From courtrooms to hospitals, research proves that fatigue negatively influences decision-making and outcomes. In his new book, "When,"  organizational management expert Daniel Pink shows us how fatigued physicians make more potentially life-threatening errors, and how judges who haven't taken breaks hand down stiffer sentences than those that do. 

In corporations across the globe, leaders and employees are trying to cram more productivity into the day, as competition grows and the speed of business accelerates. Therefore it may seem counter-intuitive to suggest that everyone should schedule breaks throughout their day, even right in the middle of a high-pressure workload. 

Why Breaks Are Necessary

Here are 5 reasons why it's important to schedule breaks into your work day:

  1. Improve concentration. Intermittently shutting down your cognitive processing helps your brain to reset and refocus. In the "7 Habits of Highly Effective People," Stephen Covey refers to this as "sharpening the saw." He tells the story of a woodcutter whose saw gets duller and duller as he continues to cut wood without resting. If he took time to stop and sharpen the saw, he would be able to cut much more wood in less time. 
  2. Quiet the noise. When we are in the middle of chaos, we don't even realize how draining it may be until we are out of it. Stepping out of the chaos of the workday gives our minds and sensory systems a much-needed break of quiet.

    Try controlled breathing, use an app such as Headspace or Insight Timer to do a brief guided meditation, or listen to some calming music. The "Focus" genre on Spotify has great playlists to help you focus and re-center.  

  3. Refuel in a healthy way. Without planned breaks, we eat without thinking, we don't drink enough water. and we don't refuel our brains properly to keep moving along. Your nutrition significantly influences your productivity. The best foods include foods high in Omega 3's including fish and eggs, dark chocolate, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
  4. Get your body moving. If you've been cranking at your desk for 3-4 hours straight, it's time to get going. Your blood needs strong circulation, your joints need movement, and your muscles need to activate.

    Try taking a 5-minute walk, run the stairs in your office building, or do a set of push-ups in your office. 

  5. Get outside to connect with nature. Steve Jobs used to insist on walking meetings. It's proven that being outside in the fresh air increases productivity because it improves short-term memory, decreases stress levels which block creativity, increases concentration skills, and improves our moods.

How to Take Effective Breaks

Dan Pink shares 5 guidelines for scheduling breaks:

  1. Something beats nothing. 5-10 minute "micro-breaks" are better than no breaks at all. 
  2. Fully detached beats semi-detached. Be 100% committed to your break. Drop the multi-tasking and leave the phone at your desk.
  3. Moving beats stationary. Pink shares that "hourly 5-minute walking breaks boosted energy levels, sharpened focus, improved mood throughout the day, and reduced feelings of fatigue in late afternoon." Micro-breaks were proven to be more effective than a single 30-minute break. 
  4. Social beats solo. While alone time is good, taking breaks with people we enjoy is even better.
  5. Outside Beats Inside. Even if it's for 5 minutes, a shorter nature break is better than a longer indoor break.

Taking Control of our Time

In today's business environment, there is no more separation between work and home. Therefore, we must be intentional about our physical and mental health inside and outside of the office. Since our lives no longer lend themselves to daily breaks, we must create the space.