Ahh, summer! A time to enjoy a change of pace. Schedules open up as clients leave town for some R&R. You and your staff likely take time off, too.
But in addition to vacations, we all need to take breaks throughout the day. In fact, the research suggests that by doing so, we can increase our creativity and productivity.
Now, we all know those folks who never take a vacation or a break. (Maybe you're one of them.) Work, work, work becomes their MO. But over time, this approach can have a negative effect on stress level, health and happiness. Our brains — especially our prefrontal cortex, which does the heavy lifting during thinking and decision-making — need a rest.
Of course, sometimes it can be stressful to take a break! We are so overstructured and our days are so packed that the thought of easing off for even 15 minutes can cause anxiety. Many of us have totally forgotten how to "play" or at least slow down at work.
But too much work with no play makes us boring. We lose creativity and energy. Telltale signs that you need a break include lacking energy and motivation, experiencing too much frustration or not sleeping well.
If you've experienced any of these, it's time to get into the habit of changing things up. Here are five simple summer pleasures to help get you started.
1. Add something different to your reading list. I have my preferred publications. I bet you do, too. Usually, anything that comes into my inbox other than my faves is a surefire delete. But what if you were to try reading one of them, just once?
If your usual suspects have been around too long, they can dull exposure to new ideas or different ways of presenting ideas. This break won't take more than 20 minutes, but it might stimulate limitless creative problem-solving.
2. Declutter your desk. Of course, you can declutter just part of your desk if you prefer, as cleaning can be a painful chore for some and a cleansing opportunity for others. I have a file that sits on my desk that says "Important: Don't Throw Out." It has been growing for some time. I recently looked through it and ended up tossing half of what was in there.
It was a 15-minute therapeutic exercise. I have a similar experience when I erase my whiteboard. Thirty minutes and you will give yourself two obvious benefits: a clean desk and a clear mind.
3. Call your clients. On one of these dog days of summer, pick up the phone and call a client or two. It's okay to pick your favorites. They may need and welcome the break.
Check in on how their summer is going, ask what they are up to, and share some highlights from your own summer outings. For me, nothing is better than chatting with a favorite client. One or two calls later, you will be ready to reengage your brain in the work at hand.
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4. Surprise employees with some fun. It is fun to surprise others with a free lunch, a watermelon break, or a Dunkin' run for some cool drinks and sweet treats. It may take an hour out of your day, but it is time well spent on you and your employees.
5. Get physical. Take a walk, meditate, pump iron if you have dumbbells in your office, or do a few simple floor exercises. None of these activities use the prefrontal cortex of your brain. Plus, the burst of physical activity will put you in a great position to double down on productivity.
What are your top 5?
The concept of taking a break to increase productivity and creativity may not resonate with you. And the five ideas discussed here may be right for some but too silly for others. Nonetheless, the importance of switching up your routine—and the positive effect that it can have—is serious.
So if you're not enticed by the options here, what would you suggest adding to this list? Whatever your top five, I'm sure the end result will be good for you, your employees and your business.
Joni Youngwirth is managing principal of practice management at Commonwealth Financial Network.