I tend to be the kind of person that will work non-stop until I solve an issue.
It must come from my days as a news producer. When I worked in the newsroom, deadlines were tight. There was no choice but to work, and work and work. Breaks were annoyances. We had a show to prepare, and there was not question about whether we would make slot. It had to be ready. Period. End of discussion.
Gosh, I can’t believe it’s been nearly 10 years. Old habits die hard I guess.
Occasionally, I still find myself in that news producer mode where I want to work and work until I finish my task. But I finally learned an important lesson: you THINK better when you walk away.
Today I struggled with a feature on a website I’m working on. I want to display a list of the departments associated with a location. The departments are related to the location through a custom taxonomy I set up. But the php function I was using wouldn’t display the list alphabetically. I tried other functions,, different variables and arguments… to no avail. It was quite frustrating.
Then, driving home, it hit me. I had one of those eureka moments when I gasped and actually yelled out, “I got it!”
I had been half listening to NPR and half mulling over the problem in my head when I suddenly realized what I needed to do! Then I kicked myself for not thinking of it sooner.
But maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. Researchers have found that taking breaks actually helps your attention. By giving your mind a break, you can come back to the task at hand more focused than you were before.
How to take a break
Breaks are really important, but I don’t recommend letting yourself get sucked into an activity that doesn’t actually give your mind a rest.
I could probably sit at my desk all day, but I force myself to stand up regularly and walk around. I fill up my water bottle, socialize with my co-workers, make a phone call — whatever it takes. I just need to stop staring at that computer screen for 10 minutes. Then, when I come back, I feel refreshed, and many times, I’ve thought up a solution to what I was struggling with.
Take a shower
OK, so you can’t take a shower at work, but it’s still a great way to focus. Showers are usually a transitional thing for me. I’m just getting up, or I just worked out and now I’m getting ready for work. Either way, the transitional break is the perfect time for me to think about what I need to accomplish. And it’s not just tasks I find myself thinking over in the shower. Sometimes design inspiration strikes me, and I come up with an idea that I love for my client.
Play on social media
Yes! Social media can help! True, it can be a distraction, but it is invaluable for helping me solve my problems. First of all — it’s fun! And fun is a really important part of taking breaks. Second of all, there’s a lot of awesome information on social media. I connect to a lot of people I’ve never met in person, but they share interesting articles and posts that inspire me, teach me, and help me grow as a designer, developer and entrepreneur. I learned a lot about WordPress development t, CSS and PR through Twitter — it’s just one way social media can help you focus.
I think the key to taking breaks is figuring out what works best for you. Not every one will get the same benefits from the same techniques. Some people swear by exercise. For me, exercise is a terrible way to focus or solve problems. It takes every instance of my concentration and energy — that’s why I do it in the morning. But hey! It might work for you — who knows?