90 to 120 minutes before attention diminishes. Unlike machines, our natural human tendency is to move cyclically, so in order to create efficiency we need to establish a cycle or rhythm throughout the day.
A typical eight-hour work day is a significant amount of time for one to maintain focus and sustained energy—after all punching in on a time clock and the concept of the 9-to-5 job are age-old norms that do not always guarantee high-quality work. Many companies in Sweden have transitioned into a 6-hour-work day, which has already begun to result in more productivity and higher spirits. Work culture has been vastly changing in creative strides, it is time to reimagine the eight-hour work day and explore the many different ways to achieve success and joy in our daily routine.
To develop a sustainable system for balanced productivity and happiness, include a short break for yourself after every 90 minutes of work. Here are some ways to relieve stress and maximize our resting periods:
Many people spend 40-plus hours of the workweek hunched over a desk with eyes locked to a computer screen or talking on the phone. Try to unplug from technology and be fully immersed into a relaxing activity during breaks. Commit to pressing pause, enjoy a few carefree moments to yourself and make your break count. Often stepping back from a project and returning with fresh eyes is the only way to recognize solutions. With a renewed sense of energy, dedicate the mind to the next 90 minutes of engaged work.
Take a Walk
A significant part of the workday takes place indoors, from eating lunch at our desk and socializing by the coffee machine to attending meetings, everything typically occurs within structured walls. Stepping outside and taking a walk physically detaches us from the chaos of the office—while breathing in fresh air and feeling the warmth of the sun can rejuvenate us throughout the day. In 2008, a University of Michigan psychology research found that memory and attention spans increased after people spent time in nature or even after viewing photos of nature. If there isn’t time for a brisk walk, take a minute to stretch and connect with your body.
As students in the classroom and now as employees in the workplace, doodling is often frowned upon—giving the impression of slacking off or a lack of focus. Whether scribbling or drawing, putting pen to paper can tap into our creative side, fuel concentration, boost memory, and alleviate stress. In a cognitive psychology study, Professor Jackie Andrade of Plymouth University found that doodlers were able to remember facts 30 percent better than non-doodlers—proving that instead of being a distraction, doodling reinforces the minds ability to pay attention.
Why stop at sketching stick figures? More and more, we are seeing that doodling and coloring are not just for kids. Selling millions of copies worldwide, The Secret Garden sparked the growing trend of adult coloring books—popular as a de-stressing tool and a fun creative outlet. Expressive and imaginative activities during breaks can have a calming effect while setting the course for free-flowing ideas and inspiration when returning to work.
Find What Works For You
From reading a short story to doing jumping jacks, there are endless ways to utilize breaks that will reinvigorate the mind while inspiring new ideas. Some larger companies offer author readings, yoga classes, a game room, or book clubs to their employees, while smaller-scale offices have to get innovative with their space by hanging a dart board or even using a conference desk that doubles as a ping pong table. Take time to experiment and find out what kinds of activities ignite your imagination, bring peace of mind, and fulfill your day.
Charles Buxton once said, “You will never find time for anything. If you want time, you must make it.” Deadlines are inevitable and often we are stuck feeling that there are not enough hours in the day. Although the time we invest in work is important, our level of cognitive focus and attention to detail with our projects are the tipping point towards success. Making time to relax and reboot will help produce the momentum and focus needed for a successful outcome. Dividing the day up with laid out breaks will not only generate productivity but allows us to take a loaded schedule one step at a time—opening the mind, balancing daily happiness, and reinventing the eight-hour workday.