If you’re not goofing you’re not working
Time to put aside your guilt at taking walks and breaks during working hours because inspiration strikes when you least expect it...
August 16, 2012 11:22 by M. Aldalou
If you’ve ever spent even an hour of any given work day with your head resting between your hands in frustration at the mental block that you have been vigorously trying to fight away, then you’re not alone. Strands of your hair find their way between your fingers and your eyes remain glued to the computer screen as you feel the helplessness seeping into every pore of your skin. Odds are, you haven’t been ‘goofing around’ enough.
Many of us feel a tiny (for some, larger) surge of trepidation at the idea of taking longer breaks, or any break at all for that matter. The idea of taking an extra ten minutes to chat with your colleague or take a quick stroll in the hallways may seem dishonest and we have all felt guilty at those ideas but consider this. Inspiration doesn’t have a schedule (apologies for the cliché) nor does it care about the convenience of a 9 to 5 shift. It will strike when it strikes and for the lucky few of us, it will strike before our heads are rested deep in a pillow and into a slumbering sleep.
‘Sedentary work habits are as dangerous as a sedentary lifestyle at home’, says James Levine, professor at the Mayo Clinic, to The Times and quoted by Forbes. He agrees that we don’t take nearly as many breaks as we are supposed to. You should be allowed to stand on your feet, take walks or even take a nap if you’re feeling sleepy. A time period of focused productivity is more beneficial than hours of wasted or perhaps, partially productive time. Studies have shown that taking a break, as well as providing you with a mental distraction, can exceedingly stimulate your attentiveness due to a smoother blood flow.
Our process of thinking and the trail of creative thought are not designed to be continuous. The longer you remain seated in your chair with those eyes glued to the computer screen the more rigid you will find your mental block to be. Thoughts, especially creative ones cannot and should not be forced. But, a word of caution is due, that overindulging in any activity will work against you and so you must take care of the degree of procrastination you commit to.
Consider Dan Wieden of the famous Wieden+Kennedy, the advertising giant that came up with Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ slogan. Do you think the groundbreaking idea came to him while he was propped up on a computer desk rubbing his eyes sore? Well he may have done that at some stage but the point is that he stumbled across it in his free time during a discussion with a colleague about a novelist named Norman Mailer, that had written about a convicted murderer who before facing execution said, ‘Let’s do it’. You can see how Wieden tweaked the phrase from there, but more importantly it reveals to us the benefits of interaction and the untimely manner in which inspiration drops by.
If you still hesitate at the idea of setting several minutes aside for walks and talks, then consider a Forbes article about a team of MIT researchers, led by Professor Alexander, that discovered during their research that call center employees that took the time to converse with their colleagues were able to work just as hard, if not harder, then others who did not ‘stray’. In fact, they made the same number of calls and achieved equal and higher levels of performance, except with less tension.
The mind, like any other muscle does, needs rest and time to recover. Taking serious lunch breaks, setting aside time for colleague to colleague discussions, walking around a bit and staying active have been numerously recommended as they help stimulate and enhance your thought process and brain energy. Jack Groppel of Johnson & Johnson, who also holds a PhD in exercise physiology says that walking around during the day helps to stimulate blood flow, which in turn leads to a burst of hyper oxygenation in the brain. The misconception that pure focus for hours at a time is effective still plagues many people but in fact, the more mental distractions you can provide for yourself, the more likely that useful thoughts will begin to creep when you least expect them.