Take a break to get more done

timerHow many times have you been working on a project, and it’s going well, you are making progress and feeling really good about your outcome? But then the longer you work, the less clear things become, and suddenly, you aren’t sure whether you are even headed in the right direction anymore? You either leap down a rabbit hole of wrong ideas, or the ideas just stop altogether.

Fatigue sets in and clouds your thinking and your planning. You need to take a break from the project so that you can come back fresh and effective. All the experts recommend it, but why don’t we listen?

I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but sometimes you need to take a break from something before you are ready for a break in order to accomplish even more. Like taking a rest day when you are training for a marathon, your breaks need to be planned and timed well to be most effective.

I definitely struggle with a tendency to overwork, so here are some tactics that I’ve found help me take effective breaks:

  • Set a timer – plan a 5 minute break for every hour or so that you do focused work on a project. It’s easy to get so caught up in what you are doing that you forget to take a break, but you may be headed for burnout if you don’t.
  • Stretch or walk around – do something physical for a few minutes like a few stretches or walking around the building or office to help get the blood flowing again, and give your eyes and mind a rest. You’ll feel more energy and be better able to focus when your return to your desk.
  • Change your focus –the act of switching gears and thinking about a different project helps me to later come back to the original project with new perspective. Like when you have forgotten something, you have to start thinking of something else before the forgotten idea comes back to you.
  • Clear the clutter – if there are papers or stacks around your workspace, take a few moments to organize. Sometimes the act of neatening the work area helps “neaten” your ideas as well.
  • Finish something – if there are some quick-to-finish things on your list that are weighing on your mind, take a break to finish one of them. You’ll be surprised at how much mental capacity that frees up to refocus on the project at hand.

It is sometimes hard to admit that you need to stop when you are in the middle of a big project, because you feel like you are “in the flow” and making so much progress. But if you take some breaks along the way, you will be even more productive. Give it a try, then come back and tell us about it in the comments.

How do you plan breaks to get more done?