Scheduled Breaks and Mindless Activities

For the past several months, I’ve been trying to take focused breaks away from my computer and work. I used to feel guilty about stepping away from my laptop — from deadlines and people waiting on me — but I finally started to listen to my brain and my body. The best thing? I’ve noticed a dramatic uptick in my productivity when I limit the time I’m in front of my screen. I see it as giving my brain a break – a break from the code I’m writing or the mock-up I’m creating – and a chance to idle or wander. I notice that, after working for a period of time, my mind has trouble focusing. I’ll switch between tasks more often. I’ll check social media sites. That’s usually my cue that I need a break.

At times, it’s still a challenge for me to stop working. Especially when I know I’ve got to wrap something up before getting the kids from preschool of if I know a client is waiting on me to fix their website. What helped me get past the “I’ll just finish one more thing…” excuse was reading the growing body of evidence that supports taking breaks and mental downtime.

Downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance and simply form stable memories in everyday life. A wandering mind unsticks us in time so that we can learn from the past and plan for the future.

– Ferris Jabr, Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime

Now that the weather has gotten nicer, I almost always take my breaks outside. But sometimes, I do something inside that’s mindless, like working on my paint-by-number paintings, which has become one of my favorite hobbies. My mind is free to wander while I fill in pre-numbered spots. After about 15 minutes, I start the transition back to work with more focus and clarity. The Scientific American article I linked and quoted above also notes the benefits of taking naps during the day. I look forward to the time when I can incorporate that into my daily schedule. :-)

Pssst – if you like the idea of downtime and want to take it a step further with your family, head on over to Life From Scratch, where my good friend, Maria, just published a great post about doing nothing.

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