What do they do differently? They give themselves breaks, like we used to enjoy at school. Time for themselves. And they arrange them cleverly so that these breaks don’t annoy their boss or their partners and kids. Here are 6 simple tips to help you do the same.
- Tip 1: Stop thinking that breaks make you less productive
- Tip 2: When done properly, breaks can give you a mental and physical energy boost
- Tip 3: Start small. But do it now!
- Tip 4: Stick to a regular exercise schedule
- Tip 5: Make arrangements you can’t get out of
- Tip 6: Get your family involved
- The bottom line
Tip 1: Stop thinking that breaks make you less productive
Luckily, the message has got through to most employers that if you’re always going at full throttle, you risk complete burnout. In the past, people who took a lengthy lunch break would quickly get a reputation for not having enough motivation or showing enough commitment—but numerous studies have now proved that this is complete nonsense. They’ve found that people who take frequent, regular breaks are more productive and more creative, and research into the human brain has shown that we’re at our most creative when we’re mentally calm. And taking time out to do something completely different can also help refocus your mind on a particular issue at work.
So if that mountain of work isn’t getting any smaller and you feel like your working hours aren’t as productive as they were before, it’s time for a break! And it’s best to get outside: Whether it’s a walk in the forest, time out on the water, or simply half an hour in your own garden, we’re programmed to look to nature for a bit of balance in our stressful lives.
Breaks are a great way to boost productivity, concentration and creativity
Adding another hour or two to what’s already a long working day almost certainly won’t help. You’ll get more done if you take time out every now and then to do something completely different—ideally outdoors. This will clear your head, give you new inspiration, boost your creativity, and possibly also help you shake off the tunnel vision that was stopping you from solving a problem.
Tip 2: When done properly, breaks can give you a mental and physical energy boost
That brings us to the second key issue: It isn’t easy to switch off mentally when you’ve been working hard on something. As a basic rule, taking a break at your workstation, which for most of us is our computer, won’t help very much. You’ll feel more refreshed if you go somewhere else and spend an hour or so outdoors.
There are various reasons for this. Exercising is much better for reducing stress hormones than simply leaning back and putting your feet up at your desk—just ask Professor Stefan Schneider, a neuroscientist based in Cologne. Simply put, his research has found that in neuropsychological terms, we experience stress primarily in the frontal cortex of our brain. If in our job we have to juggle multiple things at the same time, eventually we reach maximum capacity and can’t concentrate properly anymore. But doing exercise places demands on the motor cortex, a completely different part of the brain. The stimulation from exercise means that our brain requires unbelievable “processing power” (that’s also why programmers have tried for generations to teach a robot the seemingly simple task of climbing stairs). But does it make sense to give our brain even more to do when we’re already stressed? It absolutely does! When we’re playing sport, our brain needs the resources to concentrate on the activity. That means our cognitive functions take a back seat, and it’s why exercise helps clear your head—even just short burst of activity can make a difference.
Everyone knows that “exercise breaks” are good for your body, so here are just a few reasons why you shouldn’t wait to make exercise a regular part of your daily/weekly routine.
- protects your cardiovascular system
- boosts your immune system
- helps you lose or maintain your weight. Our body’s muscle mass begins to reduce when we reach our mid-20s, so our metabolic rate decreases. That means we need fewer calories and should adapt our diet accordingly, and/or start doing more exercise to burn off the excess calories.
- balances and reduces the strain from doing one activity
- improves your sense of wellbeing in your own body
- helps you sleep better
- avoids stresses and strains
Now that we’ve summarized the benefits of exercise breaks, let’s focus on how you can make them a regular part of your daily routine.
Tip 3: Start small. But do it now!
Don’t think that you need to make huge changes to your habits or daily routine, as that might put you off. Instead, start small: Remember that any exercise is better than no exercise. What’s more important is that you find a form of exercise that you enjoy. It can be cycling, jogging, stand up paddle boarding or anything else you like, but whichever one you choose, don’t ask too much of yourself early on as it might backfire—if you get frustrated, you’ll just be tempted to throw in the towel.
So it’s best to start with short sessions. Once you’ve got into it and you feel you can keep going, you can then start to make those sessions a few minutes longer.
Looking to get sporty?
