“The ethic of more, bigger, faster generates value that is narrow, shallow, and short term. More and more, paradoxically, leads to less and less.”—Tony SchwartzThink about a typical workday. The majority of us start with the most amount of energy at the beginning of the day. Throughout the day, we work and work and work, often taking few or no breaks. We eat lunch at our desks or work through lunch altogether. We hit that 3:00pm slump and turn to stimulants to get us through the rest of the day. By the time we get home, we are drained and exhausted, our energy almost entirely depleted. You may start the next work day with even less energy than the day before, leading to a never-ending cycle of energy exhaustion. Sound familiar? If someone were to ask you what matters most in life, what would you say? Most people would agree that family, friends, pets, and hobbies are what matters most. And where are these things typically found? Outside of work. The problem with the way we work is that there is a disconnect: We use almost all of our energy working and leave little to no energy toward what matters most to us in life.
How do we improve the way we work?In his book, The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working, Tony Schwartz describes the concept of energy management, or balancing our days with focused work and periods of rest and renewal. Our brains naturally focus for roughly ninety minutes at a time followed by a period of lower energy. Think of this as a physiological pulse—up and down, up and down. Instead of working away all of our energy, we should work in waves, following our bodies’ natural rhythm. This means taking a two to fifteen-minute break about every ninety minutes to return to work feeling reenergized and refreshed, increasing wellbeing and work productivity. Even a one-minute break to stand up, stretch, or practice deep breathing can leave you feeling reinvigorated and motivated.
Not all breaks are created equal.To reap the most benefits of a work break, it’s important to take productive, or energizing, breaks. Instead of scrolling through social media during a short break, focus on increasing physical, social, spiritual, or intellectual wellness. Some examples may include:
- Taking a device-free walk outside
- Eating lunch with a coworker, away from your workspace
- Reflecting about your job’s purpose and future goals
- Doing a crossword puzzle
- Set a reminder on your phone or Outlook calendar to take recurring breaks each day.
- Encourage your coworkers to take breaks with you.
- Take a mini-break by walking to a restroom or printer that is further away.
- Think about your personal needs—have you been sitting all day and need to stretch? Have you been on your feet and need to sit and listen to a song? Listen to your body.
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“Life itself may feel like a marathon, but there’s growing evidence that we’re most productive and sustainable when we live like sprinters – working at high intensity for short periods of time, and then truly recovering.”—Tony SchwartBy Mallory Rubek, Therapeutic Recreation Specialist