Your approach to life must always be proactive. You always have to be one step ahead of life and even of yourself – or, to be more exact, your instinctive behavior. You should never do things only because you are used to doing them or other people are doing them, but always ask yourself why you are doing certain things and where does that lead you.
Proactive living also includes planning how many breaks you take during the day and what kind of activities you do when you have the time off.
You aren’t only more productive during working hours if you plan your brakes in a smart way. Even more importantly, if you learn how to proactively take breaks throughout a day, it makes the off-time and your life in general so much more enjoyable and fun. It may sound easy to proactively plan breaks, but in reality it’s not. That’s why most people aren’t doing it. We have to even put together a few core concepts to understand what proactive breaks really are.
In this article, you will learn everything necessary to really max out every single break you take. As you’ve probably figured out, taking a proactive break doesn’t mean checking social networks, but doing completely different things.
It may not be easy to switch to proactive breaks, but it’s definitely worth it. If you follow the advice in this article, the final result won’t only be in your much higher productivity, but also in a big increase in your happiness levels.
The reactive way to taking your breaks
If we want to understand what it means to proactively take a break, we must first look at the opposite – reactive breaks. Taking a break reactively means that you don't really take a break, but switch to an activity of the least physical or mental effort that you think is relaxing you, but most often is putting additional emotional stress on you.
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When the break time comes, you only react to your environment and start doing something that feels the easiest and most convenient thing to do. Much like reactive reading means that you only read stuff that lands in your social networks’ newsfeed and never really consciously decide what book to read. You only instinctively react to outside stimuli; you aren’t really in charge.
Examples of reactive breaks are all the things that more than 80 % of people do when they take a break:
- Checking social networks
- Going to the company's kitchen and gossiping a little bit
- Eating an unhealthy snack and reading a trashy magazine or webpage
- Reading newspapers and similar
It may seem that those kinds of things relax you, but in reality they do not. Much like it may feel that you sleep better if you drink a little bit of alcohol before sleep, but in reality you aren’t, proven by science.
In the same way, checking social networks only puts additional social stress on you (how others are maybe enjoying life more than you), gossiping is destroying your key relationships, checking way too negative newspapers feeds your mind with nothing but crap.
The solution to better breaks is simple. You must plan your daily breaks smarter. What you want to achieve by planning proactive breaks is to do the activities that really relax you, make you happier and recharge your batteries.
You want to deeply and honestly look forward to your breaks. You want to be in charge of your breaks, not your instincts.
The puzzles of proactively taking a break
Now we know that checking social network feeds or gossiping aren’t very smart ways of taking a break. But what else could you do?
Well, let’s put together a few puzzle pieces to build an adequate solution. When we put together the puzzle pieces, you will get many good ideas on how to proactively take a break.
Sharpening the saw and putting down the saw
There are two ways of how you can take a break – an active one and a passive one. A passive smart break equals to putting down the saw. In other words, doing nothing that takes any effort. You hibernate in a way and recharge your batteries.
Examples of passive breaks are taking a nap, sitting in a chair and enjoying rays of sunlight on your face, talking a really easy walk, and so on.
The second way to take a break is a more active one. An active smart break equals sharpening your saw in one way or another. You exploit breaks to be more productive during your work time.
Examples of active breaks are reading a book, going for a more intense walk, watching an online course, brainstorming ideas, stretching, cooking yourself a healthy meal, and so on.
When you are proactively planning your breaks, you decide how many active and how many passive breaks you will have. You can decide that based on how mentally or physically demanding your daily tasks are, based on the current goals you have in your life and other key factors.
Systematically planning the number of breaks
Even more important is that you do take regular breaks and that you systematically plan them. You can set alarms for breaks if necessary. Because the worst thing you can do is to take no breaks at all. If you don’t take breaks, your saw sooner or later gets used up and your work is not as productive anymore as it could be.
That’s also where the term comes from. To cut a long story short, two foresters are cutting down trees and the one who takes the time to sharpen his saw regularly does it much faster, even if sharpening the saw takes away some working time.
So lesson number one: take regular breaks – passive and active ones. There are many systems for how frequently you can plan breaks. Test and see what works best for you.
- The Pomodoro technique
- 90-minute work blocks with 20 minute breaks
- The 52-17 productivity rule
- 45-minute work blocks with 5 minute breaks (like in school)
The list of things you enjoy in life
I haven’t heard a single person say that they really enjoy checking social network feeds during their breaks; that checking their social network feeds is their dream life. Or gossiping or reading news or doing any other kind of mental masturbation.
