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How to get more out of your work day?

Take a break!

In today’s deadline-oriented workplace, long hours and overflowing in baskets often mean working through breaks to get the job done. But recent studies indicate that taking regular breaks from mental tasks improves productivity and creativity. And in fact, not taking the time to step away for short breaks throughout the day can actually increase stress and lead to exhaustion.

In a study conducted by the University of Illinois in 2011, researchers found that simply taking two brief breaks enabled participants to stay focused. According to Psychology Professor Alejandro Lleras, lead researcher: “You start performing poorly on a task because you've stopped paying attention to it.” As a result Professor Lleras and his team propose that people deactivate and reactive goals to stay focused. “Our research suggests that, when faced with long tasks, brief mental breaks will actually help you stay focused on your task!"

Another study on lunch break patterns amongst office workers, conducted by Univerity of Toronto also suggests that breaks, freely chosen by workers, can improve productivity. According to John Trougakos, Associate Professor of Organizational Behaviour & HR Management, at the University of Toronto Scarborough  and the Rotman School of Management: “Mental concentration is like muscle. It becomes fatigued after sustained use and needs a rest period before it can recover.”

Despite studies pointing to the benefits of taking breaks throughout the workday, many people still work through breaks and even take lunch at their desks while working.

Here are tips for quick breaks that make a difference:

1. Get up from your desk and walk around. During the winter months, this may just mean taking a walk to the cafeteria but in the summer months, enjoy the outdoors. Find a park and sit for a few minutes under a tree.

2. Step away from your desk for lunch. Try not to bring lunch back to your desk. Take 15 minutes to enjoy your meal away from your work area.

3. Eat a healthy meal. Try to avoid fast food and sweets for lunch. Protein helps boost energy. Greasy, carb laden foods cause afternoon sluggishness.

4. Drink Water. When you step away from your desk, fill up your water bottle. Water replenishes. It helps the kidneys function and energizes muscles. And it has no calories!

5. Take short stretch breaks. Remember your body as well as your mind. Sitting at a desk all day long can cause discomfort in our backs, necks and hips. So roll your chair away from your desk and find stretches to move your shoulders, open your hips and relieve back tension.

6. Remember to breathe. Yes of course you breathe. But when stressed, the breath becomes shallow or you may even hold your breath. By taking conscious deep breaths, your body settles into its natural state and eliminates stress response. The mind eases and the whole body relaxes. So simple!

7. Listen to Music. If you can, play your music softly at your workstation. If that’s not an option, bring along your favourite tunes to listen to when you go for a short walk.

8. Read something non-work related. Take a few minutes, to read something for pleasure. You’ll find it clears the mind.

9. Turn off your cell phone. Even if only for a half hour. The constant barrage of text messages, calls and even multiple emails, can drain energy. Taking a reprieve from your cell phone doesn’t have to be ignoring the communication, shutting off for a short time.

10. Laugh for a few minutes with a co-worker. Not only does laughter change your perspective, it also has positive health benefits. It relaxes the whole body. It boosts the immune system, triggers the relief of endorphins as well as improves blood vessel function and increases the blood flow to benefit the heart.  And it’s fun.

11. Unclutter your desk. Clearing clutter can help calm the mind. Looking at an overflowing in basket can be overwhelming. Having a clean work area can free our mind to concentrate on the task at hand, improving productivity. 

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Catherine Mattice

Catherine Mattice is a Director and a Member of TQS Lifestyle Association. She has over 25 years of experience as a communications specialist and writer within the travel and health care sectors. Catherine has been practicing yoga since 2001 and completed her 200 RYT Hatha Yoga with Barb Leese in 2012. In addition, she has completed a 50-hour Therapeutic Yoga Intensive Workshop with Susi Hately of Functional Synergy. She is also a certified Master Reiki practitioner. Catherine holds a Bachelor of Applied Arts in Journalism from Ryerson University.

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