Then make sure you start small. The most important thing at this stage is to take that first, small step: If you can discover the fun of exercise rather than asking too much of yourself, you’ll soon notice the benefit and you’ll feel encouraged to keep going.
Tip 4: Stick to a regular exercise schedule
Even if your day is pretty busy, you can always find half an hour to fit in some exercise. It won’t happen overnight, and you won’t manage it every day, but if you plan ahead in good time you’re guaranteed to gradually increase the amount of exercise you get.
One simple trick is to put exercise in your calendar along with everything else you need to do—some people find it helps them get into a routine of particular times or days to do their exercise. Do whatever works best for you, but please don’t forget to sort out the practicalities with your family first. Establishing beforehand who’s responsible for looking after the kids and when, for example, will make it much easier for you to incorporate exercise into your daily routine.
Tip 5: Make arrangements you can’t get out of
Sometimes, despite putting it in your schedule, you might find yourself skipping exercise and coming up with excuses. We get it: It’s harder to keep bringing yourself to do something on your own than with other people. But that just means you should outsmart future you by arranging to do exercise with friends. It’ll force you to do it—after all, you don’t want to annoy people by canceling arrangements you’ve made.
Once you’ve got started and the banter’s flowing, you’ll find a whole new kind of motivation to keep up with the others and go for longer than you would on your own (as long as you find someone whose fitness levels are around the same as yours). And that’s not all: Exercising with your friends gives you more variety in the activities you do. Maybe you’ve never been skiing or rock climbing, or you’ve heard about that new flow trail near you but haven’t got round to trying it—if your friends regularly do things like this, sooner or later they’re bound to get you to try something new.
The social aspect of sporting activity should never be underestimated. It’s a great way to meet your friends as often as you like, it helps you keep up to date with what’s going on in your social circle, and it gives you people to spur you on when you need motivation. Plus, it can be helpful to talk to people who aren’t your work colleagues: Their view as outsiders can often point you towards a solution to that problem you couldn’t solve.
Arrange to exercise with your friends—then you’ll have no excuses!
If you want to outsmart your inner couch potato who’s always stopping you from doing exercise, arrange to meet your friends. But be as specific as possible! Just saying “Let’s meet next week…” isn’t enough: Do it properly and fix a day, time, and meeting point.
Tip 6: Get your family involved
It’s important to spend valuable time together as family, particularly for children. And your guilty conscience will only get worse the more of your rare free time you spend without yours. So why not start your family’s own little sporting adventure? It’ll bring you closer together better than anything else! Kids have an innate need to move around, and you know what they’re like if they don’t get the chance.
Exercising outdoors gives you all the opportunity to experience what nature has to offer, discover the exciting animals and plants, and observe how the seasons change. Doing activities together will also help bring you together as a family and make you an important role model for your kids, showing them that a healthy lifestyle can be lots of fun. Which is exactly the point. But please don’t overdo it when you start exercising with your family! When the kids are grouchy, going for a long hike can become a real (and not very enjoyable) challenge—there are lots of other activities you can do where your varying fitness levels won’t matter as much.
If they’re still small, why not take them bouldering? You’ll be surprised at how good they are. Or you could try jogging while they ride their bikes alongside you. The older your kids get, the more activities you can do. Whether it’s skiing, roller blading, ice skating, or cycling—you’re bound to find something you all love doing.
Kids also find water irresistible. Whether in it or on it, they’re in their element and can let off steam while enjoying a relaxing natural environment. Even just ripples in the water and rolling waves have been shown to reduce stress, and a calming effect has been attributed to the color blue.
Top tip: Have you ever tried stand up paddle boarding? It’s easy to take the kids with you—just find the nicest and quietest spot on the water and jump in. And paddle boarding is also a great way to train your whole body!
The bottom line
If you want to get back in shape and maintain a healthier lifestyle, first of all you need three things: A good plan, a bit of patience, and support from your family and friends.
The best way to start is by taking your calendar and entering days/times for “exercise breaks”, either on your own or with friends. But please get the OK from your family first—and of course you can get them involved too! Doing activities together is fun, brings you closer together, and will stop you from being overly ambitious, which can be fatal when it comes to getting into better habits. It’s much better to start slowly and enjoy the small progress you’re making: After just a few weeks you’ll feel fitter, less susceptible to stress, and more balanced.