Ideas: On Taking Breaks

Ideas: On Taking Breaks

“There’s a conspiracy on the lunar base?!” I think as I happily munch on some salad greens. I’m taking a break from my workday, having lunch and reading a fiction book called "The Relentless Moon". I’m having chicken salad with a side of dressed salad greens. I’m at my kitchen table, not at my desk. And this ritual is one of the most important parts of my work. But I sometimes have trouble remembering that - or rather trouble doing this ritual.

So what do I do when I don’t honor this ritual? I eat at my desk. I maybe grab some ready to go food and eat it without even noticing what it tastes like. It's probably not the healthiest, most nutritious food. But hey, I'm trying to push harder. Trying to do more. Trying to be more productive. Except that’s not really what’s happening, it’s just the story I’m telling myself.

The real story is that I’m burning myself out. I’m draining my energy and motivation without recharging it. I'm draining both my physical and mental energy. I’m a human. I need to eat, move, and recharge during my workday. Eating at my desk seems efficient but it’s not effective, at least not for me. Perhaps it's not obvious that efficiency isn’t always effective. It just uses less resources, for example less time. And sometimes what I need to be more effective is to be less efficient.

During my journey of doing and forgetting this ritual, I've found that making changes to my environment can be helpful guardrails to help me take a break for lunch. For example, having food prepared in advance is helpful. For today's lunch, I prepared the chicken salad on Sunday so I could easily grab it from the fridge. The same with the dressed greens - just grab a handful and add some dressing. I also find that switching physical spaces is helpful. My office is full of potential distractions calling me to pay attention to them. My kitchen table only has a placemat to distract me. I am normally reading a fiction book which is a treat for me and recharges my energy. You might call this habit bundling. I can have a really enjoyable break.

You may be thinking I’m writing this to share my experience and wisdom with you. But I’m really writing this as a reminder to myself. Because I often forget my own wisdom. And I often don’t listen to my own wisdom. So perhaps this will help me to remember myself more often? And perhaps you’ll find some helpful wisdom too?

What are you finding helpful here? How could you apply it to your work? What's a small experiment you could try?

-Adam Zolyak