As the holiday season approaches, many of us are looking forward to some time away from our desks.
It’s also a time when we have to rush to meet those end-of-year deadlines, so in the run-up to the holidays it can be easy to sit at the desk for longer without a break – whether it’s to finish editing that journal article, write that blog post or proofread one more chapter of the book that’s due back at the end of the year.
It can be difficult to allow yourself the time to take a break – not just in the run-up to holidays, but whenever your schedule is full and the pressure is on. When one project’s taking longer than expected and the rest of your tasks are piling up behind it, it feels counter-intuitive to leave everything and go for a walk. It’s tempting to just carry on, and I admit I’ve done that – especially when I was new to running my own business.
These days, though, I make sure I get away from my desk almost every day.
Everyone works in their own way, but I’ve noticed that when I do make the effort to leave my desk for a while, I still get the same amount done. Having a break can make you focus better afterwards, so even if you don’t feel that you can spare an hour, your overall productivity might not actually suffer if you’re working more efficiently.
There’s also the effect it has on quality. Editing and proofreading are intensive, so we can miss things if we get fatigued. A break will refresh tired eyes.
Although my desk bike makes being at my desk much more enjoyable, it can’t replace the benefits of really getting away from the screen, phone and email. We’re humans, not machines, and breaks are important for our mental health. Life isn’t just for work!
Want to take more breaks in 2018? Here are some ideas.
1. Go for a walk
This is my default for having a break, because I love walking and I can go whenever I want. Today, I emailed a colleague and realised I’d used ‘like’ about five times in two sentences. It was time to get out.
- You don’t have to do it at a certain time – no set schedule to keep to.
- Depending on where you live, you can go straight from your door. I like to try out different routes so that I still notice the things around me, but I have a favourite that I do when I don’t feel like making decisions.
- It’s beneficial to be outside in natural light.
- You can exercise at the same time as having a break, but you don’t have to be super-fit. It can be as relaxing or as demanding as you want to make it.
- You can use it to catch up with others, either by joining a group or walking with a friend. I often walk with a friend who works nearby.
- It’s good for the eyes to look at long distances if you’re focusing on close ones for most of the day.
- You can combine it with a task – walk to the Post Office or the shop instead of driving.
- It’s free!
- The weather can be a deterrent – especially in winter, when it’s cold and there are fewer daylight hours. But the weather can be a pro too, because there are beautiful days as well as the wet, windy ones.
2. Go swimming
I like to go swimming when I need a proper stretch. It’s such a good antidote to the hunched position you can end up in at a desk.
- It stretches you out, especially strokes like the crawl.
- You can’t take your phone with you. You don’t know if somebody’s emailed you, so you can’t be distracted by it.
- You can exercise your whole body at the same time as having a break.
- If you work from home, you can take advantage of the quieter sessions.
- You can be sociable and chat to people, or you can just keep to yourself.
- Swimming is a bit of a faff. There’s the extra changing time, and you’ll probably have to spend a bit of time walking or driving there.
- You have to stick to the opening times and session times, so it’s not as easy to fit it in spontaneously. On the other hand, getting into the habit of going at a certain time on a set day of the week could help you stick to it.
- Drying your hair! (If you have enough to dry, of course.)
- It costs money.
3. Do something creative
From drawing to baking, crochet to woodworking, creating something yourself can be a refreshing change.
- Because you have to focus on what you’re doing, it clears the mind of thoughts about work.
- It feels good to make something from scratch – it’s a nice change from polishing other people’s creations.
- You can do this whenever it suits you. If you leave your current project set up somewhere, you can return to it every day.
- Joining a class is sociable, gets you out of the house and teaches you something new as well.
- It’s often still ‘close’ work, so your eyes might not get a rest.
- It might be difficult to stop once you get started!
I tried this for the first time last year, when a friend recommended it. It’s good for shorter breaks, and it’s excellent for focus.
- Meditation helps de-clutter your mind so you’re more focused and efficient when you get back to your desk.
- It means you have to turn off notifications and anything else that might distract you.
- It’s calming when you’re feeling anxious or stressed.
- It’s easy to find a guided meditation online. The Headspace app gives you a few free sessions so you can see if it works for you, and allows you to choose specific areas to focus on if you subscribe. There are lots of free sessions on YouTube too.
- You have to find a quiet space where you aren’t going to be distracted.
- It works best if you do it every day, so that means being disciplined.
5. Meet a friend for lunch
Or cake, or coffee. Or maybe vodka, depending on how your day’s going. Working from home can be solitary, especially for those of us whose families are all out of the house during the day. If I didn’t make an effort, it would be easy for me to go several days without seeing anyone except my partner.
- Planning it beforehand means you’re more likely to go – you can’t just decide not to bother, as you might with a walk. (Well, you could cancel, but you’d be letting your friend down.)
- It’s rude to keep checking your phone, so you can get away from that too.
- It’s a myth that we home-workers spend most of the day in our pyjamas, but I do tend to wear the same boring (warm) clothes in the house. It’s nice to have a change.
- It’s refreshing to spend time with somebody else, hear about their life and be taken out of yours.
- Having cake and/or vodka (delete as appropriate) every day isn’t a good idea.
6. Learn something new
Whether it’s the piano, Chinese, rock climbing, yoga or public speaking (*shudders*), learning something new is perfect for breaks, as little and often is best.
- There are many benefits to learning a new skill – it sharpens your brain, it’s rewarding, and if you choose something you enjoy, it’s a pleasure to do.
- The beauty of working from home is that you can take advantage of all those classes that happen in the day when you’d otherwise be in an office.
- You can meet other people who enjoy doing the same thing, or learn one-to-one – whichever you prefer.
- Joining a class takes a bit of research and organisation.
- Some classes might be too long for a break, by the time you’ve got there and back again.
- Classes can be expensive.
7. Go for a run or a bike ride…
Or to the gym, or a class, or some other form of exercise that’s more vigorous than walking.
- If you don’t have as much time but you want to do some exercise, a run or a bike ride will get your heart going and you can go further in a shorter space of time.
- If you want to be sociable at the same time, you could join a running club or an exercise class.
- With running and cycling, you get the benefits of being outside in the fresh air.
- If you hate being out in bad weather, the gym and exercise classes avoid that.
- You might need to buy some clothing and equipment.
- Classes are at set times, so you’re more restricted about when you take your break.
- Gym membership and fees for classes can be expensive.
8. Find a task to do
If you struggle to get away without having a reason, put a chore or treat or two on your to-do list that will get you out of the house. It could be walking to post a letter or buy a present, having your hair cut, mooching round the charity shops or doing an hour of gardening (‘plant-editing’) on a bright day.
Getting into the habit
If you haven’t taken as many breaks as you’d have liked in 2017, perhaps this post will inspire you to make a resolution for next year! To get into the habit, you could put breaks on your to-do list or set an alarm on your phone. Most important of all, choose to do something you’ll enjoy, not something you think you should do.
What do you like doing for a break? Please feel free to add your ideas!