There are three ways you can take a break:
- By default
- By burnout
- By choice
As the world focuses heavily on productivity, it’s easy to forget that breaks are important too. We need to think about how to take them, when to take them, and for how long to take them. This article addresses how to take breaks, and there’s only one right answer: take breaks by choice. The other two ways are common mistakes people make when they take breaks.
Do You Take Breaks By Default? You Need Life Direction And Focus
This seems to be the most common way that people take breaks. It’s characterized by mindlessness and “passing the time.” I do it more than I’d prefer.
- It’s when you check your email, facebook, or website traffic every 5 minutes
- It’s when you start watching TV without having a reason other than boredom
- It’s when you browse the web without a specific agenda in mind
- It’s probably from habit
Default breaks happen when you fail to choose and focus on a single objective, which is common if your life is out of alignment. The problem is not that you’re relaxing, it’s that you’re only half-relaxing!
Taking breaks by default is an inferior form of relaxation because you won’t be as focused on it (compared to an intentional break). Focusing doesn’t only enhance productivity, it improves relaxation too!
When you take a break without deciding to, it dramatically increases the likelihood that you’ll feel guilty about it. It’s because you haven’t given yourself full, unquestionable permission to do it. I often feel guilty as I mindlessly browse the internet because I know I have more important things to do. It’s a relatively unenjoyable break. After this fake break, I’ll feel guilty and unproductive for taking it, which just makes me more likely to take more of these non-break breaks. It can become a negative cycle.
Breaks are supposed to be relaxing, enjoyable, and 100% guilt-free.
The other reason these kinds of breaks are undesirable is that when you “drift” into taking a break, you’ll almost always choose an inferior form of break. Instead of passing the time, you could be kicking back playing your favorite game, lounging in a hammock with a good book, or watching a funny movie! I’m not distinguishing those as superior breaks—that’s up to you—I’m merely saying that when you don’t choose your breaks, you tend to end up taking breaks that aren’t your top choice.
These breaks are habitual in my experience. But if we’re mindful, we can recognize it happening, and then choose to get back to work or take a real break.
The opposite extreme default breaks is not taking them at all, until you’re forced to. 1
Do You Take Breaks By Burnout? You Need To Take Them Sooner
When you burn out, you’ve worked so hard that your entire being rejects doing any more work. You might be forced out of action for two days, a week, or a year. It’s devastating to your health to overstress your mind and body without giving it proper rest in the form of sleep and leisure activities. I’m not being dramatic, either.
In the ebook I wrote for subscribers, I discuss research that shows why stress is lethal. Before stress kills, it will probably show up as health problems. I had a really stressful breakdown of sorts two years ago and it gave me all sorts of health surprises. It was rough. When I regained my composure, my health returned.
One problem in many cultures today is the power of technology making work a potential 24/7 endeavor. Remember when the setting sun meant the end of every person’s work day? Me neither—I’m not even 30 yet—but today’s always-connected world makes it so that it’s possible to never stop. If you think about it in terms of habit, there aren’t many opportunities now where we’d have no choice but to relax. There’s nothing to trigger us to stop working and communicating because many of us receive emails via cell phones now, which are always with us. With indoor lighting and always-connected devices, it’s more possible than ever to unlearn how to relax.
After my $800 cell phone was stolen in Rome (is that what the saying “When in Rome” means?), I had to revert back to a dumb phone. It was a blessing in disguise. The best word to describe the difference is… freedom. No more notifications! It made me seriously question the value of being notified the instant someone sent me an email or wrote on my Facebook wall. And I haven’t gone back. I love this form of digital minimalism.
I have a more capable phone now, but my plan is just $10 a month and only covers talk and text. No data. No emails. It’s through Republic Wireless: they’re awesome. I can change my plan twice a month up all the way up to a 4G data plan (for when I travel and need GPS). I can even downgrade it to a $5 a month plan that only has wifi capabilities, which is great for international trips. By the way, I have zero incentive to promote Republic Wireless. I find their company and philosophy so refreshing compared to my experience at Verizon.
If you live an all-work-and-no-play lifestyle, then your work had better be somewhat relaxing, or else you will be stressed constantly and suffer from bouts of burnout. Burnout breaks are not by choice either: you’ll get sick or completely exhausted and be forced to take it easy. When you’re forced to take a break, there’s a good chance you’ll be too sick or tired to really enjoy it.
Do You Take Breaks By Choice? You’re Doing It Right
In my experience, a break after a hard day of work is at least twice as enjoyable as a break taken because you’re procrastinating. Part of it is psychological: you know you deserve the break if it follows a lot of hard work. Part of it is physical: when you work hard, you’ll have less energy and embrace the relaxation to a greater degree.
Taking breaks by choice doesn’t always have to follow work. At times, I’ve felt I needed a break before doing any work (it’s possible I’m lazy). In these moments, I’ll take a break with the promise of doing work afterwards. It works well, believe it or not. This self-negotiation makes sense too because of the ever-present tug-of-war between our in-the-moment feelings and long-term desires. Sorry, that was too many hyphens for one sentence.
Long-term and short-term needs are both important; unfortunately, they don’t always (i.e., rarely) agree. If you ignore one in favor of the other, you’ll have fun now or fun later, but not both. To have fun now AND later, you must balance these counter-forces.
The only way to balance short-term and long-term desires is through deciding what to do and focusing on it. When you focus, you make the most of each moment, whether working or relaxing. When you fail to focus, you dilute the effectiveness of whatever you’re trying to do.
If you’re going to take a break, my hearty recommendation is that you TAKE it. Kick your feet up, enjoy yourself, and let your mind wander to the finer things in life (such as taking breaks). This is the best way to take a break, because any other way is inferior and less recharging. The most productive, healthiest people are those who know how to take a real break.
The subscriber-only message on 6/24/14 expands upon this post! Join Deep Existence below to read the rest, which discusses how important it is to have control over your decisions.