That’s how I was with taking breaks: I knew it was something I needed to do to stay effective, but it was a major stumbling block for me.
That is, until I started using one simple trick which skyrocketed my productivity.
The Allure of Breaks
The modern time management wisdom says that intentionally taking breaks will allow you to refresh your focus, enabling you to concentrate harder and get more done.
Entire work models have been built around organized break-taking. For instance, the Pomodoro Technique has workers focusing intensely for 25 minutes, then taking a break for five minutes, then working for another 25 minutes, then another break, etc.
Taking breaks is said to be the key to remaining creative. Break time can also serve as motivation when you reward yourself with a little fun after some unpleasant or difficult task.
And it’s just common sense. No one can work at 100% all the time.
Breaks are necessary. Breaks are powerful.
The Problem with Breaks
But timing is an issue with breaks. Exactly when do you take a break – and for how long do you relax?
My problem was that my little breaks here and there quickly became not so little. Taking a breather for a minute or two quickly turned into surfing the internet for 10 minutes.
And when should you take breaks? I was simply doing it whenever I was frustrated or whenever I could convince myself that I needed to pause. Down inside, I knew that a lot of my breaks were simply just me procrastinating on something I didn’t want to do. Sometimes it was just a craving for entertainment. But a lot of times, it was hard to tell if taking a coffee break was honestly the best thing to do.
I could see the damage that this was having on my productivity. Sometimes things just clicked and tasks were finished quickly. Other times, something that would normally take me three hours would take me five hours as I took regular (and extended) resting periods to try and get back into the zone.
I knew that breaks were necessary and that they had the potential to be helpful if done correctly. But how could I harness the good parts and throw out the frivolous breaks that just wasted my time?
The Apple Test
One day, it hit me. I remembered this old weight loss trick I had heard long ago: When you get in the mood for chocolate or junk food, how do you tell if you’re truly hungry or whether you’re just jonesing for some junk?
You use the Apple Test. Ask yourself if you would have the same hunger if you were going to eat an apple instead of sweets. If your level of hunger subsides, you know it was just a craving. If you honestly are still hungry, then get something to eat!
So why not use a similar technique for taking breaks?
The Prayer Test
I came up with the Prayer Test.
When I feel like taking a break, I ask myself if I would have the same desire to take a break if I were going to pray for the entire time instead of surfing the internet or reading a few blogs.
If I still have the same urge to relax if I’ll be praying, then I can have a good sense that my need for a break is real and not just some fleeting desire for entertainment or procrastination.
I decided to experiment with the Prayer Test for a few days, and here’s what I learned:
1. I feel the test really did a good job of helping me adequately analyze my inner motivations for taking a break. It worked to separate the needed breaks from the time-wasters.
2. I had no idea how many of my break urges were so frivolous. It seemed like only 20% or so of my breaks passed the prayer test.
3. When my breaks passed the prayer test, I could then relax without guilt.
4. Even if your need for a break passes the prayer test, that doesn’t mean you have to pray. But prayer is a pretty good way to take a refreshing break. Instead of 5 minutes of surfing the internet, I prayed for one minute and felt inspired and ready to go!
5. Prayer is a great test because it centers us on God in the middle of this decision. It’s not just that praying is a non-frivolous use of our time; it’s a use of our time that reminds us that we serve a great God who loves us, empowers us, and is worthy of our best efforts to bring him glory. Just thinking about the prayer test often reminded me of the goodness of God and inspired me.
6. The first day I employed this test, I got a ton of stuff done. I used the test the next day as well, and I did about two days’ worth of work in one and a half days. That might not sound like much, but that’s like freeing up an extra week every single month – or an extra 3 months in your year.
7. Just like the apple test helps you gradually learn the difference between real hunger and fake hunger, the prayer test helps me learn more about the real need to take a break and the fake desire to take a break. I can see this process getting easier and easier as time goes along and I grow more attuned to my own mental energies and true need for breaks.
8. This isn’t a silver bullet for all types of distractions. It’s still entirely possible to procrastinate by doing a low-value task instead of what you should be doing. The prayer test helps you decide whether or not to take a break. It’s not a good tool for deciding whether or not to check your Email instead of working on an important task.
I’d love for you guys to give this a shot and let me know how it works for you.
And if you have any modifications or improvements, let me know too!
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