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by Cathy Vandewater | June 19, 2012


We're not suggesting you build a sleep center under your desk, a la George Costanza. But planning—and taking!—breaks throughout the day can be ask key to staying productive as your actual work.

Feeling guilty about your blog habit or some under the desk texting? Don't! As long as you're toggling back to your work, those mental breaks can keep your energy up, your work high-quality, and your focus sharp. Here's why:

1. Your attention stays sharper

Just like sights and smells tend to fade the longer you're exposed to them, trying to hold on to a thought or repeat a difficult task can put your brain in screensaver mode. Your brain assumes it can save energy by tuning out—but, while that's all well and good for your brain, it's not ideal for a deadline.

Catch yourself day dreaming? Breezing through a task you should probably be focusing a little harder on? It's time to get up and take a break. Switch gears with your work, or physically get up and change your scenery. When you sit down, it will be easier to see the finer points of the task.

2. Breaks up a bad-for-you sedentary day

We all know a sedentary lifestyle is bad news (for example, there's actually a "Sedentary Death Syndrome"—eek!). According to the American Heart Association, inactive people have between 1.5 and 2.4 times the risk for developing coronary heart disease. Those numbers are comparable to risk factors you'd consider much more dangerous, like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and smoking.

Luckily, moving you’re a few times a day isn't difficult. Set a time to get up—try once every hour or so—and take a few laps around the office, the block, or even just to the water cooler.

You'll reap the mental benefits of resetting your focus, but also get some blood flowing and loosen your limbs. Ahh.

3. New stimuli can kick off a breakthrough

It's hard to imagine a more receptive place for an idea than a blank canvas. But if you've been staring at an empty word document to no avail, it's time to try something else.

When you're at a loss for original ideas, try "responding" to existing ones. Get into a state of engagement: invite a coworker out to lunch and discuss your problem (you might talk yourself in a solution, even without input), listen to a podcast on a related topic, or just ask yourself questions about your work. Immersing yourself in "ideas" while taking the pressure off yourself to have them can kick start your thoughts.

4. You're recharging your resources

Thinking is similar to physical exercise—you have to do it in "reps," or the quality of performance drops.

Just as with exercise though, it's best not to cease all activity while recovering—you need to keep the muscles warm!

When you catch your attention drifting, try switching over to a game (Words with Friends, anyone?), skimming a favorite blog, or listening to music. You'll keep those creative and critical juices flowing, while taking a rest from the heavy lifting.

Got any tricks for reviving your brain? Favorite lunch break activities or snacks for mind-power? Share in the comments below!

--Cathy Vandewater,

Read More:
To Stay on Schedule, Take a Break
Don’t Stress It! Tips for Dealing with Workplace Stress
5 Myths About Creativity


Filed Under: Workplace Issues