Is working a 10-hour day and skipping your lunch-break really an efficient way to achieve optimum output and also maintain a reasonable work-life balance? Or is it a recipe for a heart attack and forced early retirement due to ill-health? Think about it.
Anyone who wants to work 100 per cent efficiently should always eat breakfast and also make time, midday, to have lunch. But, in addition, for both the stressed executive and the busy worker, micro-breaks can also be important. These can last from 30 seconds to five minutes.
Short breaks are beneficial because sitting in the same position for long periods, or carrying out repetitive tasks, can cause eye strain, back-pain, RSI (repetitive strain injury), fatigue and, often, stress. Research shows that the body follows a pattern called ultradian rhythms which are cycles repeated throughout a 24-hour circadian day, whereby the energy levels in your body slowly decline over 90 to 120 minutes.
At the end of this cycle, the body needs time to recover and you may well start to feel hungry, tired, restless or have difficulty in concentration. This is apparently normal for everyone.
Breaks are actually even more effective when taken before they are felt necessary. So, how long should the break be?
The answer is that it is not so much how many minutes it should last but rather how effective it is in order to take your mind away from what you were previously doing. So in effect, it could just be a few minutes. Your lunch break, however, should certainly be longer than this — perhaps between 30-60 minutes.
The fact is that people often feel guilty by taking a break as they think it is wasting valuable working time. However, in reality, it is not wasting time but managing your time to be more efficient during the rest of the day. It is similar to trickle-charging your personal battery-pack so that it, and you, never goes ‘flat’.
Your body is like your cellphone. When the battery is fully charged, then you get good volume and a bright screen but after long calls or web use, everything starts to get really dim. Do you sometimes feel like this half way through the day?
So, here are some ideas as to what can you do in just two to three minutes.
Walk and talk: Walk to see a colleague instead of sending an email. It is amazing what a smile and a simple hello can do for you both.
Stand up: Make yourself a herbal drink and try and avoid too much coffee.
Get physical: If you need to go upstairs, use the stairs for at least two to three floors.
Change scenery: If you have a break-out area, take some work with you to give your mind another focus.
Exercise: Stand and stretch, reach-up and drive oxygen to your brain to wake you up.
Take a two-minute vacation. Have some pictures on your desk of your family, pet or a vacation place that you love and spend a few minutes visualising this by yourself.
Make sure you take a proper break half-way through the day and away from your desk; so let us look at some of the activities that you can do during your lunch break after you have eaten:
Take 5: Take a five-minute ‘power nap’ which will boost your energy and cognitive skills.
Yoga: Get out your exercise mat and practice Savasana by laying on your back with your arms by your side for 15 minutes.
Listen to music: Try Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Sheherezade’ which is the legendary story, in music, of a Persian Queen from the Arabian Nights. You can very often switch-off your stress by listening to music. Try it.
Take 10: Go for a 10-minute walk but without your phone.
A 5-minute run: Your endorphins will kick in as soon as you start to exercise, they will clear your head and put you in a better mood.
Read a non-work-related book: This can take you momentarily to another place, leaving you refreshed and invigorated.
It would be great to hear from you what your favourite micro-break ideas are, so send me an email.
Until then, happy working.
The author is a BBC Guest-Broadcaster and Motivational Speaker. She is CEO of an international Stress Management consultancy and her new book, ‘Show Stress Who’s Boss!’ is available in all good bookshops.