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The Power of the Pause

Why taking a break at work is essential

“Take a break”. Everyone, surely, has heard this, and yet frequently the response is, “No time”. A general assumption is that stopping for a break lowers productivity – taking time away from something far more important: work. It is a basic calculation: five minutes, for example, spent away from the work in hand must equal five minutes less on the said work. Mathematically perhaps, this is true, but this isn’t the end of the equation.

Am I achieving my optimum productivity level? Are my stress levels under control? If you can answer honestly, “Yes” to these questions, then you are quite possibly in a state of “flow”, when work seems easy – literally flowing – and you’ve lost all sense of time without having an impact on your health. Unfortunately, “flow” is rarely a constant state in a typical office environment, so for those readers who have experienced moments ‘out-of-flow’ and for all those who responded, “No” to the one or both questions, read on.


Is my productivity at its optimum level?

Decades ago, in an office in London, I had a colleague in the copy-taking department who consistently and regularly out-performed all the other 59 team members. When asked how she did this, her reply was simply, “I pause for five minutes every hour”. In an environment with daily deadlines, it would be easy to think that there was no room for breaks while there was still work to be done. Yet the evidence presented every month clearly dismissed this argument. Several colleagues might have taken a break ‘at some point’; others took none at all. If any of them came close to the top performance, they never exceeded the productivity figures of the person who switched off for five minutes every hour.

In a similar vein, companies experimenting with a four-day week are generally recording no reduction in productivity. Contrary to expectations, employers are finding that the workforce achieves just as much in four days as five. Why is this?

Whether it is five minutes in an hour or one day in a week, having “time out” is proving to be as important as the “time in” or “on”. High or good productivity levels aren’t a matter of effort or willingness; it’s about physical and mental fitness. No one cannot expect to be at the top of their game all the time. Athletes understand the need to pause and rest, and they also know how to prepare for the moments when they need to be at their best. They don’t just start running or jumping, they allow themselves the time to warm their muscles, stretch, and build up strength and power to give their best performance. It’s time we applied some of these principles to our own lives. Whatever you do – be it parent, packer, project manager, or something completely different – we all need to press the pause button and have a good stretch or roll our shoulders.

Constant repetition over time has a numbing effect on our muscles, especially the brain. Every day and throughout the day, we repeat actions and reactions – usually in autopilot mode where we don’t even notice what we are doing. Is this behaviour going to help us achieve our goals or give us an uplifting sense of well-being?


Are my stress levels under control?

Some stress is useful. An adrenaline boost can help to focus the mind before an important presentation, or heighten the senses in response to a severe incident requiring fast thinking and actions. And then there are plenty of stress scenarios that are less helpful, even damaging. Having to analyse figures for a report needed yesterday, resolve a client dispute, or raise the targets for a team that you know is already under pressure are all examples of debilitating stress. I’m certain you can think of plenty more. The simple lack of control over your own work is enough to push the stress levels into the danger zone.

Refusing to take a break is often a sign of stress. Those who believe they cannot afford to stop, even for a minute, are misguided and may even be putting themselves at risk of serious health conditions, especially if signs of stress are being ignored. You may be able to handle moments of stress adequately on a daily basis. You may also be able to control additional stress for a short-term period. It is far more difficult to manage your well-being during sustained, long-term stress. Neural pathways atrophy, reducing creativity and problem-solving abilities. Behaviours and stress patterns become ingrained and habitual, so that we actually anticipate stress, which naturally exacerbates stress levels.

The harmful effects of stress are well documented, and yet continue to be dismissed. We still work through lunch and stay at our desks. When are we going to abandon these unhelpful old habits and beliefs?


The power of the pause

A pause, quite simply, is a break from whatever you were doing. An opportunity to stop, to refresh or reset, even if only for a few minutes. That’s all.

Is it the notion of doing nothing, or not doing a specified task, or even worse, being seen doing ‘non-work’ that makes people fearful of taking a break? Or do we hesitate because we think we need to go to a gym, or run 5 miles/kilometres, or do some other activity that requires special clothing, equipment, and time (that we don’t have)?

You don’t have to wait for a vacation to relax. The pause during the day gives you the time to rest and recuperate. Energy and creativity flow far more easily after a break which, in turn, give you the chance to achieve or maintain your ideal level of productivity and manage your stress levels.

The moment you press pause on an activity, you surprise your brain and disrupt the automatic patterns and responses. When you press pause and in addition, do something different, unusual or unexpected, your brain is forced to forget all the regular behaviours (and stress) while it concentrates on the new demand. It is the element of surprise that brings the benefits of a pause – and why scrolling through your social media feeds doesn’t. And guess what? You only need 60 seconds to boost your sense of well-being, whether you stay at your desk or decide to step away, if you do a swivel during your pause.


Power Pause with Swivel!

Swivel! is a unique technique that I created and designed during the first Covid-19 confinement to help dispel stress and unwind – without the sensation of everything unravelling and falling apart. Swivel! is based on natural movement and draws on a variety of techniques, from yoga and mindfulness to dance. Contrary to many disciplines, there is no right or wrong in Swivel!. It isn’t “how” you do anything, it’s that you do it. You just try because that’s all you need for a Swivel! power pause. No special clothing, no special equipment, no special space; just you as you are, wherever you are.

Try for yourself now

Shake your hands as vigorously as you can while you count to 10 or 20. Stop shaking and let the zinging in your hands gradually fade away.

Twist around and hold onto the back of your chair. Hold the stretch while you count to 3, then relax and return to front. Twist around to the other side. Hold the stretch for the count of 3, then relax. Repeat the sequence one or two more times if you wish.

Kick your shoes off and rise up onto your toes. Balance for a moment if you wish. Lower your heels. Repeat up to 6 times, if you wish.

Try with your team

Share Swivel! with your team members. Have a Swivel! moment twice a day, or whenever the pressure is mounting.

All of these swivels act like the reset button on your digital device. With Swivel! you engage your brain and your body, enhancing physical and mental fitness, and imparting a general sense of well-being.


Digital Wellness Day

May 5, 2023 is Digital Wellness Day, the day when we are all encouraged to switch off, literally or figuratively for well-being, so why not discover the Power Pause with Swivel! for yourself today? There’s no better day than now.


Photo credit: "Pause" image by AndyPandy from Pixabay. All other photos are owned by the author.


Need help?

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