Take a break!
When was the last time you deliberately took a break? Just now, or is it already a little while ago?
If you could answer the second question with “it’s already a little while ago”, then you are certainly not alone – in this day and age, many people need to learn to take deliberate breaks.
The global economy runs 24/7. We’re always on our toes, always online and can be contacted at any time. Lack of sleep and overwork are described as status symbols by people in demanding jobs, and what’s more, the need for holidays is even seen as a weakness in some circles.
Some of the most creative, most productive and top-performing people in the world have however reached the insight that such an attitude is counter-productive. Many successful artists, writers and scientists work much shorter hours than most of us – and still create impressive works.
Top athletes, for example, know that they can be better and faster than their competition if they allow themselves enough time for rest and regeneration. Although, actually, we all know that we need breaks to remain healthy and perform well, but many of us find it hard to carve them out and not ride the wave of overwork and pressure to perform. We should all find ways of balancing work and rest, and remember every day how important it is to take breaks.
How do you take a break?
Taking breaks is natural. Using them deliberately and correctly, however, is an ability that needs to be trained. On the one hand, it is important that we take regular breaks in our daily lives and create some time out for ourselves. On the other, the way we carve out these breaks plays a significant role in how well we can rest.
Carving out breaks: duration and frequency
Otto Graf, in his study “On the most rewarding breaks in intellectual work”, concluded as early as 1923 that “for working times of up to an hour, the best place for inserting a break is after the second third. The best duration for this break was a time of two to three minutes, with six minutes as the (upper) limit.” Various studies comparing less frequent but longer breaks (10-15 minutes every 1-2 hours) with more frequent but somewhat shorter breaks (5-10 minutes every hour) have shown that more frequent shorter breaks are generally better and lead to fewer errors, lower emotional and mental stress, less fatigue and fewer physical complaints. Although frequently allowing ourselves a short break is demonstrably healthier, more frequent shorter breaks (e.g., three minutes every half-hour) are less likely to be accepted by employees, as this high break frequency means that their work is interrupted too often, without really providing sufficient recovery time.
Furthermore, studies have shown that the optimum break length depends on the type of workload or the extent of the stress. While five to 10-minute breaks should generally be enough for mild physical or intellectual work, a 10-minute break is, if anything, too short for a complete recovery from heavy labour. You should therefore adjust the length of your breaks to match the type of work you are doing. This isn’t always that simple, as your room for manoeuvre is limited by statutory breaks (lunchbreak and two 15-minute breaks in the morning and afternoon). Employers will be less delighted to know that different studies show that it is precisely the short and partly unofficial breaks from work that are important for many employees for rest and performance. That is why research advises that short breaks be permitted and supported, because when they are allowed, they demonstrably result in improved worker performance. And although breaks are generally restful, the timing of your breaks is also important: especially short breaks with, e.g., the first longer break after three hours of work, seem to be demonstrably good for relaxation.
The type of break
Although it is known that different activities have differing psychological effects, the effect of carving out a break has so far not been investigated in many studies. Social communication may count as mood-boosting, physical activity and exercise as revitalising, and relaxation as refreshing and good for calming inner agitation. There are also indications that breaks are more refreshing when the activity is complementary to the work being done, as this makes demands on different systems, meaning that the others can recover during the break. This may mean that breaks in intellectual work may be most recuperative if they contain physical activity and exercise. Regardless of this, how you carve out your breaks certainly also depends on your personal preferences. It is also highly possible that you intuitively seek out an activity complementary to your work for your breaks. The most important thing in your break really is that you do not do any work. However you organise your break, you should absolutely stay away from your emails, not take any professional phone calls and not discuss the next meeting in advance with your colleagues. Breaks are meant to be time away from professional activity. We should use our break times as time away from work and not cram them with professional activities, because this way we will remain healthy, happy and efficient in the long term.
What does your short break look like?
Have you ever consciously thought about how you organise your breaks? Do you even have a ritual for organising your breaks? Or are you rather the sort of person who spontaneously takes breaks and does whatever you enjoy in them? Tell us about your short breaks! For the #ChillDich Challenge, which is part of our “Hey Zug – creating zest for life!” campaign, we are looking for your personal downtime, your 5-minute break in your daily routine. Upload a photo of your short break or write a short description on www.hey-zug.ch/selbstfuersorge and share it with us and many other people. Inspire others with how you carve out your break time and be inspired yourself by the 100 x 5 minutes of zest for life from Zug Canton. We look forward to finding out about your break and wish you refreshing and revitalising downtime!
“Peace and quiet, a sofa and a cup of tea is everything.”
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