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The Power of Pause: Why taking breaks is the key to better work

Taking intentional pauses isn't about slacking off - it's about working smarter and more sustainably.

As summer approaches, many of us find ourselves eagerly anticipating that cherished annual weeks away from the office. Whether it's a chance to do absolutely nothing for two weeks or to indulge in anything but work, we pin our hopes on this brief respite to recharge our batteries and keep us going until the next break at Christmas.

What if, instead of relying solely on these infrequent escapes, we could weave moments of rejuvenation into the fabric of our work routine?

Recent research suggests an intriguing possibility: adopting a more measured pace and incorporating regular breaks might actually enhance our productivity and leave us feeling more energised in the long run. Let's explore this counterintuitive approach to managing our professional lives – one that doesn't wait for the holiday season to find renewal.

There are three compelling reasons why taking an intentional pause can enhance our work performance and well-being. 

Breaking patterns: 

The key to avoid recurring mistakes and prevent sameness. Pausing allows us to step back and assess our habitual ways of thinking and working. By interrupting our automatic processes, we create space for reflection and critical evaluation. This can help us identify inefficiencies or errors that we might otherwise overlook when caught up in the flow of constant activity. It's about gaining perspective to make better decisions and implement improvements. 

Recharging mindfully: 

Combating the culture of constant busyness. This addresses the pervasive issue of burnout in modern work culture. Mindful pauses serve as intentional breaks from the relentless pace of work, allowing for mental and emotional recovery. They provide opportunities to reset, reducing stress and preventing the cumulative fatigue that leads to burnout. This point also challenges the notion that being constantly busy equates to being productive or valuable.

Sharpening the mind: 

Amplifying concentration and output. This highlights the cognitive benefits of taking breaks. Regular pauses can actually enhance our ability to focus when we return to tasks. They allow our brains to consolidate information, refresh our attention span and approach problems with renewed energy. This can lead to improved problem-solving skills, increased creativity and ultimately, greater productivity.

However, there are many factors that can prevent people from pressing pause in the workplace. Many work cultures see breaks as signs of laziness or lack of commitment. If leaders don't encourage or role model break-taking behaviour, employees may feel discouraged from doing so. Heavy workloads and tight deadlines can make people feel they don't have time for breaks, fuelled by fear of judgment from other colleagues. 

If you are someone who feels they can't afford to take breaks, it might be helpful to reframe how you think about them, and what improvement or payoff you are looking for. 

Robert Poynton, in his recent book ‘Do Pause’, describes a pause as “an opening that acts as a portal to other options and choices, giving more dimension to your experience”. This framing suggests that pauses aren't just about rest or disengagement, but about creating space for new possibilities. For instance, intentional pausing might help you improve the quality of your work by allowing time for critical reflection or enhance your ability to deal with complexity by providing mental space to see broader patterns and connections. 

Incorporating pauses into your workday doesn't have to be complicated or time-consuming. Start with identifying some short, simple ways to build these into your week.

  • Pausing Payoffs: First off, start by being clear on what specific benefits you want to achieve from making time to pause intentionally, whether it's managing intricate challenges more effectively, improving your ability to focus or recharging your batteries.

  • Movement: Incorporating movement can really help boost energy levels and enhance your mood as it triggers the release of endorphins. I’m not suggesting you need to go for a run at lunchtime or hit the gym between meetings. Find ways to introduce small, manageable bursts of activity that can easily fit into your workday. Set a reminder to stand up and walk around for a minute or two every hour. Take a quick trip up and down a flight of stairs for a burst of movement. Try simple stretches at your desk, like shoulder rolls, neck rotations or seated twists. These simple movements can make a big difference without requiring a change of clothes or a shower afterwards!

  • Breathing: Many people underestimate the power of breathing exercises or feel intimidated, or even disengaged, by the idea of meditation. But the truth is, breathing techniques can be incredibly impactful and take just a few moments of your time. Breathing exercises can be done right at your desk, without anyone even noticing. Place a hand on your belly and take deep breaths, focusing on the rise and fall of your abdomen. Or try the 4-7-8 technique by inhaling for 4 counts, holding for 7, and exhaling for 8. This can be particularly calming.

  • Habit Disruptors: Intentionally breaking out of your routine can stimulate new thinking and avoid recurring mistakes. Walking meetings are an excellent way to combine work with a change of scenery. Not only does this incorporate movement, but it can also stimulate creativity and fresh thinking. Try changing your work environment occasionally. This could be as simple as working from a different part of the office, or if possible, spending an hour in a nearby café. Before making significant decisions, implement a mandatory 'pause period' of a few hours or even a day. This allows time for subconscious processing and can prevent hasty judgments.

  • Music: This can be a powerful tool to enhance cognitive focus and recharge the mind. Listening to music can be easily done in the workplace by popping in some earphones. Create a playlist of songs to listen to whilst pausing: soothing music can help lower heart rate and create a sense of calm, whilst upbeat and energetic music can increase alertness and boost your mood. If you need a bit of help, you could ask Alexa to “start focus time” (other smart speakers are available!).

These practices can be easily integrated into a busy workday and can provide quick, refreshing breaks that help reset both body and mind.

Taking intentional pauses isn't about slacking off - it's about working smarter and more sustainably. Incorporating these simple strategies into your daily routine can enhance your productivity, creativity, and overall well-being. Why not start today by choosing one technique to try this week?


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