It's been some time since I've posted to my website. For a while, I had a set schedule. I was going to be consistent and post something informative every week. It seemed like it would be sustainable, so adding one post a week to my calendar didn't seem like something I had to think particularly hard about. The thing was, I also had scheduled posting to TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, and Pinterest several times a week as well. On top of that I'm in school, working on a Bachelor's-to-Master's program, so I'm taking undergraduate courses at the same time as graduate level courses. And, of course, I am running a business.
To put it short, I burned out. It turns out it was a lot more I could take on and ultimately I reached a point where I couldn't keep up so I dropped all of it except for school. I even stopped focusing on my business, neglecting to create new products or update listings. The worst part about it is that I could've avoided this if I had just taken some planned breaks.
Scheduling breaks (and actually taking them) is something that is important for reducing both stress and fatigue that ultimately lead to burnout. Studies have found that taking breaks throughout the workday helps reduce the effects of strain, resulting in a more positive mood with reduced feelings of fatigue (Zhu, Kuykendall, & Zhang, 2019). One study also found that having the intention to take breaks results in more frequent breaks, increasing the positive effects (Gerhard, Pasalic, Bauböck, Haluza, & Schoberberger, 2017). Basically, if you prioritize your break times, you'll actually take them, and you'll feel better throughout the day.
The Nothing Hour
There are a few approaches to making sure you get your breaks in. One is what I like to call the Nothing Hour. When I was in school I worked as a tutor and was trained to schedule one hour a week dedicated to nothing. The idea was that when that hour came, I was not obligated to do anything and could therefore do whatever I want. This has an effect of lifting a weight off your shoulders because even if you have a packed schedule all week, you have your Nothing Hour to look forward to. And it's scheduled, so it's a priority and your other obligations will just have to wait. The tricky thing is to avoid using that hour to be productive or as a buffer for rearranging your other tasks. It has to be devoted to restorative rest or you won't look forward to it.
A nice hour each week is a good start, but those studies I mentioned earlier were about the benefits of breaks throughout the workday. Let's talk about two other types of breaks that are popular.
The Pomodoro Technique
The first is the Pomodoro technique. Pomodoro means "tomato" in Italian, and the technique is so named because of the tomato-shaped kitchen timers that were once popular. The concept is simple. For a task that is to be completed, you work on it for a set interval (or Pomodoro) and then take a break before the next interval/Pomodoro begins. Typically the timer is set for 25 minutes of work, then 5 minutes of rest. Repeat two more times. On the fourth round, instead of a five-minute break, you take a 15-30 minute break. Then you start over until you are complete. There are many variations of this and many apps that can be used to automate and customize the process, but all you really need is a timer. There are other rules associated with the original technique, but I recommend adapting it to fit your needs. Personally, 25 minutes can feel like an eternity or no time at all, so I sometimes roll over a break time. I recommend going no more than about an hour between breaks.
Finally, we've got Union Breaks. When you work as a part of a union, collective bargaining agreements may stipulate that your employer must protect certain rights, such as scheduled breaks of a set duration. This may mean you get a five-minute break every hour plus fifteen minutes for every four hours worked. Maybe you get scheduled breaks every day at the same time. The point is you have to know that you have a break coming and you have to take it. This might be difficult if you're in a flow, but often our productivity doesn't last much longer than these recommended periods anyway.
What it boils down to...
I recommend using a free timer to track how long you spend in a flow and use that to figure out the optimal rest break interval for you. Remember, if you're making excuses about productivity to avoid taking your breaks, you're not getting the benefits of resting and it will take a toll on you and how long you can keep up that productivity. If you don't prioritize your break times, you will likely burn out and your body and mind will force you to take a break. Don't sacrifice rest in the name of productivity. Ironically, your productivity will ultimately suffer so it's in your best interest to take time for yourself.
Doist, Inc. (2022, December 30). The Pomodoro Technique. Retrieved from Todoist: https://todoist.com/productivity-methods/pomodoro-technique
Gerhard, B., Pasalic, S., Bauböck, V.-M., Haluza, D., & Schoberberger, R. (2017). Effects of Rest-Break Intention on Rest-Break Frequency and Work-Related Fatigue. Human Factors, 289-298.
U.S. Department of Labor. (2022, January 1). Minimum Paid Rest Period Requirements Under State Law for Adult Employees in Private Sector. Retrieved from U.S. Department of Labor: https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/state/rest-periods
Zhu, Z., Kuykendall, L., & Zhang, X. (2019). The impact of within‐day work breaks on daily recovery processes: An event‐based pre‐/post‐experience sampling study. Journal of Occupational & Organizational Psychology, 191-211.