Previously, it was thought that your attention was a limited resource and the more you focused on a task, the more attention you used. However, recent studies show that decreased concentration is not a result of ‘using up’ your attention, but it’s your mind acclimatizing to the task at hand. In other words, limited concentration isn’t the problem; you’ve just stopped paying attention to what you’re working on. It is similar to when your body no longer feels the clothes you put on, your mind pays less attention to a prolonged task as it becomes used to it.
Think I’ll go for a walk
This means that in order to maintain a high level of concentration, breaks are essential and that skipping breaks can lead to increased levels of stress and exhaustion. If you think of mental concentration as a muscle, then any sustained use of it will lead to fatigue – it needs time to recover before carrying on.
Not only are breaks important for the mind, they also reduce risks of physical injuries. Especially when the majority of coworkers are on computers for most of the day, physical ailments from computer-related work is common and unseen in previous generations. Certain serious problems include bad posture, back pain, shoulder tension and headaches, Occupational Overuse Syndrome (OOS) and Myopia.
Stress was not labeled “the silent killer” until it was linked to several staggering physical ailments. Although stress is a psychological condition, the impact is also physical. Long hours of strenuous work with little to no periods of relaxation can lead to heightened blood pressure, increased risk of heart problems, poor physical fitness and a decreased immune system.
Get over the guilt
Getting away from your work can seem like ‘slacking off’, but in fact, it’s a chance to recharge. Whether it’s a 5 min walk around the block, reading a book quietly in another room or a relaxing lunch at a local restaurant, they all give your mind a break from an intense flow of concentration. When you return to your work you will begin to look at your project with a new perspective and pick up details you may not have seen before.
OK, but for how long?
It’s true that if you’re not careful, breaks can become a way to procrastinate and put off doing work. One cup of coffee can very easily turn into two or three, one phone call could turn into several. As long as you keep track of your time, you are the judge of how long and how many breaks you should take. However, for those of you that find you over-work, make sure you take 2-3 breaks of at least 20 minutes in a typical workday. Don’t use it to run errands or work on other activities – a real break is one where you can truly relax.
More than body and mind
Since interaction is a fundamental part of coworking, then breaks provide a vital opportunity for coworkers to mingle. For a typical freelancer, work can be quite lonesome, often working individually with limited communication with remote teams or colleagues. Breaks give coworkers a chance to engage with each other, providing a context for basic social interaction. Beyond getting to know each other personally, coworkers can also use breaks to discover collaboration opportunities and acquire resources from each other. On a more fundamental level, social interaction engages a “wider range of human intelligence which includes physiological, social, emotional, constructive, reflective and dispositional”, states a recent case study on interaction at the workplace.
Many managers and hosts of coworking spaces understand coworkers’ need for social interaction, with the appearance of lounges, cafes, patios and “loud areas” integrated into coworking spaces. Some organizations have gone as far as creating meet-ups, group activities and networking sessions to further this interaction.
Make some changes
Now you know the reasons why taking breaks is a good idea, so here are some suggestions. If you’re the type of worker who likes to power through a workday, next week, try taking regular breaks and see if you feel the difference in concentration and stress levels.
Although it seems simple, being in the open air can do a world of good by improving breathing and blood circulation.Exercise. Bike around a local park or simply take a walk around the block. This is really great to stretch your muscles and allows you explore your neighborhood.
Breathe and meditate:
This isn’t just for yogis – breathing and meditation techniques can be a very useful way to circulate oxygen and reduce stress.
Eat healthy food:
Prepare yourself a snack or go to a café and buy yourself something to eat. The extra sugar will give you an energy boost. Meet-up with a friend. Give your friend a call or organize to have a coffee with another coworker for a non-work related conversation.
It is too easy to guzzle coffee after coffee, but remember to take regular water breaks. The added H20 will hydrate you and improve concentration.
This is a quick fix when you don’t have long to break. Watching a couple of Youtube clips that make you laugh can do a world of good.
One of the greatest freedoms of being a freelancer is being able to set your own rules of how and when you work. Whether you prefer to work late at night, early in the morning, in a quiet space or in a bustling café - you can choose. This also means that you can choose when to pause. Put your mental and physical health as a priority and take regular breaks so you can enjoy your workday to the fullest!