The Break that Heals the Best


A Break in Plans

Do you worry that if you take a break from work that you will lose your momentum? Keep on truckin’ it till its done, right? Truth is, we actually have a pretty limited ability to concentrate over long time periods. Our brains just get tired. And I don’t mean yawn-tired, I mean that we get easily distracted. Distracted, you ask? Sure, ever do any of these during your day: videos, gossip, and social media? Even more convincing: guess what time of the weekday Facebook users are most active: 3:00pm! Your mind is not made for marathon work sessions.

Just Stand Idle

So what’s a good worker to do? Well, take a break. Phooey! Daydreaming is an utter waste of time, right? Wrong! Daydreaming (technical term: task unrelated thoughts, TUTs) is an active and incredibly valuable executive function, and it serves as a critical way for your brain to digest what it has learned and to reevaluate tasks and goals. Some really tough problems can be solved while daydreaming.
But beyond daydreams, it’s now clear that short workday breaks replenish energy, improve self-control and decision-making, and reignite productivity and creativity. Put scientifically, short breaks help you maintain “vigilance” with tasks and are important for “goal activation.” So there. How’s that for giving some street cred to zoning out.

Vitamin Break

In the words of essayist Tim Kreider: “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets.”
Based on this, here’s my prescription for nurturing the productive mind: Let it wander. Be more deliberate and diligent in taking breaks during the workday. Full daybreaks, completely offline and disconnected, are the best. Fifteen-minute mini-breaks, listening to a song, taking a short walk or gabbing idly, all have value. Even momentary micro-breaks, critical for daydreaming, can reinvigorate your day. In the words of Roald Dahl: “A little nonsense now and then, is cherished by the wisest men.”