In my twenties and into my early thirties, I repeatedly heard this from supervisors, more experienced colleagues, and authors: “Show up early, stay late, and dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” I took that advice to heart. Almost daily, I arrived early and stayed late, even though no one around me did so. You don’t want to know how much I spent on my work wardrobe. I was the poster child for going above and beyond. I utilized LinkedIn and Facebook like crazy immediately after they hit the internet. My goal was to prove myself a productive, passionate employee. I knew employers were looking for productive employees. This soft skill is consistently ranked near the top of employers’ preferred soft skills lists.
I killed it at work and consistently set and exceeded goals, created successful new programs, and found solutions to organizational problems. But my work-life balance was a joke. A true workaholic, I found myself wallowing in work rather than living a life of my own. My relationships suffered, and my health did, too. I found that the more I worked, the less productive I became. The more I worked, the less I cared about the purpose/mission which used to drive me to succeed. The more I worked, the more discontent I felt.
Over time, I learned to strike a better balance. I left work at work and discovered my own interests aside from my career. More importantly, I maintained a high level of career success while living my own life. I could simultaneously be productive and feel well. One of many ways I struck this balance was by learning to take more breaks at work. Sounds ironic, doesn’t it? How does taking breaks help you become more productive?
Get up and move.
Sitting in a chair kills your back. This isn’t new news. Many companies now offer employees standing or convertible desks or at least more ergonomically correct desks. But most of us still find ourselves seated while working if we work traditional desk jobs. You have to give your body a break if you expect it to perform all day long. Stand up and stretch. Break out some yoga poses. Fit in three sets of squats or crunches in a few minutes’ time. Walk around the office, to the restroom, or to the fridge to get a bottle of water. Whatever you do, don’t sit still for longer than an hour without changing your body position for at least a few minutes.
When we get up and move, we come back to our desks ready to work again and feel more productive and focused and less tense.
There’s no shortage of research indicating benefits related to experiencing nature and breathing fresh air. Want to be more productive, less stressed, and healthier? Spend a little time outdoors each day at work. You don’t have to work from home in the woods to reap these benefits. Go out on the balcony and absorb some sunlight for a few moments while making a phone call. Meditate on the flower bed for a few moments. Walk outside with a coworker for 10 minutes twice a day. Then go back to work renewed, invigorated, and more productive.
When I’m working on something dead serious or conflict-ridden, I need a mental and emotional break. Why not spend a few moments recording a silly video of yourself for your child? You’ll build your relationship while letting yourself unwind. Read a Laffy Taffy joke. Look at a few photos you keep on your phone of fun moments with your friends and family. Play a quick game of hacky sack with a colleague. You’ll both get a little exercise while looking ridiculous and build your friendship, too. It’s healthy to be happy, and happy workers are productive.
Take a nap.
Yes. I said it. A NAP. When I worked as a full-time faculty member, I purchased a reclining rocker for my office. It served two purposes: it eased my back while grading, and it provided a perfect resting spot mid-day. I’ve never been one to fall asleep when I rest or nap. But if I close my eyes, get still and quiet, and pray or meditate for even five minutes, I feel less groggy and more productive.
Don’t have a reclining rocker? Rest your head atop your arms on your desk for a few moments. Walk to your car and recline your seat. Always set a timer in case you’re tired enough to fall asleep. Resting during your lunch break may be a good option if your employer frowns upon mini breaks at your desk.
A few cups of coffee a day won’t hurt you (unless your doctor says otherwise). If coffee’s not your thing, find another hot drink you love. The point is to relax, sit still, and enjoy something simple without trying to multi-task and answer emails, too. It’s hard to remain tense after spending a few minutes sipping a hot cup of coffee or tea in a quiet space. Or take a coffee break with your mentor, colleague, or business associate.
Read one page of inspirational literature. Keep a daily reader or devotional book at your desk or bookmark blogs you find motivational and inspirational. This feeds your spirit and gives your mind a fresh focus on positive content.
Take a break to network with your colleagues, friends, mentors, or family members. You’ll feel less isolated and do good to others at the same time. Send a message to someone struggling to ask how she’s doing. Chat with a colleague about a big project. Send thank you cards to a few people who’ve helped you recently.
Create a short gratitude list every day during one of your breaks. Keep it in a journal or Google doc so you can reflect on better moments when times are tough. Thinking about blessings distracts us from problems at work. A positive distraction can help us revisit the problem with renewed determination to find a solution.
Need help striking a better work-life balance? Want to teach your employees or students to be more productive? I can help.