In Defense of Breaks (Zirtual blog)

I am a break taker. I take my doses of relaxation and wandering in three different forms. I’ll go over those quickly.

One is the daydreaming form – where I find myself staring at a nick on the wall for 12 minutes. My mind, unaware of the lack of movement, is dreaming of anything in between Felix Baumgartner’s free fall and pre-15 century alarm clocks. And then I go back to work.

The second is the distraction form. Every Redditor on the planet knows this. The internet is a wealth of knowledge. It is also a wealth of extremely useless web pages that keep you scrolling, scrolling, clicking, scrolling, scrolling and then moving on to a linked page. And then I go back to work.

The third is self-imposed exile. “I need a break,” I tell myself. I go for a walk. I hum. I read reviews of the new Ben Affleck movie. I make the bed. I spend three minutes knocking my right shoulder of its socket. I watch the opening segment of the Daily Show. I read. A lot. And then I go back to work.

As I said, I’m a break taker. And all three of these forms are likely to find themselves coming to fruition in the course of my weekday work hours. It just happens. I don’t think it matters that I work from home/coffeeshop/wherever I want – I took breaks when I worked in an office at a desk too. I’m just a break taker – there’s not much more to it.

So why do I take breaks? Well for one, I think I need to. Those three kind of breaks – those wanderig into new oases – are going to creep up anyway. It’s my brains way of balancing out that thing that it needs to balance the most: itself.

I have no problem taking breaks, even if they come in the middle of something. It’s a creative outlet. It’s a moving-away from to get closer to. Now, I know myself well enough to dictate when it’s appropriate to take a break and when it isn’t. You need that. But I disagree wholeheartedly with those that objectively state breaks are not productive – nor do they belong in the workplace, or during the work day.

And I’ll gladly come to the defense of breaks and fellow break takers alike. I could come to that defense by linking to the New York Times article which says that taking breaks help with productivity and staying on schedule. I could. I could point to more experiments which say that break taking is an efficient and worthwhile use of time. I could point to Google’s 20% policy – which allows employees to explore their own projects during work hours. Or perhaps Zirtual’s encouragement of its ZA’s to explore their own lives and passions.

But I’d rather break it down myself. After I take a break, of course.

(Time passing.)

I think the problem with the conception of breaks is that they’re used for distraction. It’s seen as a pulling away from the work at hand to do something else – and that’s usually seen as counter productive. For all our neuroscientific advancement, it’s troubling to see this problem persist.

For me, the brain is a wonderful creature – but it’s a divided beast, capable of arguing with itself, disagreeing with itself and, unfortunately, giving itself the license to make bad decisions. It is, noticeably, multifarious and I’d challenge someone to tell me that isolating one of these powers is healthy. It’s not. It’s dangerous to use only one portion of your brain power. It’s dangerous because it leaves the others to rust and overrides the capabilities to be pleased on more than one platform.

Breaks give these other parts – our other selves, as some poets might classify – the chance to breath a little. And just as you’d tell the cooped up hermit to go outside and get some fresh air, you should be telling the number-crunching brain part to watch a funny YouTube video.

When you get back to your work, you’re refreshed. Satiated by giving the other parts of your mind something to chew on. Even if it’s just a small sample size, a quick break, it indulges  something that would otherwise be sequestered and forgotten.

Civilization wants us to be well-rounded. We see that in so many parts of our culture – education, advertisement, consumerism, cosmopolitanism, politics – and yet our work paradigm is still stuck on the idea that everything should be on the same linear path. It ignores that help that digressions bring. That a refreshed and broader mind can jump higher on that linear path faster than pure busy work can – or, even better, it can find a new path, an innovative one, that would have disappeared had it not been for perspectives realized on break.

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