“Honest, I’m working.” Sometimes the best way to work is to not work. I know it sounds bizarre and it’s not easy for anyone to step away from a problem – especially driven CEOs or founders of small businesses – but let me explain why taking regular small breaks might be the best move you ever make.
Back in the mists of time, I used to be a software developer; plying my trade working for others and writing code, and, to be completely honest, 99% of the time I loved it.
That 1% was the issue. The one percent of time where I was stuck, could not figure my way around some seemingly complex issue with a task I was facing.
This is not unusual amongst software people, it is part of the job. Just like I would imagine with any knowledge-based or creative role, sometimes that juice stops flowing and you get effectively “stuck”.
Terrible segue but around 13 years ago I got my first dog, a giant fluffy Newfoundland if you are interested.
Like any new dog owner I had lots to learn, how to pick up poo (as the adage goes, big dog big…), how to get the beast to follow my commands (some advice, don’t buy a Newfoundland if this is high up your list), feeding them (loads and loads) and that they have to be walked.
It was on these dog walks that a strange thing kept happening. As I was wandering around the countryside close to where I live, my head by itself would start to unpick the items I was stuck with and, almost subconsciously, I would be seeing the wood for the trees and come up with answers to my questions.
It would seem I’m better at thinking sometimes when I’m not, well, thinking.
This occurred a few times so I began taking a small notebook with me to make sure the epiphany I was experiencing could make it from the moor to the code.
I now make notes on my phone about various tasks or projects, but the principles remain the same: jotting down my thoughts at specific moments and referencing any environmental triggers (which could be where exactly I was or something notable about the terrain). This works a bit like a memory trick so you don’t forget anything crucial.
It appears I’ve found a hack for both life and business that works for me: stop staring at your screen, stop thinking about the problem and do something else for a while instead.
I now espouse this to anyone who will listen. Take a break and do something else. It doesn’t need to be long; about 15 minutes is fine. Grab a coffee and sit in your garden, walk around the block or walk your dog/cat/budgie.
Taking regular breaks helps you concentrate when you are working. Most knowledge workers are judged on their output not their input, or at least they should be.
Taking breaks increases this output as it gives your brain time to consider the issues and nuances in your current project and helps you find more creative answers.
For leaders, it’s vital that you’re able to step back and assess things with a broader view.
On a strategic level, taking a break gives you space to review priorities or change project focus away from the minutiae of building your business day-to-day. Often, it also reveals things that are completely obvious but have escaped you until now.
Let your brain think without you thinking and you may just end up with a better business as a result.
Author and bio
FanFinders’ CEO and co-founder Alec Dobbie. With over 20 years’ experience as a developer, Alec started up performance marketing and consumer intelligence company FanFinders back in 2013, when he set out with his co-founders to evolve marketing to parents. FanFinders now has over 5 million parents signed up on its self-coded data platform, Your Baby Club, and operates on two continents.