“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes… including you.”

~ Anne Lamott

Over-drive isn’t productive. No matter how busy you get, it’s still important to regularly pause, unplug, and recharge. Even when you don’t have time. Especially when you don’t.

If you don’t take your breaks because you have too much to do, I encourage you to re-think that decision. Our brains need intermittent rest, and if you listen to your body and take that break, you’ll be rewarded with a boost in productivity that will more than make up for the time away from your desk. It’s how your body works. Give it what it needs and watch the video below (or read the transcript that follows) for motivation as to why this matters so damn much!

When it comes to getting the most out of ourselves at work, or boosting the productivity of our employees, we often tackle the challenge by creating better systems and protocols, or we work longer, without pause, to get more done. And while there’s nothing wrong with doing the freakin’ work, I think we may be over complicating productivity.

Maybe instead of working harder, we should be resting smarter?

Think about a typical busy day at the office, when you’ve got too much to do and not enough time to do it. How do you usually get through? I’m betting you put your head down, skip your coffee breaks and eat your lunch at your desk.

I get it. When you’re slammed, the idea of stepping away from work to take a break feels completely no-can-do. There’s only so much time to get it all done. But I still think you should take your breaks.

Why? Because science says it could be the best thing you do for your energy and productivity.

On a busy day you will always run out of time… but with the right work day habits, you’ll always have energy. It’s a renewable resource that’s yours to control.

In fact, if you learn to listen to your body and give it what it needs throughout the day, you can supercharge your productivity and maybe even save yourself a bit of time!

Let’s see what science says.

Back in the 60’s, physiologist and sleep researcher, Nathaniel Kleitman proposed the existence of a Basic RestActivity Cycle, called an Ultradian Rhythm that our body goes through in a 24-hour period. To put it simply, an Ultradian Rhythm is a recurrent cycle of peak activity, followed by a dip.

In the 90’s Ernest Rossi examined that research specifically as to how it applies to our waking hours, and wrote a book called the The 20 Minute Break, on how the science of ultradian rhythms, when applied to our work day, can help us manage stress and increase productivity. Good stuff…and here’s how it works:

Throughout your work day you’ll have 3 or 4 periods of high productivity (usually 90-120 minute long) where you’re more alert, focused and able to get good work done. These high-performance windows are usually interrupted by brief periods of fatigue, distraction and sometimes drowsiness (20- 30 minutes long) where productivity dips.

That dip in productivity is an indication that you need to take a break. Your brain is a massively energy-hungry organ that needs intermittent periods to re-fuel. It may only represent 2% of your body’s weight, but it consumes up to 30% of available blood sugar, or glucose in the body (I talk more about that in video 17…Your Brain, On Exercise).

And your brain will tell you it’s time for a break …when you find it harder to focus, your mind wanders, you’re easily distracted, you find yourself yawning or breathing deeper, you get fidgety or hungry or absent-minded.

When we’re busy, we’ll ignore those signs, and grab a coffee or something sugary to help us push through. Here’s why you need to stop doing that and take that damn break. Those signs you’re ignoring are small stress signals from your body saying “STOP! I need down-time.”

Listen to your body! It knows what it needs. #itshowwework

When we’re busy, we’ll ignore the ‘please pause’ signs we get from the body, then grab coffee or sweets to push through. Those signs you ignore are stress signals from your body saying “Give me a break!” Listen to your body! It knows what it needs. #itshowwework

When you push through and keep working, your body shifts into a state of fight or flight, releasing the stress hormones epinephrine, nor-epinephrine and the big-daddy cortisol to boost heart rate, blood pressure and blood sugars (among other things) to help you stay alert and focused so you can keep fighting those mounting to do’s!

This may help you get things done under time constraint, but it comes with a cost to your work quality, your efficiency and your overall health. You’ll never do your best work when you’re tired and stressed. Keep it up, and over time, stress will lead to burnout, high blood pressure, ulcers, and even weight gain. There’s a better way.

Learn to recognize your productive times, and take advantage of them to get great work done. And when that inevitable drop in energy shows up, take that break – even if you’ve still got work to do…even if you feel like you can’t afford the time.

Leave your desk and go somewhere to relax. You can’t afford not to. Have a healthy snack, take a walk, sit and breathe. Give your body time to rest, and your brain the chance to re-oxygenate and recharge.

Research suggests that even a short, well-implemented break will off-set boredom, increase creativity, and boost productivity upwards of 20-40%. That kind of boost will more than make up in output whatever you might have got done in the 20 minutes you took to reboot.

Don’t fight it. Work hard, yes… and if you want to do your very best work every day, listen to your body and do your best to take 20 every 90. It’s simply how your body works. It’ll be good for you and it’ll be good for your business.

If you think your organization would benefit from my sessions on productivity, health and stress management connect with me here.

Next week I’ll share why you’ve been taking your breaks all wrong…and how you can take breaks that truly boost! Until next time, I’m Michelle Cederberg helping you transform your work and your life, one recharge at a time.

Michelle Cederberg, CSP, MKin, BA Psyc

Empowering today’s dreamers, leaders and go-getters to create the life and career they want.


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