Want to get smart? Take breaks. Time your breaks!

You are working on a project. You put in an hour of great work. You decide you have earned a break. So you take a little chill pill. Before you know it, an hour has passed by. Now it is lunch time. By the time you drag yourself back to work, the steam has run out. Has this ever happened to you?

Breaks are necessary. My father keeps telling me I should have some periods during my day when I’m doing nothing at all. Emptiness allows the mind to rearrange and refresh itself. Neuroscientists are discovering that when we are not ‘focussing’ on something, and just relaxing, the level of brain activity does not slow down. It just shifts to a different neural circuitry called the ‘default mode network’. There is a lot is important stuff that actually happens during this time.

Downtime allows our brains to run some important processes:
1. Replenishing our ability to focus and pay attention
2. Making sense of our actions and spurring insightful learning
3. Forming stable memories of our lives and increasing happiness
4. Creating connections between thoughts and triggering creativity
5. Rethinking priorities that might have been lost in the rush of activity
6. Reviewing our behavior with others thereby realigning our moral compass

My best ideas and deepest insights have come when my mind is ‘on a break’ after a period of intense activity. During a shower, taking a walk, going for a drive, while running, or even just listening to some relaxing music. The problem happens when the breaks go on for too long! The usefulness of the break diminishes very rapidly. And then comes a point of no return. A break is needed from the break.

What has been working for me is to use my phone timer to time my breaks. Usually, I keep them to 10 minutes or 30 minutes depending on the type of break. The result is that I feel less guilty about taking the breaks, I use the breaks better, and most importantly, I get back to work after the break!