Why Taking A Break Is Essential For High Performance
If you want to be a high performer you need your brain to be super charged.
According to the latest neuroscience that means taking regular breaks, even if you have a massive list of things to do.
And yes, I know you don’t want to think about that right now. As you scan this article you are probably on one or more mobile devices, juggling family and work commitments. And I guess out of the corner of your eye is your to do list, looming like a monster in the mist?
I’m also guessing that you know that you should factor in ‘time out’ a few times a day but life and the demands of your list takes over. The hours tick by, and before you can pause – its bedtime. Yes?
I know what that sort of day is like. I set up my own business a few years ago and for the first few weeks I forgot everything I knew. Enthusiastic and with high energy I powered through my days getting masses done but I soon started to slow down and feel tired.
Within a month I wasn’t sleeping well and felt sluggish, so I went back to taking regular breaks and within a few days was back to my usual energised self.
Lets take a look at the reasons for that shift.
Your brain is active all the time.
In the past we used to think that when we were asleep or not doing very much, the brain was dormant. That idea is now confined to the library archives, as science has shown your brain is a hungry organ that demands lots of energy.
Consuming up to 20 percent of your body’s energy, your brain uses about two thirds of that energy to send signals for feeling and action and the remaining third is for what scientist Wei Chen, a researcher at the University of Minnesota Medical School calls ‘house keeping’ or cell maintenance.
The brain does it’s house keeping during down time.
Wei and his colleagues found that when you are taking a break the brain is more likely to do it’s house keeping. So during rest periods, especially your brain is renewing cells and re charging your immune system.
Your brain has a natural rhythm, like day and night.
More than 50 years ago sleep researcher Nathan Klietman discovered a natural body rhythm which he called the ‘rest activity cycle.’ It is a cycle that he observed during sleep and is a 90 minute phase that takes a person through the various stages of sleep but he also noticed this cycle is repeated during the day too. Whilst awake this cycle governs when we are more or less alert and repeats itself every 90 minutes. Some scientists have called this the Ultradean Rhythm.
Our bodies are programmed to be able to be really focused and active for about 75 minutes then needs some downtime to become refreshed again. Our body will send us signals when we need to stop, we might feel fidgety, drowsy or have a loss of focus.
However we have become accustomed to cracking on, overriding those signals with caffeine, sugar, refined carbohydrates and our own stress hormones. Our own adrenalin rushes caused by worry and a diet high in simple carbohydrates gives us an energy kick that can become quite addictive.
Another culprit that keeps us wired 24/7 is our on line culture. Constantly responding keeps us on high alert and our body just sees the emails and texts as more stress. This is the start of the body going out of balance as our immune system, cognition, focus and ability to sleep and recuperate become sidelined.
Few companies put value on rest and recuperation
If you want to perform at your best, feel energised fit and focused – you have to put value on taking breaks and make it a priority. Pushing through a 10 hour day may seem as if you are doing your best to get as much possible done but it is against the rhythm of your body. As counter-intuitive as it might seem, taking time out means you will be more productive.
10 ways to take a break
The 2 most effective ways that I know to increase my performance is to eat well and take a break every 75-90 minutes. Along with those 2 ideas, here are 10 ways to work with your body and help yourself to take a break and perform at your best.
- If possible plan your day around approximately 75 – 90 minute bursts of focused activity. I often start work early, have breakfast, work, have a short walk or relax with a coffee. Work then have lunch and so on. I get much more done this way than staring at my laptop for hours and hours thinking I am cracking on with my to do list. It is a false economy.
- Take a short walk even if it is around the office.
- Close your eyes at your desk and enjoy a short relaxing creative visualisation.
- Do Heartmath breathing for 2 or 3 minutes.
- If you are lucky to have a work place where you have access to nature, use it! When you take lunch, get outside if possible and if you can’t do that at least change the environment you are in.
- Doodle! Yes doodling just allows your brain to change from concentration to relaxation. Any sort of drawing or doodling not only relaxes your brain but studies have shown that it sparks up your creativity too.
- Use your imagination. Simply sit back at your desk or when you are on a train or bus and imagine being in your favourite, most relaxing place. Your brain will think you are really there if you make the scenario vivid and your body will respond by producing chemicals as if you were actually there.
- Give yourself a break from guilt about taking a break now that you know it helps injects energy creativity and focus into the tasks you take on. Lets spread the word about the old outmoded way of forging on, forging on. It is not real, it is against the wisdom of the body and long term cause stress and overwhelm.
- Do some gentle stretching or yoga poses.
- Take a power nap. A short doze helps you to retain information you have learned and ‘significantly’ improves recall, scientists said.
Enjoy this new way of working and just see how much more productive you become. Let me know how you get on.
Written by Jill Wootton, October 2015.