The Secret to Your Next Breakthrough? Taking a Break.
In a culture of go, go, go, it can be hard to book a vacation, make it home for dinner or even leave our desks during the day. Our success-driven society tells us that if we just push through that wall of exhaustion to return one more email, or make one more phone call, that’s how we get ahead. If we walk away, we’re slackers or quitters.
In my experience, however, these “never enough” messages have done much more to hurt my career than help it. One more email can turn into hours of overtime, and in trying to go above and beyond, I’ll bite off more than I can chew. Ultimately, I end up feeling overwhelmed, and when that happens, I’m the least creative or motivated to take on new challenges. Here’s my advice: Put those “never enough” messages on mute, and give yourself the license to get away for a while.
Brains need breaks too
Our brains send information coursing through our bodies at 150 miles per hour and produce enough energy every moment to power a small lightbulb. But as incredible as our brains are, they can go into overdrive if we don’t give them the opportunity to rest and recharge. Taking brain breaks throughout the day helps restore your creativity, focus and motivation. Brain breaks also prevent “decision fatigue,” which can result in poor choices when we’re mentally worn out. If you feel like you’re hitting a wall on a certain task, you probably are. Give your brain the opportunity to reset by chatting with a coworker, making a cup of tea, listening to a song, looking out the window, or just moving on to something different. Silly errors are the most common byproduct of a brain in overdrive. When you start making little mistakes, it’s time for a brain break.
Take a walk outside
The best medicine for an overworked brain is a breath of fresh air. When I’m in meetings all day, I never let a midday break get away from me without stepping outside. No matter the season, a change of scenery outside office walls contextualizes our problems by reminding us of the great big world out there. Our best work is done when we are inspired, motivated and passionate.
For me, inspiration doesn’t brew behind a desk. Hospitals have structured the entire architecture of their layouts around this concept. Gardens and courtyards are central spaces for patients and employees to destress, and studies show the mental benefits an outdoor area presents for hospital residents. So, use your lunch or break time as a time of healing and mental refocusing.
Go on an actual vacation
In 2018, research by the U.S. Travel Association showed more than half of Americans (55 percent) are still not using all their paid time off. In fact, American workers failed to use 768 million days of PTO — a 9 percent increase from 2017. Since when were vacations met with so much resistance? On vacation, I make it a habit to unplug from work and email, and I don’t limit myself to strict schedules. I turn off the news. I try to connect with those around me and just soak up the downtime, using vacation as a charging station for our physical and mental well-being.
Whether your idea of a perfect vacation means walking along a sandy white beach or curling up with a good book on the couch for a week, our bodies and our brains need breaks from our everyday routines. If success is what we’re after, we have to know when to walk away and take time for ourselves. Our future (more successful) selves will thank us.