As I am writing this blog post, I’m sitting on my front porch listening to the wind rustling through the trees, a gentle breeze blowing, and a light rain falling. Sooooo relaxing.
But I am still pounding the keys writing this blog post and being productive. So I guess you could say I am combining a break with my work. Is that possible?
I’ve read a lot of books over the years and attended seminars on how to increase productivity. I’ve also listened to entrepreneurs and business owners talk about (bragging about) working 80-hour weeks. Working long hours is seen as a badge of honor by some people. The truth is if you calculated their actual productive time, it would probably be around 50 hours or less.
There are times when 80-hour weeks may be necessary, but not for a long period of time. If you are habitually working 80-hour weeks, you more than likely have procedural or operational issues in your business. If you are a business owner, entrepreneur or solopreneur, I would bet you are not as productive as you could be if you gave yourself a break.
Here are three strategies you can implement to ensure you take the necessary breaks during the day to increase your mental alertness; improve your mental and physical well-being; and increase productivity.
1. Work in specific time intervals.
Working in time blocks will allow you to take needed breaks. If I am working on something really intense, I will set a timer to remind myself to get up and walk around. My routine is to work 30-minutes, then get up and stretch for a few minutes or walk around outside just to clear my mind and adjust my body. The reason for my 30-minute rule is backed by science. Some studies have show metabolism slows down 90 percent after 30 minutes of sitting. So after 30 minutes, it is time to get moving even if it’s just for a couple of minutes.
The amount of time you spend on a task and the number of breaks you take will be determined by your ability to stay mentally focused over a certain period of time and your physical condition. And this will be different for different people. You just have to be aware and find what works best for you.
You can improve both mental stamina and physical health with consistent practice. Being mentally and physically aware will help you determine the best time to take a break.
As a side note, I have a stand-up desk. And I have learned even with a stand-up desk, I need a balance of working while sitting and working while standing t keep my body aligned.
Andres Segovia, one of the best known classical guitarists of all time, would practice in four periods of an hour and 15 minutes for five hours a day with relaxation between periods of activity. The five hours consisted of 15-minute sets with a short break between each set to stand up, stretch, and drink some water.
Segovia performed concerts around the world until the age of 94. So this worked for him.
Find a schedule that works for you. Experiment with how much time you spend extremely focused on the task at hand and how much time you spend taking a break. Write down how you spend your time every day. Over a period of time, you will develop a schedule that works for you and you will dramatically improve your productivity.
I have friends who are professional guitarists who do the marathon four-hour practice sessions with no break. Many of them have hand, neck and back issues as a result. So I’m thinking Segovia’s practice routine is a much better option.
2. Take exercise breaks
Being physically fit is something that is not stressed enough for business owners and entrepreneurs. The excuse is usually, “I don’t have time.” But exercise does not have to take an hour every day to be effective. Studies have shown shorter exercise routines, done the right way, can be more effective.
In the 1990s, Dr. Izumi and his team of researchers at the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo conducted a study on two groups of athletes.
The first group worked out at a moderate intensity level for five days a week for six weeks with each workout lasting one hour. The second group worked out four days a week for six weeks with each workout lasting four minutes and 20 seconds.
At the end of the study, they found the first group had increased their cardiovascular health, but had very little increase in muscular strength. The second group showed more of an increase in cardiovascular health. They also showed more of an increase in muscular strength. This shows the 4-minute workout had a much larger impact than the one-hour training.
Here is how it works: You push yourself as hard as you can for 20 seconds and rest 10 seconds. You repeat this eight times. And you can use any exercise you want.
So that could be your 4-minute exercise break. Start slowly. Find something you can do 20 seconds with a 10 second break. If you can’t do eight sets, then do 3 sets. As with everything, the key is consistency. I challenge you to do this five days a week for six weeks. You may be surprised at the results.
Then when you are up to the challenge, you can do several sets of 4 minutes. You could, for example, do pushups as your 4-minute routine, You could do squats as your 4 minutes. As your conditioning improves, you could be doing a 4-minute pushup Tabata, a 4-minute squats Tabata, a 4 minute step ups Tabata, and a 4-minute kettle ball routine.
So that’s how you could potentially take a break during the day, get in a great workout in a short amount of time, and increase your productivity.
Note: Start slowly. Tabata can be a very intense workout so make sure you check with your doctor before starting this or any other exercise regimen.
3. Take a nap
After reading many interviews with highly successful people, one thing keeps coming up. Most of them take time during the day to reenergize their mind and body by taking a nap. Research completed by the National Sleep Foundation found taking a nap up to 30 minutes can help improve alertness, enhance performance, and reduce mistakes in your work. But anything over 30 minutes can cause grogginess and have the opposite effect. So maybe the sweet spot is taking a 20-minute nap. Try it to see what works for you.
When I worked in the corporate world, there was a guy in my department in upper level management that would close his office door every day at noon and take a 30-minute nap at his desk. He was always sharp and alert even when we had 12 hour days.
Staying on track
Here are a three tips to help you stay on track with taking necessary breaks and becoming more productive.
1. Set deadlines for getting things done
When you have a large project to do without setting a solid deadline for getting it done, it can float into the future indefinitely. So it’s important to set a solid deadline or finish date. Doing this can sometimes lead to those 80-hour weeks I mentioned earlier, but that’s okay because at least you know there is an end date.
It’s during these times that it is more important than ever to remember to take breaks. You will not be working 80-hour weeks indefinitely, but just long enough to complete the task. Then once this big thing is off your to-do list and out of your mind, you will be more focused and productive on the next task.
2. Use the two-minute rule to give yourself a break
Not a lot to say about this. If something can be done in two minutes or less. Do it now. Developing this habit can help you better manage your to-do list and increase your productivity. When I look at some business owners to-do list, they usually have several tasks that would take them a couple of minutes to do. So take care of those things first so they are off your mind and done. You don’t need these small things taking up mental space.
At the beginning of this post I mentioned sitting on the porch and still being productive. Is this possible? The answer is yes. For example, you could be working on a really intense project. Your break may be to spend time on one of your two-minute tasks I mentioned earlier. This leads to getting one more thing off your plate. It also gives your mind a break by focusing on something else for a couple of minutes.
3. Reduce distractions
If you have a notification on your computer that dings every time you get an email, turn it off. If a bell rings on your smartphone every time you get a get message, turn it off. Actually, just turn your phone off or put in in Airplane Mode if you are working on a task that requires your full focus and concentration. Doing this may seem like a minor thing, but when you here the ding, it takes a few minutes to get your focus back. This interferes with your workflow.
One more thing…
Life happens. Be flexible with your schedule. You will have doctor appointments, car repairs, and other things that will sometimes throw a wrench into your schedule. Just deal with it and don’t let it stress you out. Almost every place now has Wi-Fi. I usually take my MacBook Air and smartphone with me everywhere so I can work while waiting.
Give some thought to everything I’ve mentioned above. It is a process and it takes a little time to implement. But if you do the work, become more aware, and implement a couple (or all) of the strategies I mentioned above, you should see a marked improvement in your productivity. As a side benefit, you could see improvement in your mental health and physical health.
Life is short. Don’t be all stressed out all the time. Give yourself a break!
All the best,