Albert Einstein is believed to have invented the theory of relativity while riding his bicycle. A successful cartoonist got all his ideas while taking short naps. And one well-known screenwriter finds that taking a quick shower when he hits a roadblock helps fuel his crativity.
Evidence is mounting that taking breaks from mental activity boosts productivity and creativity. The reverse is also true: Skipping breaks can create fatigue and stress. Mental concentration is similar to a muscle, observes, John P. Trougakos, an assistant management professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough. It becomes fatigued after sustained use and needs a rest to recover, much as a weight lifter needs rest before doing a second round of reps.
“Short and frequent intervals of study” — that’s the advice one of my high-school teachers gave us about studying. It turns out, she was right. Working intensely, even for 15-minute periods punctuated by breaks can be more productive than sitting long hours at a desk. Breaks also encourage flashes of inspiration. Here are a few brain-boosting break ideas that you can easily work into your day:
Listen to a guided meditation for 10 or 15 minutes. There are tapes and CDs that promote relaxation and mental refreshment — and reduce muscle tension. Just put on a pair of headsets and you’re off.
Close your eyes and take 10 deep breaths. Walk away from your desk. Find a quiet place, where you can sit, close your eyes, smile to yourself and take a few deep breaths. Imagine tension, stress and anxiety leaving your body as you breathe out, and peacefulness, positivity and relaxation filling your mind with every breath.
Eat an apple. In the middle of a busy day, when you feel rushed, take a few minutes to eat an apple (or another favorite fruit). Just do it very slowly. Notice the flavor, the texture, the freshness. After a few minutes you’ll feel much calmer and less stressed.
Energize yourself with H2O. Drink a full glass of water, then splash some water on your face: warm to relax or cold to wake up and make yourself more alert.
Do something artistic. Write a short, funny poem. Draw a picture or doodle. Take a few photos of your surroundings. Let your creative side shine!
Get moving: Leave your cell phone behind and head outside for a brisk walk. Shake off stress and fatigue. Walk even faster, raising your heartbeat and letting both your mind and body relax and recharge.
Let’s take a few breaks today and see where they take us as we all write on!
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