How to Take a Break

CaveGirlMBA’s post about the guy who plays online games at work really struck a chord with me, because here’s a second post about it. 

For me, the story is explained by one of two possibilities.

1.   He is thoroughly disengaged and doesn’t give a s**t

2.   He is engaged, but takes breaks inappropriately

You’ll know if the reason is (1) if his output is also s**t.  I’m going to assume the explanation is (2), which begs the question

Does the younger generation know how to take a break?

There are real advantages to breaks.  We are all familiar with the old saw “I need to sleep on it”, meaning, that issues, priorities, and solutions can suddenly come into sharp focus after a mental pause.

If nothing else, eye strain and repetitive stress injuries can be mitigated by breaks.  So from a really practical point of view, taking a break from the computer by playing on the computer is a non-starter.

How to take a break*

Nintendo_Gameboy*An introductory guide for everyone who started Kindergarten after the first release of the Gameboy

1.       Schedule your breaks.  Put your lunch and breaks on your daily calendar, so there is less likelihood someone will schedule a meeting on top of it.

2.       Schedule your email.  Disable new e-mail alerts.  Read email on a schedule, and use this as a way to take a mental break, on your terms.

3.       Leave the building.  If you work for Apple or Google this probably won’t involve leaving the campus, but at least go outside once during the day.  I would recommend frequent “get off campus” trips, too.  You know, to see your customers in their native habitats.  Same applies to my colleagues in education business.  But do the reverse – go visit a campus, i.e. school.  For me, every lunch time I walk to the local coffee shop (rain or shine). My best ideas occur on this walk, and I de-stress.  Also, this walk takes me past the local high school, where our customers are to be found.  Funny story:  a kid asked me one day through the fence “Do you have a dollar?”  Me: “Yes.”  Pause.  Him: “Well, can I have it?”  Me: “No.” His friends all cried “Burn!!” Laughter all around.

4.       Meet up elsewhere. Do not chat with co-workers at their desks during breaks.  Meet up with them in a break room.  Have an activity there, such as a dartboard or a nerf basketball hoop – you get the picture.  Engage in a real, physical game, with actual real people.

5.       Take a quick mental break. When you are struggling with a problem and need to take a really quick mental break, pick a work-related task that is either a) mindless, or b) a guilty pleasure.  For me, I leave a disorganized heap of files on my computer desktop.  I rarely file them into folders as I work, since I find that about half of them can be discarded almost immediately.  A pretty mindless task is to review recent work and file or trash it.  A guilty pleasure for me is to run a site or department report and see how a principal or departmental director is doing with their budget.  I know that the appointed analyst will do this, but I like to take a look myself now and again.  This concentrates my mind away from the task at hand for a few minutes.  When I come back, I often spot things I missed before.

As odd as it may seem (only because we have forgotten), young employees coming into the workforce really do NOT know what we expect from them.  One last story (confession) comes under the category of “we were all young and foolish once”.  My very first job at a bank was as a teller.  My supervisor was showing me how to balance at the end of the day.  I asked “How close is close enough?  You don’t balance to the penny do you?”  If looks could kill, you wouldn’t be reading this blog today.

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