These days, we’re all suffering from an epidemic of busyness. Unless you’re compelled by a lifelong habit (like, say, smoking) to get up from your desk, breaks can be the first casualty of our packed schedules. But as Vanderkam and a raft of experts who have studied the issue stress, research makes clear that we tend to get more done if we regularly take short pit stops to relax and refresh.
Not only does physically getting up now and again protect you from the truly horrible health consequences of too much sitting, but taking quick "smoke breaks" (sans cigarette) when you feel your mental energy depleting (for most folks around every 90 minutes seems to be a good rule of thumb) ensures you’ll get more done in the long run.
Plus, you’ll just enjoy your life more if you don’t keep pushing yourself beyond the point of mental exhaustion. So what are some ideas for a truly refreshing alternative to actual smoke breaks? The experts offer plenty.
Share the joy of mentally refreshing with a friend. "A personal phone call, can be as pleasurable (and far healthier) than lighting up," notes Vanderkam. Research has also shown that reaching out to those close to us is one of the quickest and most effective methods of combatting a bad mood. Sick of the phone? On the iDoneThis blog personal productivity coach Natalie M. Houston offers an alternative type of social break: "Write a note to an old friend you haven’t been in touch with recently."
Any sort of mindfulness practice is another sure fire winner when it comes to boosting your clarity and mental horsepower in a short amount of time. On Zen Habits, Jonathan Mead suggests you simply breathe. "Do 10 or 15 minutes of meditation, focused on your breathing," he suggests. Alternatively, just 20 minutes of yoga has been shown to boost your brain power more than an equal period of jogging or other light exercise.
You’re the boss, so who is going to object? And even if they did, science is on your side. Reams of research indicates a quick cat nap of 20-minutes or so can seriously boost your productivity. Just ask Google, Nike and Zappos, all of whom encourage employees to snooze as needed.
Humans didn’t evolve to sit in beige offices all day, so it probably shouldn’t surprise us that studies indicate even five minutes outside in nature can improve your mood. As Harvard Health points out, getting your daily dose of the great outdoors can also increase your ability to concentrate and boost your reserves of disease-fighting Vitamin D. Maybe it’s time to hit the local park then.
It’s obviously not a good idea to spend each break stuffing your face with snacks, but the occasional healthful treat could do double duty both offering you a mental refresher and your body a physical boost. The ritual of a brewing a "cuppa" is a popular break across the pond. "The act of making a cup of tea is a very good way of giving myself a break between tasks," explains entrepreneur Matthew Stibbe. Zen habits’ Mead has another healthful beverage suggestion: "Stop by your local health food store and get a wheatgrass shot or vegetable juice."
Don’t worry, there are alternatives for die-hard coffee fans too such as enjoying some of these brain-boosting snacks like nuts, blueberries, avocado or (hallelujah!) dark chocolate.
You don’t need to be skillful at artististic pursuits to use them to clear your mind and make you smile. Among Houston’s suggestions for a better break are quick bursts of creativity like "draw or color (especially if you think you’re not artistic)" and "three minute dance party!"
Do you take enough breaks?