A line in the sand: Three scientific reasons for taking a break

Remember when you had to wait for the office to open before you could contact someone to access their services? People were more patient then and there was less sense of a need for immediate gratification. You had time to unwind after a hard day’s work, got to recharge your batteries, start afresh the next day.

In this 24/7 world it is hard to find a place where you can truly relax. Being in constant communication has blurred the line between the end of the working day and our personal time. Our smart phones are now our banks, our maps, our music libraries, even our medical records; for professionals, an extension of our workstations in the cloud. Whatever did we do without them?

In our connected lives, we’re constantly looking and listening to what’s being shared via our social networks, keeping an eye out for photo opportunities, an event to tag or a potential status update to post. Everyone knows what we are doing all the time. We are never really alone, always traceable, thanks to GPS. We leave nothing to chance, least we should get lost amongst the digital noise and a memorable moment pass us by.

Not to mention when you take a holiday (hopefully somewhere you don’t get phone reception, where WIFI is just a term that they use in town). You pack up your electronic devices and chargers, plan to check your email and text messages, arrange Skype meetings while you’re away. It’s all an effort just to keep the wheels turning when you should be taking a break… Don’t know about you, but I am exhausted just writing this!

In a recent article Why You Need to Stop Thinking You Are Too Busy to Take Breaks, Courtney Seiter draws a line in the sand. For fans of technology, here is an abridged version of Seiter’s three scientific reasons to prioritise taking breaks at work.

  1. Breaks keep us from getting bored (and thus, unfocused)
    When you’re really in the groove of a task or project, the ideas are flowing and you feel great. But it doesn’t last forever—stretch yourself just a bit beyond that productivity zone and you might feel unfocused, zoned out or even irritable… Basically, the human brain just wasn’t built for the extended focus we ask of it these days. Our brains are vigilant all the time because they evolved to detect tons of different changes to ensure our very survival. So focusing so hard on one thing for a long time isn’t something we’re ever going to be great at (at least for a few centuries).
  1. Breaks help us retain information and make connections
    Our brains have two modes: the “focused mode,” (which we use when we’re doing things like learning something new, writing or working) and “diffuse mode,” which is our more relaxed, daydreamy mode when we’re not thinking so hard. You might think that the focused mode is the one to optimize for more productivity, but diffuse mode plays a big role, too… Some studies have shown that the mind solves its stickiest problems while daydreaming—something you may have experienced while driving or taking a shower. Breakthroughs that seem to come out of nowhere are often the product of diffuse mode thinking.
  1. Breaks help us re-evaluate our goals
    When you work on a task continuously, it’s easy to lose focus and get lost in the weeds. In contrast, following a brief intermission, picking up where you left off forces you to take a few seconds to think globally about what you’re ultimately trying to achieve. It’s a practice that encourages us to stay mindful of our objectives.

Maybe we all need to draw a line in the sand today that says “I have had enough”, ditch the device and give ourselves some time to regenerate and approach things anew.

Should you be taking a break right now?

Sandra Brown

Sandra has in excess of 25 years recruitment and consulting experience within the Health and Human Services sectors across Australia, and internationally in New Zealand and America. She complements her consulting career with industry experience where she worked in a senior Human Resources Leadership role in a major teaching hospital in Boston. Well known for her consultative approach, Sandra has developed a reputation as a leading industry specialist, having placed a range of CEOs and senior executives across the sectors and facilitated initiatives including talent acquisition, talent management and organisational excellence.

Sandra Brown
Director
TRANSEARCH International Australia
Level 7, 15 William Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
Tel: +61 3 9285 5800
sandra.brown@transearch.com.au
transearch.com.au

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