A common mistake I see performance oriented people make is not taking break when they need it. Taking a break is like changing the oil on your car. It is a basic need and your performance will suffer if you decide to just “press on through.”
Let’s say you normally operate at 70% to 90% of your potential, but when you get burned out, your capability drops to 20% to 30%. Simply trying to spend more time at your reduced effectiveness just doesn’t make sense. You will be far better off to take some time off and come back at your normal 70% to 90%.
You need breaks on different levels. You need daily breaks like taking time off for lunch, weekly breaks like taking time off on the weekends, and seasonal breaks like going on a week vacation a few times each year. I also feel like you need sabbatical style breaks where you take at least a month or so off every few years to do something different. If you don’t give yourself these periods to revive, your creativity will suffer and you will be working with a handicap.
Short Term Breaks
Here are some ideas for taking shorter term breaks.
- Go for a walk. It is hard to beat going for a walk as a way to take a break. You get the physical exercise along with a chance to disconnect and let your subconscious work on any pending problems.
- Call a friend. Taking 5 or 10 minutes to talk with a friend can be a very good way to get refreshed before going back to work.
- Walk through a pet store. I find that spending 10 minutes browsing through the fish section of a nearby pet store is very refreshing.
- Draw something. A few minutes sketching can be a great way to give yourself a break. It doesn’t matter if you are a good artist or not. Just grab a sheet of paper and do some drawing. Your goal isn’t to produce a masterpiece of art–it is to give your brain a chance to do something different.
- Play a video game. This is only useful in moderation. If you spend 30 minutes playing a video game to take a break every few days, it can be helpful. If you spend 6 hours each day playing, you probably aren’t making the best use of your time. I prefer games with short levels so it is easy to spend 5 or 10 minutes, complete a level and then head back to work. I also prefer puzzle type games. Enigmo 2 is a good example of this. More recently I’ve been trying a game called Portal that in the first few levels seems to fit this criteria nicely.
Longer Term Breaks
Here are some things I’ve done to take longer breaks. Many of these weren’t really vacation because I continued working, but they did give me time out of my normal environment.
- Summer school. Many universities offer summer classes lasting 4 to 8 weeks. My wife and I spent a summer in Cambridge, MA a few years back. I took a few classes and worked remotely. It was a very rejuvenating experience. The educational experience was great and it was nice to have a change of scenery of being in a different part of the country for a few months. I hope to repeat this every 5 years or so.
- Extended visits with relatives. This will, of course, depend on your relatives, but we’ve spent several weeks with my wife’s family. I continued to work remotely during the day and hung out with family in the evening. This worked particularly well when I was designing something that took a few weeks or needed to do a lot of writing.
- Visit another country. We’ve gone to Mexico several times–most of the time as tourists. Our most recent stay was for several months. It was quite a change of pace and very interesting to get to know another culture.
Do you have anything unique you do to take a break? Please share your suggestions and ideas in the comments.
Originally published April 14, 2008.