It doesn’t make sense to take a well-deserved break and then do activities with which you are basically wasting your life away.
That is why you need to make a list of all the things you enjoy in life. From the big things that may take days and are more expensive (like travelling) to all the small things that are free and only take minutes (like hugging someone). When you become consciously aware of all the things you really enjoy in life, well yes, you can systematically plan to do them in your break time. It makes complete sense, so I’m not sure why more people aren’t doing it.
In addition, planning to do things you enjoy in the break time can also be a form of rewarding yourself for successfully completing a certain task during the work time. That will additionally motivate you to do good work, which is a total win-win.
The list of things you look forward to
The third important concept is that you always have to look forward to something in life. Again, that can be big or small things. When you look forward to things in life, your hope is much stronger, you are dramatically happier and life becomes so precious. People who are successful and happy in life always have things to look forward to.
Planning something to look forward to during the break is thus the winning combination. Your day gets much closer to your ideal day, you do more of the things you enjoy and you are constantly under mild positive expectation of what comes next, which makes you be more present in the moment and life as a whole becomes that more beautiful.
It absolutely makes sense that you also find a work you enjoy doing and then your life is nothing but going from one activity you enjoy to the other. You work on a project that’s important and dear to you with people you like, but deep down you are also already looking forward to the break time where you will do something else you enjoy. And when you are at your break time, you’re already excited to go back to your work. That’s the best way that leads to a high quality of life.
Your break list
Let’s now put all the puzzle pieces together. Your breaks must be activities during which you either sharpen the saw or put down the saw. But no matter which type of an activity it is, your breaks must always be something you look forward to and during which you perform things you really enjoy.
So to proactively plan your daily breaks, I suggest you make a short list of what activities you will enjoy during breaks on certain days. Like you have a to-do list, not-to-do list and many other lists. It shouldn’t take you more than 2 minutes to write that down and if you don’t want to have another to-do list, you can simply do it in your head.
Consciously decide on the number of breaks you will take on a certain day and proactively plan which enjoyable things you’ll do during the time off – make sure you look forward to your break time from early morning.
Let’s look at a practical example.
Here is the summary of my working plan today:
- 3 x 2 hour flows – Completing two articles and my diploma thesis
- 1 hour of exercise
- 1 hour of reading a book
- 1 hour of doing smaller tasks (email, promoting articles, doing blog updates etc.)
During the day and while performing all these tasks, I will take 6 breaks that last from 5 minutes to 45 minutes. During these breaks, I will do several things I really enjoy:
- Stretching and doing a few core exercises (active)
- Reading 3 – 5 quality articles (active)
- Preparing a healthy lunch and watching a Lynda course (main break, active)
- Hugging and talking to my girlfriend when she comes home from work (active)
- Eating a healthy fit cheesecake and a few blueberries, and doing nothing (passive)
- Taking a short walk (active)
I make sure I always proactively plan my breaks and do things I really enjoy during my time off. In the morning, I take a moment and think of all the things I’m looking forward to – during the breaks and during work. There are so many possibilities for what you can plan during breaks, life never gets boring and every day becomes a special gift to you.
Smart things you can do during your breaks
Here are all the ideas what to do during breaks instead of mental masturbation and other reactive things that the majority of people are doing:
- Stretch or do a few yoga poses
- Go for a walk or do a few exercises
- Walk up and down the stairs in your office a few times
- Take 10 deep breaths and practice breathing properly
- Take a quick power nap
- Learn something from somebody
- Read, read, read
- Do brain exercises
- Watch a documentary
- Prepare yourself a healthy meal
- Eat a very healthy snack, like almonds and blueberries
- Make a new entry in your journal
- Draw something or do some other type of art
- Learn a few new words in another language
- Organize or clean something
- Have a deep and interesting conversation with someone
- Meet somebody new
- Call somebody you haven’t talked to in ages
- Write down the things you are grateful for that day
- Plan your next trip
- Update your vision list
- Watch an inspiring video on YouTube
- Do an online open course
- Organize your computer files and folders
- Declutter your mail inbox
- Build your vision board on Pinterest
- Visualize your goals
- Meditate for 15 minutes
- Read inspirational quotes
- Listen to music
- Do a few eye exercises, especially if you work with a computer a lot
Your plan to taking breaks throughout the day in the smart way
Never ever open a social network again during your breaks, start gossiping or read news. Rather plan your breaks proactively. Now list down all the smart ways you can take breaks.