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It’s necessary to take occasional breaks during the day. In fact, we need them if we’re going to maintain a high level of productivity and accuracy. In past posts, I’ve discussed Tony Schwartz’s Energy Project, which maintains that people work best when they take a break every 90 minutes. That’s a good rule of thumb, but it’s not just about the quantity of breaks, it’s about the quality. Some breaks, as it turns out, are more replenishing than others.

If you sit at your desk, flipping through social media updates, your break is not going to deliver the kind of replenishing results you’d get with an intentional, unplugged break away from your desk.

Daniel Pink explores replenishing breaks in his weekly “Pinkcast.” According to Pink, science shows that the quality of your break matters.

He says there are five basic rules for taking intentional breaks:

  1. Something beats nothing (1 or 2 minutes is better than no break at all)
  2. Movement beats stationary (get out and get moving!)
  3. Social beats solo (this is true for introverts too—find a friend a start up a conversation)
  4. Outside beats inside (catch some fresh air, if you can)
  5. Fully detached beats semi-detached (Don’t talk about work. Don’t bring your phone)

If you tend to gloss over break time, it may be time to re-examine your approach. Leave your phone in your desk, get up and visit co-workers, and take frequent walks outside. These kinds of breaks will help give you the kind of replenishment and rejuvenation you need during a long day.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
NOW LIVE: CHECK OUT MARGARET’S NEW ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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Energy Management

Time management is not solving anything.

Why? Because we can set aside time to work on specific projects, but if our hearts are not in it, we’ll end up drifting off or doing something completely unrelated (checking Facebook, browsing through new recipes, catching up on the latest news…).

Instead of managing blocks of time, it’s better to manage energy.

It’s more advantageous to work in short, productive bursts than in long blocks of time in which your attention wanders. When you set aside everything else (including your smart phone!) and focus on a single task, you’ll find that you’ll work better and faster than you would if you simply reserved a block of time and let your attention be captured by new emails, other projects, and social media.

The reason it’s better to work in shorter allotments of time is because human beings are not meant to slog through an entire work day without breaks. As Tony Swartz, founder of the Energy Project, says, “human beings are meant to pulse.” We work in cycles. Our concerted attention can only last for so long (typically 90 minutes, according to Schwartz).

There reaches a certain point where no amount of schedule-shuffling will enable us to stay on top of things. We may do our best to manage time, but if our energy isn’t also managed we can suffer from burnouts, stress, and unhappiness (which can bleed into our personal lives).

The lesson is: Don’t focus on your time management–just assume you’ll be busy. Instead, take care of your energy levels throughout the day.

Schwartz outlines some tips for tending to your energy levels during the day in a book he co-wrote with Catherine McCarthy called Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time.

The authors point out that your time is finite, but your energy levels can be replenished if you attend to them closely. They offer a few ways for you to do this throughout the day:

  • Take a break every 90-120 minutes. Physically get up from your desk and enjoy a brief change of scenery.
  • Eat light meals and snacks throughout the day, every couple hours.
  • Dedicate time every day to focus on what you’re best at and what gives you a sense of fulfillment.

They also suggest that leaders pay attention to their employee’s energy needs:

“To effectively reengergize their workforces, organizations need to shift their emphasis from getting more out of people to investing more in them…”

  • Keep a room devoted to taking breaks and relaxing
  • Subsidize gym memberships
  • Encourage staff to move around every so often

And I’ll add a suggestion of my own for leaders:

  • Energy is directly related to feedback. Positive feedback energizes folks and helps them keep the momentum going. Negative feedback, if delivered well, can also motivate people to make improvements. The point is, I find that giving specific, frequent feedback is one of the best ways to help people manage their own energy levels

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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