Around 10:30am, I walk out the back door of the office tower and down a cobblestone street to my favorite coffee place. I say hi to the owner, and he makes my coffee without me placing an order, since I get the same flat white every day. Sometimes we talk about the weather, which in Istanbul has been quite dramatic lately—a morning flash flood that carried away the ice cream freezer next door to my apartment building and an evening hail storm that smashed my balcony furniture and broke car windows.
I take my to-go cup and wander back to the office, stopping to pat my favorite street cat, a mouthy, lazy, white thing who lives on this hidden backstreet, then ride the elevator up to my floor, with its unnatural lighting and sterile, every-office decor.
I repeat this 15 minute routine at mid-afternoon, often, not because I want the coffee, but because I need to get up and move and also gain some perspective.
I find many people think taking breaks is a luxury, and that if your job is truly busy or important you don’t have time for such things. But I believe taking breaks is not a luxury, but an important time management tool. It energizes me and puts things in perspective. I am more focused when I return and my priorities seem more clear. I am more productive, not because of the caffeine (although that helps with my afternoon slump), but because I have taken a step back. This has a few positive effects:
I am always more productive when I’m well-rested, and that doesn’t just mean getting enough sleep. If I power through a day without a break, I get less done with less focus. I more than make up for those two fifteen minute breaks, because when I get back to my desk I am wide awake, reenergized, and work more quickly and with more clarity. Experiments show even mild exercise aids memory and attention.
Even on days when I’m not busy I often arrive back at my desk with new insight into a problem or a new idea.
You just may gain some perspective: that crash of glass as a cart toppled over is probably just as important to the street vendor you passed on the way to the cafe as your frustration with a colleague or process, maybe even more so.
Whenever I find myself struggling to focus I stand up. I look for somewhere to walk, which, granted, is not always easy in an office environment. I’ve been known to ride the elevator downstairs, walk across the street, look at the park, and walk back.
Aside from the fact that moving your body gets your brain working differently, going outside can help put things into perspective. Deadlines are important, but they aren't the only things of importance happening in the world. And somehow that knowledge shakes me loose from any frustration or sense of lethargy, so I can take my seat and get on with it.
What do you do when you feel bored or restless in your work?