Is working a 10-hour day and skipping your lunch break really an efficient way to achieve optimum output and also maintain a reasonable work-life balance? Or is it a recipe for a heart attack and forced early retirement due to ill health? Think about it.

Micro-breaks
Anyone who wants to work 100% efficiently should always eat breakfast and also make time, midday, to have lunch. But, in addition, for the busy Executive Secretary, micro-breaks can also be important. These can last from 30 seconds to 5 minutes. Short breaks are beneficial because sitting in the same position for long periods, or carrying out repetitive tasks, can cause eye strain, back pain, RSI (repetitive strain injury), fatigue and, often, stress. Research shows that the body follows a pattern called ultradian rhythms which are cycles repeated throughout a 24-hour circadian day, whereby the energy levels in your body slowly decline over 90-120 minutes. At the end of this cycle, the body needs time to recover and you may well start to feel hungry, tired, restless or have difficulty in concentration. This is apparently normal for everyone.

Breaks are actually even more effective when taken before they are felt necessary.

So, how long should the break be? The answer is that it is not so much how many minutes it should last but rather how effective it is in order to take your mind away from what you were previously doing. So in effect, it could just be a few minutes. Your lunch break, however, should certainly be longer than this – perhaps between 30-60 minutes.

Feeling guilty
The fact is that people often feel guilty by taking a break as they think it is wasting valuable working time. However, in reality, it is not wasting time but managing your time in order to be more efficient during the rest of the day. It is similar to trickle-charging your personal battery-pack so that it, and you, never goes “flat”! Your body is like your cellphone. When the battery is fully charged, then you get good volume and a bright screen but after long calls or web use, everything starts to get really dim! Do you sometimes feel like this half way through the day?

So, here are some ideas as to what you can do in just 2-3 minutes.

Walk and talk: Walk to see a colleague instead of sending an email. It is amazing what a smile and a simple “hello” can do for you both.
Stand up: Make yourself a herbal drink and try and avoid too much coffee. This is also a great opportunity to start drinking green tea.
Get physical: If you need to go upstairs, use the stairs for at least 2-3 floors. You may get out of breath to start off with but that will soon change as soon as your body gets used to the exercise.
Change scenery: If you have a break-out area, take some work with you to give your mind another focus. It is amazing how much more creative we are when we take ourselves to another environment.
Exercise: Stand and stretch, reach up and drive oxygen to your brain to wake you up. Pilates is great for stretching your body.
Take a 2-minute vacation! Have some pictures on your desk of your family, pet or a vacation place that you love and spend a few minutes visualising this by yourself. You almost certainly will see yourself smiling when you take yourself there.

Lunch time breaks
Make sure you take a proper break half way through the day, away from your desk, so let us look at some of the activities that you can do during your lunch break, after you have eaten:

Take 5: Take a five-minute power nap which will boost your energy and cognitive skills. This takes practice but is certainly worth the effort and can recharge you for the afternoon stretch ahead of you – and the chances are you will be more efficient and effective!

Yoga: Get out your exercise mat and practice Savasana by laying on your back with your arms by your side for 15 minutes.

Listen to music: Try Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherezade which is the legendary story, in music, of a Persian Queen, from the Arabian Nights. You can very often switch off your stress by listening to music. Try it.

Take 10: Go for a 10-minute walk, but without your phone! Or a five-minute run. Your endorphins will kick in as soon as you start to exercise, they will clear your head and put you in a better mood.

Read a non-work-related book: This can take you momentarily to another place, leaving you refreshed and invigorated. This is not the time to catch up with your work reading.

It would be great to hear from you with your favourite micro-break ideas so send me an email.

Until then, happy working!

Key Points
•Breakfast and lunch are essential fuel additives
•Working 8-10 hours continuously is inefficient
•Keep “fully charged” all day with micro-breaks”

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Carole Spiers FISMA, FPSA, MIHPE is the Chair of the International Stress Management Association (ISMAUK) and founder of International Stress Awareness Week. She is an acknowledged authority on corporate stress and CEO of the Carole Spiers Group (London ... (Read More)

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