Stress is a part of nearly any type of job, even if you're working from home and running your own design business. Stress can lead to health issues, so I made a conscious decision to reduce it.
Working as a designer brings hectic days when I'm juggling multiple clients, staring at looming deadlines and feeling the stress ramping up to almost unmanageable levels. Especially on high-stress days, I make a conscious effort to take at least four breaks during the workday to defrag from the intensity.
Combating Long Work Hours
The average American works 9.2 hours a day, and only one-third takes a break. As a freelance designer, it's easy to get so caught up in client work that I put in even more hours without time off. However, even a short break helps you focus better on the task at hand.
When taking a break, don't answer work emails or do any other work. A break is meant to get you away from things for a short period. Take a walk, listen to your favorite song, get a snack or grab a cup of coffee. If you only have a couple of minutes, close your eyes and breathe deeply. Rest your eyes from the harsh lights of the computer screen and get some oxygen pumping through your system.
Even the most exciting design project has elements that are boring. The same type of work gets repeated over and over again. Science proves that taking short breaks when you feel bored helps counteract the doldrums.
One study showed that a brief respite from a task improved participants' ability to focus on the task at hand for a more extended period. In the study, 84 people went into four groups: a control group, a switch group, a no-switch group, and ignore the digits group. Before starting the task, participants were asked to memorize four numbers and respond if they saw them on the computer screen. The switch group saw the digits twice.
The group who had the two very short breaks before responding to the digits had better performance over time than the other groups. If focusing on something different for just a few seconds makes an impact on productivity, then it seems taking short breaks might help us be more productive.
There are numerous advantages to getting fresh air and sunshine. Making a conscious effort to go outside at least once or twice during the workday helps lift my mood and give me a break from work at the same time. Experts list the benefits of fresh air as improving blood pressure, aiding digestion and even helping sharpen your mind so you can concentrate better.
Spending hours on end inside is monotonous. During at least one of your breaks, step outside and breathe some fresh air into your lungs. On mild spring and fall days, I also like to throw open the windows in my home office and clear out some of the stale air. If there is a light breeze, it's very refreshing and helps me stay focused. When I can reduce stress when working from home, I put in more hours than I might otherwise be able to.
When to Take a Break
You might feel uncertain about the best times to take a break from work. There are many different schools of thought on when to do so.
I try to take a short morning and afternoon break and a longer break for lunch. Planning at least those three breaks seems to split up the day into healthy portions of time. This keeps me from getting a crick in my neck from bowing down to look at my laptop screen or hunching over my keyboard.
In the morning, I take a short five-minute break. I then take 30 minutes for lunch and try to get outside and get some fresh air and eat. In the afternoon, I take another short break of five or ten minutes. The fourth break I take when needed. If I need a bathroom break or work is getting too overwhelming, I have that flexible break I can take whenever.
Four Stress Relief Break Methods
There are many different ways you can take your breaks. Here are some of the most popular backed by science:
#1: Take 15 Minutes
One study found that a 15-minute break helps you refocus on work goals. If you plan to take longer breaks, then taking perhaps three a day instead of four might work better. It's challenging to find a full 15 minutes to step away, but you'll come back more focused and able to complete more work than if you keep pushing through even when fatigued.
You'll also want to find something active to do during your break. Get up and do some stretches, take a short walk or start a load of laundry if you work from home.
#2: Pomodoro Method
With the Pomodoro method, you do spurts of intense work, break and more work. With this method, you set a timer for an amount of time you want to work full-out. For instance, 25 minutes. Then, you take a short five-minute break before working another 25 minutes. Repeat the segments four times and then take a longer break of about 30 minutes to replenish.
#3: 90-Minute Balance
Our bodies have natural rhythms. With this method, you work for 90 minutes and then take a break, tying into your ultradian rhythm. We move through deep to light focus throughout the day. We can work for about 90 minutes of intense focus before concentration starts to wane and productivity goes down. Try taking a short break after 90 minutes and see if you can get more done in a day.
#4: 52-17 Method
In another study, researchers found people hit the peak of productivity when they work for 52 minutes and then break for 17 minutes. This method is similar to the Pomodoro method, but the timing is different.
The top 10 percent of productive workers know how to take a break that refreshes them. They worked an average of 52 minutes, took a break for 17 minutes and then went right back to the task at hand.
No matter which method of work and break balance you choose, the key is finding the one that helps you be the most productive. Try each method and then decide what works for you.
What to Do on Your Break
We've talked a little about getting fresh air and activity on your break. Here are some ideas for things to do to help you get your mind off work and refresh your spirit:
- Spend some time thinking about your vacation.
- Make a list of non-work things you need to accomplish this week.
- Have a snack or meal to keep your energy up.
- Read a book you love or watch part of your favorite television show.
- Grab a beverage and chat with a friend on the phone.
- Get an adult coloring book and spend some time in artistic endeavors.
- Take a short nap or meditate.
Note how none of the activities are work-related. The key is to get your mind off work so you can come back with a fresh perspective.
Adopting a Lifestyle of Breaks
At first, taking a break may sound counter-intuitive, particularly when you're busy with work. However, I've found it allows me to focus better and work with more intensity between breaks. A break gives you something to look forward to and helps you get those million little tasks done at the same time.
Alternating work and breaks truly is key to reducing stress when working from home as a designer. I may even add a few more breaks into my schedule, and I encourage you to do the same.
You can learn more about taking breaks and getting productive inside my productivity power plan… which is included in The 2019 Ultimate Productivity Bundle, which is choc full of 46 courses, ebooks, planners, and printables! Click here to learn more.
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