7 Reasons to Take Breaks at Work

My job in Chicago began with three months of probation.

I was petrified to leave my desk.

The company provided us with two 15-minute breaks and a half hour for lunch, but I wasn't having any of it. I researched, wrote and edited at full throttle, without interruption, eager to prove my capacity to produce.

After six weeks, my supervisor said my probation period was done, in half the normal time. I was in!

But my body wasn't happy. I had developed severe eyestrain. I had constant headaches, and the muscles in my neck and upper back were perpetually clenched. My stomach hurt from all the stress.

My heart wasn't happy either, since I had never really spoken to any of my colleagues for any length of time. The whole social dimension of the job was missing.

But I had been too afraid take care of myself until I felt that my job was secure.

Sound familiar? Fear is just one of the factors chain us to our desks. Some of us have absorbed an ethic of overwork. Or, we feel pressure to work efficiently so we can get home to our families.

But experts say taking breaks can improve health and AND make us more effective on the job. Here are seven reasons to get up, stretch and walk during working hours:

1. YOUR BODY WILL THANK YOU.

The human body wasn't designed for sitting at a desk for hours on end. Eyes, backs, necks, shoulders and wrists benefit when we get up and move.

2. YOU'LL OPEN THE WAY FOR CREATIVITY.

Very, very few good ideas have ever come to me while I'm at my desk, pushing myself to finish a project. Many ideas have come during walks with my dogs, or while doing light housework. Other people get flashes of inspiration while showering.

Something about physical activity seems to free the mind to create.

3. YOU'LL FIND OUT WHAT'S GOING ON AROUND YOU.

It's amazing what you can learn about your workplace while chatting with colleagues over coffee.

4. YOU'LL WORK MORE EFFECTIVELY.

"Work to Live" author Joe Robinson cites several studies showing that breaks improve productivity. Short intervals for relaxation allow us to sustain high levels of effort more of the time.

5. YOU'LL LIKE YOUR JOB MORE.

If we never pause to take stock, savor accomplishments, and maintain a sense of fun, it's hard to experience job satisfaction. Intense, prolonged time on task can squeeze the joy out work.

"One of the downsides of being eternal action figures is that we never arrive anywhere," Robinson writes.

6. YOU'LL REAP THE BENEFITS OF BUILDING COMMUNITY.

Many of us were raised to think the workplace would reward hard work. Then we were surprised to find that the workplace rewards people who are well liked -- regardless of whether they work the hardest.

When we take breaks for small talk, we give others a chance to know and like us -- and we can get to know and like them, too.

7. YOU'LL FEEL BETTER AT THE END OF THE DAY.

It's a lot easier to enjoy family time when we come home with a reserve of energy and without headaches or pent-up stress.

Sound too radical? It's okay to start small. You might add a five- minute break to your workday for a week or two and see what happens.

You may be surprised at the power of stopping to get you where you want to go.

(c) 2005 Norma Schmidt, Coach, LLC

Norma Schmidt, Coach, LLC, specializes in helping working mothers create balance. She offers workships, teleclasses and individual and group coaching. She also edits the free e-mail newsletter "The Balance Point." Visit http://www.NormaSchmidt.com.

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