I’ve had some pretty interesting conversations around productivity in the last week.  Mostly surrounding mandatory breaks.  People are starting to realize that if they don’t take breaks, they’re not being as effective as they could be.

That’s great news, until you realized that if people take breaks they’re often doing it wrong.

YES – you can do breaks wrong!

All too often I hear “Well, I took a mandatory break and went and did this other obligation.  I’m taking these breaks but I’m not feeling recharged afterwards.”  People are actually surprised – for realzies – that they don’t feel spectacular about themselves after they ‘stop working’ and go and do another item on their to-do list.

I’m not saying there aren’t days, months even, where if you take a break it means you’re running downstairs to throw a load of laundry in, loading the dishwasher, or taking out the trash.  HOWEVER, this should not be when you schedule your household tasks or outside the home obligations – it defeats the purpose.

Many of you now have this handy-dandy notebook to-do list and are taking it for a spin.  IF you don’t or haven’t – I highly suggest it.  On this sheet there is a space for Approved Break Activities.  This space is an area where you give yourself permission to do things you’re probably going to do anyways.  If you’re addicted to Facebook, finding the perfect music to work to, or making sure your desk is just so – then do it, but stop feeling guilty about it!

Giving yourself 15 minutes on Facebook isn’t going to totally wreck your day, unless that 15 minutes turns into 5 hours – which is why you set a timer.  Play, have fun.  The goal here is to give yourself permission to get up and stop what you’re doing and take a mental and physical break.  I know we’re all guilty of working on our projects until we’re practically useless – it’s part of the human condition – we’re slightly obsessive creatures.  If you’ve been looking at that report for 3 hours, chances are you’re missing something pretty major and until you get up and switch gears – you’ll never see it with fresh eyes.

I had a job once where all I did was physically count ticket stubs.  This was a full time job and the tickets were tied to profit sharing, so it was actually an important job, but it was mind numbing.  If I didn’t get up and move I would ‘count’ an entire event and not register what I was doing or the numbers – rendering the last 2 hours useless!  So, I’d go on smoke breaks.

I’ve never smoked a day in my life, but a work friend did and she would pull me out of that cubicle every couple of hours and we’d go outside.  These little 10 minute breaks are what made that job tolerable.  I got to disconnect, reset, be outside (I found a snail once – I named her Sally and she lived in my cubicle in an old jar for about 2 weeks – everyone in the office came over to visit her and we had a going away party when I released her back into the wild) and recharge.

This silly job meant nothing to me, but without breaks I would have lost my mind.  How could I let myself do the same thing (go crazy and overwork) on something I’ve put my heart and soul into – my business.

For the sake of my business I have approved breaks:

  • Engage on Facebook – 20 minutes (I gave up on 15 min – it just wasn’t happening)
  • Read a couple of chapters (short funny stories, not my current YA novel) – 20 minutes
  • Make a fresh cup of coffee or refill my water bottle – 5 minutes
  • Wander the house and start my ‘straighten up the house’ list – 5 minutes
  • Check personal emails and sort out coupons I’ll actually use – 15 minutes
  • Read inspirational blogs – 10 minutes
  • Read Webcomics – 20 minutes

The list goes on and on.

I work for a couple of hours and then I do something off this list without guilt, shame, or regret.  I know that taking breaks is what’s keeping my business healthy and keeping me sane – it’s non negotiable.

What are your favorite Approved Break Activities?  Which do you still feel guilty about?