One of the most important parts of working isn't working at all--it's making the time to step away from work, allowing your mind a chance to decompress and helping you refocus your efforts. Many modern professionals, especially entrepreneurs, have a mindset that working harder and for longer hours is the key to getting more things done. The typical office lunch break is disappearing, going in early and staying late are becoming the new normal, and it's a point of pride for some people to work as many hours as possible in a week.
Work without breaks, however, can be counterproductive, leading to decreased efficiency, decreased work quality, and eventually, burnout. Instead, opt to take breaks regularly and as efficiently as possible to keep yourself moving forward. These are some of the keys to doing it.
Plan for your breaks
First, make sure you're actively planning your breaks. If you schedule your day in advance, chart out some time to take breaks from your work, and plan your days off far in advance. Or set an alarm to remind you that it's time to take a break. There's no established interval for this; some studies suggest that the seemingly random pattern of 52 minutes working followed by 17 minutes breaking is especially effective, but each individual will have a different preference. The key here isn't to follow a specific type of plan but to have a plan in general, so you're more likely to follow it.
Break even if you feel like you don't need it
If you're on a hot streak and you're blazing through work, you'll have the urge to keep going no matter what. On the other hand, if you know you still have a lot of work to do and you're tired, you might motivate yourself to keep going despite an increasingly sloppy performance. The line here is blurry, so as a general rule, you're better off taking a break even if you don't feel like you need it. If nothing else, this can give your mind a chance to rest and recover before you ever hit that barrier of fatigue.
Some people "take breaks" by sitting at their desks, leaning back in their chairs, and catching up on emails or text messages. This is bad form, as it's not a real break. Your mind is still occupied, you haven't moved, and your eyes are still being worn down by the screens in front of you. If you want to earn the benefits of a real break, you have to disconnect from the digital devices and communication streams you've been connected to throughout the workday.
Get the blood flowing
If you can, get your blood flowing by getting up from your chair and moving your body around. Prolonged periods of sitting are bad for your overall health, and getting up can help you create a psychological distinction between "work" and "break." Do some stretches at your desk, go for a walk, or even squeeze some calisthenics in. The exercise will release serotonin and dopamine in your brain, two neurotransmitters that can boost your mood and lower your risk for mental health disorders. Dopamine also has the pleasant side effect of improving your memory.
Watch your nutrition
When you break, you'll probably be tempted to get something to eat, especially if you're breaking for lunch. Grabbing a quick snack can actually be beneficial for your working mind--but only if you seek something nutritious. Opting for junk food at the vending machine, like candy or potato chips, will give you a quick fix, but the effects will wear off in minutes, and you'll be left feeling a crash. Instead, opt for fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and foods high in healthy fats and complex carbohydrates. These will give you long-term energy and help you stay healthier in the process.
When on break, try socializing with people you know and have a good rapport with. Talking to your friends, family members, or co-workers you get along with releases chemicals in the brain that reduce stress and anxiety, and boost your mood. Exchange quick text messages or make a phone call, and make small talk if you have to. Simply connecting to another person can do wonders for your psychology. When you return, you'll feel refreshed, relieved, and ready to start work anew.
Finally, remember to enjoy yourself. The purpose of a break is to fully remove yourself from what you're working on. If you're just going through the motions, or if you're switching tasks to something you don't enjoy, or something that's equally stressful, you're going to return to work even more stressed and worn down than you were before. Do something you genuinely enjoy when you're on your break, no matter what that might be. That might be watching cat videos, or playing a game, or jamming out to your favorite song--just have a good time with it.
Following these steps can help you take more breaks, take them efficiently, and return to work with a better mindset and the tools you need to keep going. You are your own greatest asset, and just like any machine, you require periodic rests and maintenance for optimal performance. Working hard and fitting in more hours is admirable, but only if you take care of yourself first.