The importance of taking a break

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The importance of taking a break

A few years ago I wrote about how breaks work magic on your brain. This is a continuation of this post where I go into the topic a bit more deeply.

Last time I wrote about a specific example on how spending several hours on a particular task (finding a solution to a bug in my case) and not getting anywhere can be frustrating. The solution I gave was to take a break, work on something else or work on finding the bug the next morning when your brain has had time to rest. For me it has worked well and in hindsight I am amazed by how I was able to spend so many hours on an easy problem.

If you’re looking for ways to introduce more breaks to your work day then have a look at The Pomodoro Technique. It is a workflow routine which enforces you to take a break after every 25 minutes. But it will only work if you have self discipline. Another option is to drink a lot of water during the workday. This forces you to take breaks by having to visit the restroom every once in a while.

Taking a break can boost your creativity and you can see something you could not when you were tired. At least for me it has worked that way. Surprisingly this has been studied too.

“People are more successful if we force them to move away from a problem or distract them temporarily” – the authors of Creativity and the Mind

Creativity of the Mind is a book about psychology and neuroscience of creativity. They found that regular breaks boost problem-solving skills, partly by making it easier to go through memories in search of relevant clues.

What about longer beaks? No, I’m not talking about taking a vacation, although I would not turn one down. What about taking a sabbatical? Stefan Sagmeister is a graphic designer and in his TED talk he points out the importance of taking an extended break. Every 7 years he closes his design studio for a whole year to experiment on new things. This allows him to rejuvenate and find inspiration for new projects.

With breaks in mind, a programmer should try to be healthy as well. After all, our work is mostly sedentary and we tend to put in more hours to meet a deadline. Remember the last time you did a 48 hour coding sprint and were proud about it. Well, don’t be. You can get more output initially but you’re going to pay for it in the long run. Sleep more, eat well, keep yourself fit and you’ll be more productive during working hours.

All things considered, every individual must take their preferences into consideration and make their own decisions. If you’re going to dedicate the best years of your life to work, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.

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