For managers to have enough energy to fulfill their managerial and leadership responsibilities, they must learn how to take a break. I know you are probably thinking, There is too much to get done, or I don’t have time to take a break, but keep in mind that some of the most successful and productive people I know espouse the idea of taking breaks. To perform at your absolute best for yourself and others, you need be a little selfish and take a timeout. This timeout should be something you do daily, weekly, and periodically throughout the year in the form of a vacation. There are four simple rules to keep in mind to get the most out of this time: Disconnect, refresh, reflect, and refocus.
First, you have to remember to take regular breaks throughout the day to be at your best. Taking breaks is not only a good idea, but it is a simple fact backed by science. Research suggests that you need to take a break every 90 to 120 minutes you work. The science is based on a body’s ultradian rhythm, which is a repetitive cycle that occurs every 90 to 120 minutes and is an agreement with your body which says, “I will provide you with two hours of energy in return for a 20-minute break at the end of those two hours.” You can’t work around this cycle or through it, although we try to every day with caffeine and other quick-hit energy sources. The problem is if we don’t live up to our part of the agreement and give ourselves a break every couple of hours, then stress hormones and fatigue toxins can flood the body, which can build up throughout the day until you are completely depleted and want to collapse. Unfortunately, we often don’t have one job or role to focus on throughout our days; we have responsibilities at work, at home, and personal obligations, all requiring our energy and attention. If you want to excel in your different roles every day, you must learn to take a break.
Science suggests a 20-minute break is ideal, but honestly, even a five-minute break that adheres to my four rules can make a big difference in the amount of energy you will have throughout the day. To take an effective break, remember to:
- Disconnect: Yes, this means stepping away from technology, your phone, and computer. We are constantly bombarded with information in today’s highly connected world. Research suggests that we receive over 34 gigabytes of information each day. Our brains are not designed to handle this much information, and as such, the constant connectivity weighs us down mentally and physically. One of the best ideas is to unplug for a few minutes and take a walk outside in some natural light away from your desk or office. Getting a quick hit of Vitamin D is great for you physically and mentally.
- Recharge: This means taking care of your body. Some easy-to-implement best practices include adjusting your posture by standing up straight, pulling back your shoulders, stretching your neck from side to side, taking at least three deep breaths, drinking some cold water, or having a light snack. Recharging is all about improving your blood circulation, which is directly connected to how energized you feel throughout the day. If you sit behind a desk for most of the day, make sure to stand up at least every 30 minutes to keep blood moving.
- Reflect: Reflection is essential for all managers and should be incorporated throughout your day. When reflecting during your day, remind yourself of your strengths and talents, and how you make a difference each day. It is helpful to think of the work you just completed in the past two hours and the difference it can make, no matter how small. Everything you do should have an impact, which is why our final rule is critical.
- Disconnect: That’s right—no technology. Combine that with getting outside and into nature.
- Recharge: Find time for physical activity. Consider doing any type of stretching or yoga where you can realign your body.
- Reflect: Think about what you achieved this past week, what you learned, and what difference you made. Consider what you love about what you do, and how that inspires you to do more. It is important to connect these dots no matter how small they might be.
- Refocus: Consider what things you’d like to accomplish for the week ahead. Take some time to prepare for it. Establish priorities or goals for the week, both personally and professionally, and schedule in time to complete them.
- Disconnect: Try to take some time away from the technology, phone, and emails. Again, disconnecting is about setting boundaries with those still in the office by stating that, outside of an emergency, there is no reason to be in touch.
- Recharge: Incorporate additional physical activities throughout the year by setting challenges or deciding to take part in some sort of race or event that will extend your physical thresholds. Physical challenges are not about winning or being an elite athlete; it is about having physical goals that keep building aerobic and anaerobic endurance. Also, remember to get that annual physical done each year to help minimize the possibility of long-term illnesses.
- Reflect: Remind yourself of all the things that make you awesome, all that is good in your life, and what you have achieved so far this year. Taking that time throughout the year reinforces why you work so hard and do what you do. It helps create a deeper appreciation for where you were, where you are, and where you are going.
- Refocus: Once again, check in with your goals throughout the year to ensure you are on track or if you need to pivot to ensure things get done. Too many times, we wait until the end of the year before considering what we have done and what needs to get done. Think about this at least once a quarter to ensure you are on track.
Refocus: As you finish up your break, think about what you want to accomplish in the next 90-120 minutes. Remind yourself why it is important and then get on with it. If you are about to complete a task or focus on something that is not important, there may be an opportunity to consider doing something different. Many managers fall into the trap of getting distracted, only to end up further behind and more stressed. Be aware of what is most important and focus on completing those tasks.
Try to take six to eight of these short, five to twenty-minute breaks each day to keep both professional and personal performance at its best.
Now, let’s consider how to take a break each week. Weekends are designed to give you a break, but we often pack it with so many chores, errands, activities, and social engagements, that many people often feel more tired after their one or two days off. There have been a lot of observations and investigation around what people can do on their weekends not only to get a real break but also to be most productive. While you still need to take small breaks during your days off, consider scheduling time for the following each weekend:
By considering how to take a break each day and over the weekend (even if your weekend is only one day per week), you are giving your body a great chance to have the necessary energy to meet and exceed expectations. But there is also a need to take some longer breaks, or vacations, throughout the year. Unfortunately, like weekends, vacations can often leave people exhausted. So, let’s apply our four rules to ensure some extended downtime throughout the year that truly rejuvenates you and sets you up for success:
If you think this would be too tough to do on your own, there are now companies, retreats, and resorts that focus on providing professionals with a vacation and timeouts. Even many normal hotels are incorporating ways for you to recharge and refocus during your stay, helping you be at our best on the road.
That’s my advice on taking a real break. It is easy to find reasons why you are too busy during your day, week, or year—reasons not to give yourself a timeout but make it a priority because I believe every successful person has to be a little bit selfish in taking care of themselves and giving themselves a break. Good luck and remember that taking a break is not only a nice idea but a necessity if you are going to achieve all your goals and truly be your best.