Somehow, these days, it is no longer obvious that taking a break from work might be good for you. And that it might be good for your work too.
Rather, people see breaks (almost like sleep) as something for the weak or uncommitted. It’s almost as though, if you’re not working through your lunch, you’re not working hard enough.
However, this falls into what has become a common confusion among business people – between working a lot and working well. And that attention – not to say obsession – with personal performance and productivity, and with strategies for ‘self-optimisation’, often makes us forget the one thing that helps us work best: not working.
Breaks are, quite simply, gloriously good for you – and for your ability to work well. They help your creativity, they give you space to reflect on the problem on which you are working, and they improve your health and stress levels.
Yet, according to one survey, half of people don’t take the full time they are allowed for their lunch break. And a third never leave their work building once they have arrived! According to another study, eating ‘al desko’ is something that over two-thirds of us now do regularly.
I always make sure I take a break or two during my working day. And I always feel a lot better for it. Yet, don’t just take my word for it. The benefits of stopping working at lunch, going outside, and going for a walk are all scientifically proven.
Eating is a social activity. And just as sitting down to eat together as a family is great for your relationships, eating lunch with your workmates is a hugely beneficial activity too. It helps team spirit and cultivates a healthy and social workplace culture – in which you can talk about each other’s work and get to know each other.
But it also helps your concentration and your overall health. Most people, when working through their lunch break, don’t eat the healthiest of food, relying mainly on prepacked sandwiches or vending machine chocolate. Whilst people that eat well will be able to concentrate better, anyone that just steps away from their desk over lunch will gain focus and decrease their stress.
I have shown you before the benefits of being outside, and it’s worth insisting that it is fairly crucial for your health, work, and well-being.
A lot of people are in a routine in which the only time they are actually outside is when they are running from their house to their car or their car to their workplace – or when they are taking the bins out every week. And whilst we might complain ‘it’s cold!’ or ‘I exercise at the gym’, literally stepping out of the door has health benefits that aren’t compensated for by indoor exercise.
For example, people who are outside more have better eyesight (something that isn’t helped by staring at screens all day!) and being outside is proven to decrease your stress levels. And, as this article in the Harvard Business Review shows, going outside during your lunch break has a massive impact on worker productivity during the afternoon!
Something amazing that I came across recently was this idea that merely walking enhances your creativity and improves your ability to solve problems.
In the link above, Marily Oppezzo describes a study which had people think up ‘alternative uses’ for everyday objects, such as pens, tables, or keys. The study had three groups of people, and each individual in each group had to think, in a certain time-frame, of as many alternative uses as possible. They did this twice.
However, the interesting thing was that one group was sat down both times. Another walked first and then sat, and the last one sat and then walked. The number of alternative uses that could be thought of by the groups was double when they were walking. And the middle group (which walked then sat) showed a residual boost in creativity once they had sat down.
The study’s suggestion was that simply walking makes you more creative. So, stop staring at that screen, and go for a walk! It will make more sense afterwards! I know many well-known business people who are ambassadors for the ‘walking meeting’, where they conduct work meetings whilst out for a walk. I am a fan!
As the philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, said:
‘Sit as little as possible; do not believe any idea that was not born in the open air and of free movement — in which the muscles do not also revel. … All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.’