We live in a culture where being busy and balancing plates is applauded. We're seemingly only living up to our potential if we're chaotically moving from task to task, project to project, event to event. The thought of slowing down and giving yourself a break opens up our self-judgment, making us ask ourselves, "How can I let this precious time be wasted?"
The mentally of rest being a waste is why so many of us are actually far less efficient with our time than we could be. We move so quickly from project to project, constantly context shifting, we're far more likely to drop the ball or be less successful with our projects and passions. Non-stop busy days increase the risk we'll cancel those plans we've been looking forward to at the last minute, just to give ourselves a quick break. When we're running a mile-a-minute our body can't catch up, impacting our immune system, increasing our likelihood of illness and getting even less done. In short: we're doing it all wrong.
There are several ways we can work to build in mental and physical breaks for ourselves, which ultimately build our efficiency, sense of accomplishment and energy. Breaks throughout our day aren't laziness, they're tactful opportunities to be better.
Context shifting is the ultimate efficiency-killer; it's also the bad habit most likely to make us feel burned out at the end of the day. When we flit from task to task with no real consistency, we're using more energy and cognitive power than we need to be, leading us to feel drained. Instead, block your time, allowing your brain to work less and focus on like-tasks. Perhaps you start your morning by checking your email, only staying in your inbox, jotting down to-do's from any emails, but saving those tasks for after you've read through your messages. By not coming in and out of our inbox, moving from one random task to the next, we're less likely to miss something important and feel more on-top of our day.
Even more important than avoiding context-shifting to give us a mental break, we actually need to give ourselves a full-stop break! Step away from your computer for several minutes to stretch. Go outside and take a walk around the block. Make yourself a meal and eat it away from your work. When we take our breaks it's important to separate ourselves from our work, otherwise we're not giving ourselves a big enough mental partition. Staying in the same room for our break allows us to still mill on the tasks, cut our break short and avoid the rest our brain and body needs.
Napping is also an amazing strategy for a mental and physical break from the day. Evidence shows us that the key to a restful and rejuvenating nap lies in the timing. Find a cozy spot and set your alarm for 26 minutes. This specific time frame allows our body and brain to reset and take on the day feeling more refreshed.
Allowing ourselves space to take mental health days is also important. It can be difficult to grant ourselves the grace needed to take a day away from work, especially when so much of our work impacts others. Planning vacation days where we actually rest rather than taking on other tasks or projects is important. Using our vacation days to reset are key to our ability to come back into our work with a new perspective.
How do we find time to rest? In the perfect world, we would listen to our brain and body and step away from our work for short period rather than making that next cup of coffee. In reality, our breaks sometimes work better by being scheduled into our day. As with most things, we need to be flexible, but we should never cancel our breaks. Our lunch is a period for us to be away from work, so we should take it. It's helpful to have a 2:30 walk around the block to look forward to each day.
Learning how to build these habits takes time and intention, especially when so many norms in our society are rewarding the opposite behavior. Start small, take your scheduled stretch breaks, and then slowly build up to bigger, necessary acts of self-kindness and rest. Your brain and body will thank you.