The Right Way to Take Breaks, According to Science (and an 8-Year-Old Kid)
My son–and best-selling author Daniel Pink–are on to something: for optimal productivity, you need to work on your timing.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
To wrap up 2017, I scheduled "one-on-one" lunches with my two kids as an opportunity to reflect on the year and plan for the new one. I asked Adam, my 8 year old, to share three things I did well as a mom, and three things I could do better. He was hard pressed to come up with things I did well (he said there were many--he just couldn't recall any on the spot). But he had three suggestions on things I could do better.
In 2018, he felt that I should:
- Travel less
- Learn to cook better
- Take more breaks.
Take more breaks? I protested. After all, in 2017, I took several family breaks and managed to disconnect completely during one of those trips; I even wrote about it. To that Adam said "Mom! I don't mean big breaks.. I mean more 'little' breaks."
My son was touching on the same topic and advice of Daniel Pink's latest book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. The book is filled with research on how timing is everything, and everything is timing.
It is also filled with actionable advice for you and your organization. Here are four actionable things I took away from the book about how getting the timing right will improve productivity and wellness for you and your team.
1. Know Your Highs and Lows.
Apparently, most of us peak in the morning, trough at midday, and recover in the later afternoon. The troughs can be particularly bad--it's when people get grumpy, tired, low on energy, high on negativity, and are most susceptible to lapses in judgment.
For instance, public companies that report earnings in the morning more often see higher gains in stock than those that report in the afternoon. This suggests that you should hold your board meeting earlier in the morning.
It also explains why our weekly product review meeting at Affectiva, conveniently scheduled during the toughest time of the day at 1:00 PM, is typically contentious. It is quite literally the absolute worst time to have that meeting. I'll definitely be asking our product manager to move that meeting to earlier in the day.
Oh and if you want a raise, ask the boss in the morning, not the afternoon.
2. Your Midpoints Matter: Schedule Your Breaks.
Like many, I am often in back-to-back meetings most of the day. Pink highly advocates for making time for little breaks throughout the day. Some of the ideas that I felt I could definitely incorporate include: a five-minute meditation break and a five-minute nature break (go for a walk or step outside and smell some fresh air).
Pink swears by power naps. I will occasionally take power naps on weekends and agree that they can be re-energizing. But I am not ready to embrace a nap room in our office, the same way Uber, Google, and others have.
Following the advice of both Daniel Pink and my son, I also plan to take breaks in the evenings and on weekends. Even if I have to work, scheduling breaks where I disconnect from technology can be beneficial.
3. End Your Workday More Sanely.
Most of my days in the office end like this: I am in a meeting, it's running over, and I am starting to panic because if I don't leave the office right this second, I will be--yet again--late picking my kids up from school. Is it just me?
Instead of this frazzled end to your day, Pink suggests that the best way to end the workday is to take three to five minutes to bring some closure to your day by listing the following:
What you accomplished today
What you would like to accomplish tomorrow
And for bonus points, send a short thank you email--to someone, to anyone. Expressing gratitude has been documented over and over to make you feel good!
Pink swears by this simple remedy. On good days it helps him celebrate his productivity, and on bad days, it helps recognize that it wasn't nearly as bad as he thought. I will definitely be giving this one a try myself. You could also extend that to quarter ends, semester ends or at the end of big projects or initiatives.
4. Plan for Spectacular Endings.
Endings are what people remember the most. Pink outlines some ideas that businesses can apply to make endings spectacular: for example, how can you make the endings of meetings with clients memorable?
At Affectiva, we have a weekly team status meeting where we check in across departments. We always end that meeting with what we call "Rockstar Nominations," where team members throughout the week are encouraged to call out teammates, via super simple Google Form, who went above and beyond to in exemplifying one or more of our company core values, helping each other or the company succeed in a project, deliverable, or goal. It's a system we've had in place for almost a year now and every week we all look forward to both how we can recognize each other. It leaves us all feeling appreciated, energized, and ready to take on the rest of the day and workweek.
Also at Affectiva, we are thinking ahead to the Emotion AI Summit 2018, our second conference event bringing together the best and brightest minds around artificial emotional intelligence. As organizers of the event, we try to get creative around "endings" that is, other than an inspiring speech at the end of the day, and cocktail hour or dinner, how can we make it a truly memorable day with a memorable ending? What will leave the attendees wanting more, and excited about signing up to see what 2019 has in store?
To make his book memorable and as a token of gratitude, Pink asks readers who got to the end of his book (which I did!) to send him an email asking for a signed bookplate (which I did mostly because I was curious if I'd ever hear back--will keep you all posted).
Your Challenge: Should You Choose to Accept
As this article comes to a close (and no pressure, now that I just spent a few paragraphs talking about spectacular endings), I would like to challenge you to do the same thing. Look at your calendar: What "little" breaks are you going to build into your schedule? When is the next time you are due to present on a project, or to a client? Spend some time thinking about the end of that meeting. If you were watching the content you are preparing, what would leave you wanting more? I'm interested to hear how it goes, so tweet me at @kaliouby and let me know.