I want to share the benefits of taking a break and here is a quick reminder of the 7 different types of rest that we need:
When I talk to new clients we talk a lot about taking time and doing things for yourself. That can be self care, learning or anything that involves taking time out. In the start of my sessions with clients, I often hear them say that they don’t have the time to take a break.
We know that our brain and body needs breaks and rest. We need to mix things up daily with different scenery and give ourselves different things to focus on, or just take time out for ourselves. Time comes up a lot with the women I work with and in particular as to why they can’t or won’t take breaks. In not giving ourselves the time and space to take regular breaks, we’re not doing ourselves any good.
Our workplaces and society have conditioned us to believe that we always have to be ‘on’ and we’ve somehow created this mindset and thinking that taking these regular breaks is actually harming our productivity and we know that’s not the case. I’ve spoken before about managing our energy instead of managing our time and I’ve created a masterclass about this subject, but I think this is societal and something that has been plugged into us. Some people think, if we can keep on working and being busy, we can get the next promotion, we can show our employers how committed we are, we will be more successful.
I was deeply shocked during 2020 as people started to go back to the office after the first lockdown. A large financial institute, one of the world’s large banks, had put software on their employees' computers to monitor how long they sat at their desks for. I can’t tell you how shocked I was to hear that. After the article came out the software got removed very quickly, but I think it’s a sign that some people still expect this presenteeism.
The assumption from some leaders is that as long as we are at our desk, we are working.
At my first consultancy The Chrysalis Crew, we introduced a 4 day working week back in 2019. The research around the 4 day working week tells us that 20% of the time we are working is wasted, non-productive time. Hence if we strip out all that wasted time, there’s a really strong argument that we can move to a 4 day working week.
Sitting at a desk does not mean people are productive.
Back in my early corporate days, there were some people coming into the office really early and wanting to show that they were eager and keen. But during that time they were actually doing their shopping or scrolling through news sites. They were in early to do personal things on their computer and even when they were staying late, they were doing personal stuff then too. But they had created this façade around them, that if they are in the office from 7.30am to 6.30pm, it must show that they are eager and really busy. In some cases it was those people that were being rewarded more in terms of promotions, progression, lunches with the chief exec and salary increases, because they were seen to be the most ‘productive people’. They may have been in the building longer than others, but they would also be spending 20 mins getting a cup of coffee and taking a long lunch break, and yet they were never questioned, as they were viewed as more productive due to being in the office longer.
I used to be a smoker in my early corporate days and smoking got me out of the office and some of the conversations I’d hear and be a part of in the smoking shelter, were some of the most productive conversations that I had during my working day. At every organisation I worked at, whilst I was smoking there was always conversation about the fact that smokers should have to make this time up and not allowed extra time. But the way I saw it, I could have a couple of cigarette breaks a day and be down and back up to my desk in 5 minutes, whereas others who didn’t smoke would be chatting in the kitchen for 20 minutes. The problem was no one was judged based on work output, it was who was being ‘seen’ more in the office.
I encourage everyone to take their holidays and take regular breaks throughout the day; they are necessary and needed. There’s benefits for our brains, our wellbeing and our productivity and we need to get away from assuming that just because you’ve got a bum on an office chair for x amount of hours a day, that that makes you more productive. They may well be, but if we are looking at these statistics of working a 4 day week and 20% of our day is non-productive, we’ve got to start measuring outputs rather than the number of hours we are at our desk or at work.
57% of women are struggling to switch off at the end of the work day as they fear it will impact their career progression.
1 in 3 women are reporting wanting to leave the workplace as a result of burnout.
I would love to see the world of work change and it be about your output and outcomes. Many SME’s and large corporates and everything in between don’t seem to understand the goals and objectives that they are trying to achieve. 3 priorities should be:
Customers and customer service
The world is changing at a very fast rate, the pandemic, financial crisis and technology is changing. We react to those changes and think we need to change everything we do all at once, but if we stick with our top 3 priorities as our big objectives and we feed outcomes into that, as an employee, once you have completed your outputs, you should be able to have a choice- do you take on more work or do you use the extra time as a break?
This past week I have been working with an NHS A&E consultant and she is one of my long standing clients. In our recent session she mentioned she has some exams coming up and has taken a week's annual leave to revise. She sat her exams and felt really good and we then talked about her revision and how she had struggled to find the space to revise and get into a good headspace. She then said when she went back to work after her week off, she felt more exhausted than before she left. We talked it through and it was of no real surprise to me, because she hadn’t taken a break at all, she had come out of one busy environment to then head down into a studying environment and straight back to the busy workplace. Other than 1 run every morning, she hadn’t taken any sort of break during that time.
Many women I speak to after a week off say they go back to work exhausted, this is because they haven’t rested, they eat more food, drink more alcohol and get less sleep. All of these things combined are not allowing our body and mind to have the recharge they need.
I’m a huge advocate for breaks and time for yourself. I have purposefully created time in my mornings for Me. For yoga, cycling, dog walk, go to the gym, read, listen to a podcast. This is my time. I know I am in a different position either work or family wise to others and not everyone can do this (especially if you have young kids), but I give myself this time every morning. I also take regular breaks throughout the day. I don’t think about it anymore, it’s just become a habit and I do it unconsciously. I always take a lunch break, I don’t always have an hour though and at the end of every working day I do a bit of reflecting. I look at my get done list, how has my day gone; just 10 minutes to reflect. Then comes family time in the evening and then more Me time when I’m going to bed. It’s not always what I do with this time that is important, it’s the fact that I have created this time to give myself a break.
I’ve been living this core-led way for a number of years now, but it has taken time. I used to have this big long list of things I needed to tick off every day. I don’t do this anymore. I now think, what do I need now and in this moment? Sometimes I need to just watch a programme or go have a bath or do yoga. I’m able to pay attention to what it is I need and the break times I’m able to take. Every time I take a break I’m more refreshed and more productive.
I have a few friends who lovingly laugh at me and say they can’t believe how much I get done in a day/week/month. When I ask them how many breaks they take during the week, they aren’t taking many at all. They have assumed that by working 12 or 14 hours a day, that they will simply get more done. Doing this got me to the point of burnout.
Working more hours = get more stuff done right? No!
For the last 9 years of my researching, studying and learning all of this, I keep coming back to the 3 main things that core-led women, core-led leaders need to do in order for us to live a core-led life:
Get really clear on our values and who we are at the core.
Make time for ourselves regularly.
What I do on a daily basis in terms of the breaks, is aligned to who I am at the core. The boundaries I have created with the holidays that I have, the breaks I take, the travel that I do, my weekends away, are all aligned with who I am at the core.
If you think taking breaks and time out is a waste of time, or you think that you do not have the time, I'd really urge you to reconsider that. It’s only in taking these breaks that we can align to the success that we want from our lives. The breaks will move us away from guilt and burnout and move us more towards success.
You will never find the time and waiting to find the time is like looking for a needle in a haystack, it's never going to happen! CREATE the time. You can do this.