Time management Monday: 5 minute breaks

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Sometimes it’s hard to take any kind of break during the day. We end up running from task to task, becoming more worn out and less effective as the day goes on.

We all know it’s healthy, physically and mentally, to take breaks, but the times when you most need breaks is when you have the least amount of time to take them.

You’d be surprised at how much better you’ll feel after just 5 minutes of doing something else. A 5 minute break could make the difference between feeling frazzled for the rest of the day, or being focused and productive. Set your timer if you want, so you know at the end of the time you’ll be refreshed and ready to focus.

The only rules are:

1) You are not allowed to look at a screen. Study after study has shown that looking at your phone or other device is not relaxing, because it forces your brain to make lots of microdecisions (click on that link or not?) and take in massive amounts of information in a very short time. These short breaks are most useful if you don’t take in any new information, so that your brain gets a break.

2) You are not allowed to have a smoke or eat anything. Don’t get in the habit of using food or nicotine as a buffer or to try to reduce stress. That’s a good way to get a bad habit.

Take a 5 minute break when you are feeling stressed out, when you’re having writer’s block, when your kids/ coworkers are driving you crazy, when you feel stuck on that project, or when you aren’t sure what decision to make.

It’s especially important to take a 5 minute break during transitions: when you are shifting your focus from one project to another, or from one role to another (work to personal, for example). Doing something completely unrelated for just 5 minutes helps you shift your mindset to the new situation.

Here are some ideas for 5 minute breaks that help you feel refreshed and focused. Some of these you can do at your desk, some are best done at home, and some require you to get up and move around. Mix it up for best results!

Foot rub/ hand massage. If you can manage it, give yourself a foot rub, preferably with some minty lotion or foot cream. You will be surprised at just how much better you’ll feel. If you can’t manage a foot rub, do a hand massage. This is especially great if you’re spending a lot of time at the keyboard.

Stretch. Get up and stretch, bend, twist and flex. Set your timer for a full 5 minutes to really get a good stretch going. It’s tempting to get up, stretch, and get back to it. But 5 minutes is enough time to get a good total-body stretch.

Pushups. This is for when you really want to get the blood flowing. You could to jumping jacks or situps instead, but there’s something about pushups that helps you get out aggression.

Stairs. Take 5 minutes to walk or run some stairs. If you have more time, more is better. But even just a few minutes will get your heart rate up and help clear your mind.

Get outside. Get some fresh air, even if it’s only for a short time. Take a walk, go up to the roof or out on the balcony. While you are outside, pay attention to the sights, sounds and smells.

Meditate. Take some time to clear your mind completely. Try to achieve a mental blank slate. It takes practice to set aside all your thoughts. Clearing your mind of everything for a few minutes will help you relax and come back refreshed.

Brain dump. Get a big piece of paper or a fresh page in your notebook and write down everything that’s on your mind. Having it all out in front of you will help you see things from a new perspective.

Doodle. Even if you’re not artistic, setting aside designated doodling/ drawing time will help clear your mind.

Aromatherapy. Use essential oils or naturally fragranced hand cream to perk you up. Mint, eucalyptus, and citrus fragrances help you feel more alert; lavender helps you relax.

Shoulder/ neck massage. Work out the kinks and get rid of that tension you’ve been holding on to.

Relaxation techniques. Pay attention to each area of your body, for example neck, shoulders, arms, middle, legs etc. For each area, tense up all the muscles, hold for a few seconds, then relax. Once you get through all your major muscle groups you’ll feel less stressed. Or you can do guided imagery, where you imagine you are walking through the forest or along the beach. What do you see, hear and smell? Or you can concentrate on deep, even breathing for 5 minutes. Any of these techniques will help you feel more calm.

Do nothing. This one is probably the most challenging. Sit and do absolutely nothing for 5 minutes. Can you do it? Set your timer so you don’t have to look at a clock to know when your 5 minutes is up. It’s surprisingly difficult to sit and force yourself to do nothing at all. You might have to build up your time gradually and work your way up to a full 5 minutes of nothingness.

What else can you do for 5 minutes to help you take a break and come back ready to focus?

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