The Value of Taking Breaks

For me, writing has four main parts: researching or deciding what to write and organizing it, writing, editing, and publishing. You might think of these steps as analysis and design, coding, testing, and release.

I like to keep my writing chunks small so that my editing occurs soon after my writing. Small chunks also means I don’t have to have the entire piece (article, chapter, book, blog post, whatever) in my head at the beginning. I can start somewhere, write that, and see how things proceed.

I take breaks—pauses—during the day. I make time to stretch so I keep my body ready for more work. I make time to drink water and the inevitable results from drinking. I eat lunch—not at my desk. I often take walks during the day so I can enjoy the outside and get a little exercise.

Because I write “small,” my breaks can be small, too. I don’t need much break time to refresh me and allow me to make more progress. I can maintain a regular pace most of the day, writing a little, editing a little, releasing as I proceed.

I spoke to a client, a manager, who was struggling to find time to have a call with me. He said, “I don’t have any breaks from nine a.m. to three p.m. for four days this week. I have a thirty-minute break on Friday. Want to talk then?”

I said I would talk whenever he wanted to, and one of the things we would discuss was his schedule.

Expecting people to work without breaks is nuts. How can you refresh yourself? How can you drink enough to stay hydrated if you know you don’t have time for a bio break? How can you gain perspective on your work, your challenges, your decisions … whatever you have to do without breaks?

Most of my breaks are less than ten minutes. Lunch breaks are a little longer: I can’t eat lunch in ten minutes, nor do I want to!

The value of my schedule—work a little, break a little—is much like a Pomodoro schedule. I don’t maintain a strict twenty-five-minute work/five-minute break schedule. Sometimes, I get caught in the flow and I don’t notice the time. More often, I take a break every twenty-five to thirty-five minutes for a few minutes.

Breaks work for writing because they help you see if you are done and what you might edit with this section. Similarly, breaks work for coding or testing because they help you see if you are on track to meet the release criteria. Breaks work for management because they provide you a chance to assess your progress.

We need breaks to reflect on our work. Breaks might help you achieve more throughput because you are—at least, I am—more likely to reflect in the moment.

Have you taken a break today?

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