Sometimes to get work done, you need to step away from it. That may seem counterintuitive, but when you give yourself a bit of downtime, you give your mind a chance to rest, refresh, and refocus. Need inspiration for creative work? That mental break is crucial.
Why “Always On” Isn’t a Good Thing
Before joining The Craftsman Agency, I was Brand Manager of Popchips. It felt like I was always working—because I was. The office culture and open-floor-plan environment played a part in this. If you weren’t at your desk, it was assumed that you weren’t working. And there was still the archaic unspoken belief that you needed to arrive before your boss and leave after. But, I have to admit, it was also because of my personality: I am driven to over-deliver.
This led to long hours in the office, eating lunches at my desk, staying late and missing dinners with my husband, answering email on nights and weekends, and updating work at all times of the night. Whenever a request came through, I was there to fulfill it.
Unsurprisingly, this left me mentally fatigued. When I had to tackle a creative project like developing a compelling brand story from spreadsheet data, it was extremely challenging to tap into the creative part of my brain. I did not feel like I was producing my best creative work.
Take That Break—and Schedule It, If Needed
In order to reach my goal of over-delivering by doing my best possible work, I needed a change. I knew that you couldn’t be inspired when your brain was always on. But I also had fears to grapple with. What if I was disconnected and my boss or coworkers needed info from me? What if I was less productive because I needed more time to refocus on tasks after the break?
While these fears felt very real, I also knew they were ridiculous. Even with pressing deadlines, 15 minutes away wouldn’t really create any issues.
I needed that break. So I decided to schedule it into my day. Actually putting the break time on my calendar was really important—otherwise I’d fall right back into my regular habits.
For me, the best time to take a break was in the afternoon. I had several tasks that I needed to do every day, so I decided to get those done in the first few hours of work, barring meetings or emergencies. I also knew that I would still, sadly, be eating lunch at my desk. (Hey, it’s important to be realistic.) That meant the afternoon would a perfect time to step away. I would have successfully completed those important tasks, and I’d have at least a few hours to handle anything pressing when I returned. And I’d definitely need the break after hours of focus.
So what did I do during my break?
I’d take a brief stroll around the block. I lived in a warm climate then, so getting out into the sun and fresh air was relaxing and refreshing. Walking also helped with back and eye strain, as I had usually been sitting at my desk or in meetings. But making sure that I took a mental break was really key. I would not think about or talk about work. I would not check my email. Instead, I’d talk to a friend on the phone, listen to a podcast, or scroll through social feeds while I strolled. Sometimes I just let my mind wander and appreciate my surroundings.
A Break Sparks Inspiration and Improves Productivity
When I came back to work, I had more energy. Not only that, but my brain was ready to fire. It had more energy to problem-solve and analyze, more space to work through the “and” in those “yes and” situations. I was able to guide the team in a more productive fashion. It was a reset. Just what I needed each afternoon to spark inspiration and improve productivity.
It would be even better to have more, smaller breaks like this article mentions—but baby steps, right?
Today, I still need to focus on designing my day to make myself take those breaks. I now work remotely from Berlin and, as many of you may know, when you work from home, it’s too easy to start first thing in the morning and end much later than a typical office day. Managing a large team spread around the globe adds to the challenge.
While I’m more connected than ever through online collaboration tools, I schedule time to make a cup of tea or text a friend. But even as I write this, I realize that doesn’t provide the same benefit for me as actually disconnecting and getting outside. So it’s a work in progress.
I am always learning. Always looking to improve. I constantly strive to make my work stronger and my skills sharper. And I know that taking a break is sometimes exactly what’s needed for inspiration. That break could be having a cup of tea, doodling, or taking a walk. Or (shameless plug) maybe it’s looking at The Craftsman Agency’s beautiful work.