My productivity tip of the day is pretty simple and exists in two parts:
Take real breaks; and always know when you are on a break.
Know when you are on a break
If you are building a chair its pretty obvious when you aren’t building the chair. Like if you look down and you aren’t in your workshop or near any wood then you probably are taking a break.
On a computer it isn’t that obvious. You can be working along and suddenly find yourself on the Wikipedia page for Ace of Base and not remember what brought you there. You were tired or hit a wall of fear or doubt or boredom and just opened up your web browser. You were on a mental break unintentionally. Instead plan your breaks ahead of time and push through these times. Use Pomodoro or whatever flavor of GTD or focus techniques that you like to keep working when you are working.
Take a Real Break
Well then what’s a real break?
The goal of a break is for you to not work for a bit and come back fresh to work more after. Its a small investment for clarity and endurance.
A real break:
- Is away from the computer screen (or the loom if you work with a loom)
- In some way takes your mind away from the immediate.
- Occupies your mind in some other way.
- Is of a length where you can come back and keep working easily.
Away from computer screen
Your eyes get tired, your liver gets tired, everything gets tired. Time away from the screen resolves this quickly. (Not the liver part)
Takes your mind away from immediate
I would not recommend thinking of work-related things as taking a break. Reading a technical blog while you take a break from computer programming is not as good as reading a magazine or skeet-shooting on your break. Do something different.
Occupies your mind
There is this myth that you can “veg-out” in front of the TV to unwind, but this does not really work. Working on your own is all about maintaining a productive momentum so I would recommend doing something with your mind (like reading or a puzzle or equivalent) or completely not using your mind like walking or taking a shower rather than doing something passive like TV watching.
Is of the right length
This varies per person, time of day, and moon cycle but for me this is typically 10 – 30 minutes.
With those criteria here are some examples of bad breaks:
- Building a barn. (takes too long even with help from the other villagers)
- Going to see all the Twilight movies. (too long; also they must be terrible)
- Opening up a new tab and randomly growing reddit or equivalent. (does not actively engage your mind, is at computer)
- Watching YouTube videos at random. (at computer, soul-crushing)
- Getting into fights about stuff over the Internet. (at computer, does not occupy your mind)
Here are some example of good breaks:
- Going for a walk.
- Washing all the dishes in the sink.
- Drawing a small picture of a tree with a money in it. The monkey has a telescope and is looking at you.
- Smoking a cigarette. (unfortunately)
- Brewing and then drinking tea.
My personal favorite technique
My personal favorite break technique is to read one “American-style” short story. These are typically 20 pages long and establish a character or idea in that length. They take about 30 minutes to read and completely take your mind away from whatever you are doing. I read them away from my computer but near it (sometimes it is necessary for me to keep headphones on in case there is an emergency). This technique clears all my requirements above and has lead me to read all sorts of great stories. By the time I’m done I am “back”, my mind and eyes are rested, and I am ready to work.
*I know that the term “veg-out” means act-like-a-vegetable and not move, but it blocks the term from being used when you eat a huge salad. Barbecue Ribs don’t move either, it should be “Rib-out” because they don’t move and you don’t move after them.
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