COVID-19 has flipped the world upside down. Office workers, including those at James River Capital, who once spent their days in cubicles are now working remotely, juggling the demands of work and the pressures of home life. That combined with the state of the world, our productivity is severely impeded as a remote worker. How can you get your work done with less brain fog?
The key is to take breaks in intentional, focused ways that help you feel both more productive and motivated. Believe it or not, human beings can’t maintain attention for 8 hours uninterrupted. When you’re at the office, you walk around the building, chat with coworkers, or grab a coffee in between tasks. Breaks are naturally a part of your day, whether you realize it or not. But when you’re working remotely, the tables are turned and it’s hard not to feel like a slacker when you take a much-needed break.
“Break” is a four-letter word in many workplaces, but it shouldn’t be. High-quality breaks are exactly what you need, and it’s a sign you’re a high performer, not a slacker.
James River Capital CEO, Paul Sanders has witnessed this in his decades of experience as a manager at James River Capital. He argues that breaks are a necessary part of work, combatting burnout, and fatigue.
About Paul Sanders & James River Capital
James River Capital came to be in 1995 when Paul Saunders acquired the company with his business partner. Since that time, Paul has served as Chairman and CEO of JRC. With over 30 years of experience in finance, Paul enjoys creating products with the goal of improved risk and return.
With 25 years of leadership experience under his belt, Paul Sanders has dealt with the struggle of work-life balance with remote work. Paul believes that the workday should be a marathon, not a sprint: like exercising, you need to take small, frequent breaks to get better results. Paul argues that workers shouldn’t feel guilty about detaching from their work, and that breaks are a necessity.
3 hacks to take better breaks from work
Taking a break doesn’t make you lazy. In fact, science says that breaks are necessary for your well-being. If you try to plow through your work without breaks:
- Your focus will suffer.
- Your stress will increase.
- You get fatigued and make lower-quality decisions as a result.
The James River Capital CEO says that breaks are important not only for the quality of your work but your mental health, as well. However, it’s not enough to scroll through Instagram and call that a break. Social media and gossip will only leave you feeling drained. You need to take breaks in the right way.
Follow these 5 golden rules for taking intentional, restorative breaks from remote work.
Have a purpose
Why are you taking a break? What do you want to get out of it? This isn’t to say you have to do the dishes during your break; you should just have an idea of how you want to feel after taking the break.
How do you want to feel? Energized? Calm? Alert? Choose activities that will help you get into a better headspace. Do something that fills your cup. After all, the point of a break is to give yourself a small treat throughout the day. Think of breaks as work-approved self-care.
One day you might need to feel energized, so you take a five-minute walk in your yard as a break. Another day you might feel stressed, so you do 10 minutes of guided meditation.
The point is to know what you want to get out of your break and take appropriate action to get there. Here are a few of Paul’s favorite examples:
- You crave connection: Hop on a quick Zoom call with your coworkers or, if you live with other people, have a quick chat to catch up.
- You feel sleepy: Jumping jacks or a brisk walk will help you feel more alert. Green tea is also an energizing option to beat the afternoon slump.
- You feel anxious: Try meditating for 5 – 10 minutes to calm your nerves. Do this outside if the weather’s nice.
Schedule your breaks
Remote workers fear breaks because they think it will make them look like slackers. A two-hour “break” will certainly raise red flags to your manager, but a handful of 10-minute breaks throughout the day is just fine.
If you’re having trouble remembering to take breaks, schedule them. Put them on your calendar so you won’t overlook your break time.
But when should you take a break? And for how long? The James River Capital CEO says this is the hardest thing to figure out because everyone’s brain and workload are so different. Some folks take a 15-minute break every 90 minutes. Others take a 5-minute break after 30 minutes of work.
Try a Pomodoro tool like Tomato Timer to help you find a good rhythm. If 30 minutes of focused work is too short for you, increase it to 60 minutes and see how you feel then.
The key is to take short, frequent breaks throughout the day (in addition to your lunch hour, which Paul advises you to take). Remember, remote work is still work. It’s hard to remember breaks when you’re working from home, but you still need time away from your computer.
Do something active
Many of us mindlessly scroll through social media when we take breaks. But in Paul’s experience at James River Capital, he’s found that technology-focused breaks leave your brain feeling dazed and lazy. Instead, choose to do something more active.
Do an enjoyable activity that fulfills you. While TV and social media are enjoyable, they aren’t productive. You’re glued to technology all day, so use your breaks as a time to detox.
You don’t have to run a mile or go outside: any non-digital activity will do. Leave your phone and computer at your workspace and go outside for 5-15 minutes. Your team can survive without you there for a few minutes.
The bottom line
Breaks make your workday less of a drag. We’re living through uncertain times with the coronavirus pandemic, so you owe yourself a little kindness.
Remote work is challenging because you don’t want your boss to think you’re a slacker. However, breaks are a necessary way to preserve your sanity and boost your work quality.
Don’t feel guilty for taking the breaks you need. You’re a human being and human beings need breaks. Follow Paul’s three tips to take productive, intentional breaks no matter where you’re working from.