Taking a break; the benefit of rest.
As I headed off to Provence, with ten of my family spanning three generations, I had acknowledged how much I needed the break. I also confess to feeling a little guilty at this acknowledgement. Gone are the ten- and twelve-hour days that I saw in my middle career (I got better at boundaries latterly!), gone is the frantic rushing about and gone is the huge mountain of “stuff” that screamed for my attention at work constantly. In those days it felt somehow more justifiable to acknowledge the need for rest, even if I didn’t always take it.
But rest is needed for us all, whether we operate in the corporate sphere, whether we a company of one, or whether we are somewhere in between. A break is universally required. I often tell my clients of the oxygen mask analogy, and I have written about it before I know – indulge me. We are often more prepared to care for the next person than we are for ourselves, we can perhaps feel what is needed for someone else, but unable to see, or crucially accept it for ourselves. Were you to be in an aeroplane where cabin pressure dropped, this approach could cost you dearly. Put your own oxygen mask on first – air passenger 101. For with your oxygen mask safely clamped to your face, you can ably assist Aunty Marg or little cousin Jonny. Without it, well, frankly you’re no good to anyone and you all might be toast.
It’s the same in our lives too of course. The body and the mind are well equipped to manage short bursts of stress, but they have a tendency to fall over with consistent regularity, if the stress is over prolonged periods. It’s something we all know. Where we struggle is recognising what is a prolonged period of stress for ourselves; we often bat it off with a “I’m fine”, or “just busy”. But in the background, it’s taking its toll and ultimately if left unchecked your next stop is burnout central. (If burnout is on your radar, check out my previous blog on this).
The busyness is often the justification of not being able to pause. It will be worse for having been left… no one else can/will do it… I’ll just have to manage… this can’t wait. However, in the grand scheme of things, it’s just counterproductive. So many studies have shown that taking a break, be that frequent breaks during the course of the day, or a more prolonged rest in the form of a holiday, will work wonders on your productivity overall. Not only that, it’s shown to increase creativity, concentration and decision-making ability. The phrase ‘sleep on it’ is not accidental… a rested mind is more able to be rational and decisive.
Research suggests that the average duration that a person is able to stay focused on a single task without experiencing declines in attention or productivity is around 30 to 45 minutes. Fortenbaugh, DeGutis, Germine, et al. 
What can we do then to make rest more present in our lives?
Here’s a few simple ones:
Build in those 5-minute breaks. Make a drink, go to the loo the long way round, make meetings 50 minutes rather than the hour. And please try to stop for lunch!
Boundaries. Define them – communicate them – stick to them. If working evenings or weekends is not part of the deal, then stop doing it. You’re masking an issue in the company by frantically covering in the background. And consider how it makes your colleagues feel as they do leave/log off at a reasonable time.
Annual leave. It’s remuneration- they are literally paying you to take it. Take it. Go away or stay home it doesn’t matter – just stop working for a bit. And no email checking!
Move more. Yes, it is restful.
Sleeeeep. You need it, you really, really need it. Make it a priority – back to boundaries.
I return now seeing that I was getting stressed beyond that short burst – new territory for me to not be frantic busy but again feeling those old feelings; new experiences that I need to work through and adapt my toolkit for. I hope that you all either have, or have plans for, some time away from work – ‘tis coming to the end of the traditional summer season. But whenever your holiday was or is, please don’t wait for the next one as your only island of rest in the year; start now. Rest should be present daily – and trust that your productivity will soar when you get the balance right.
If you are curious about how I can work with you , you can speak to me directly, you can book a free initial 30 minute coaching session with me here and there's no hassling from me if it's a no thanks after that.
[ 1] Sustained attention across the life span in a sample of 10,000: Dissociating ability and strategy