New research from the Black Dog Institute has a clear message for Australian workplaces - excessive work pressure is making us sick. In fact 14% of common mental health problems could be avoided if we were less overwhelmed at work.
Part of the answer lies in taking effective breaks.
Working in bursts interspersed with short and effective breaks is far more productive than long expanses of semi-work, scattered with inevitable social media scrolling. Having come from the world of corporate design and urgent deadlines, I know what it is like to feel that there is just NO TIME for a break. I am no stranger to lunch (and breakfast and dinner) at my desk.
But it is a discipline that needs to be practiced - It’s what Steven Covey was talking about in ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ when he said that we need to take time to ‘sharpen the saw’. We can slog it out for hours sawing down a tree, when taking just a few moments to pause the task and ‘sharpen the saw’, can dramatically improve our effectiveness.
The best kind of breaks are frequent, deliberate, and focused on relaxation - making a cup of tea, chatting with a colleague, or taking an outdoor walk are all beneficial. Physical movement also alleviates mental stagnation, and we’ve got the studies to show it. Moderate cardio activity can boost creativity and productivity for two hours afterwards. Which means that a lunch time jog or yoga class is ideal for preventing afternoon energy slumps.
There’s also an aspect of Australian corporate culture that needs to be addressed - and that is the pride in being ‘busy’. Productivity is wonderful. But being busy is not the same as being productive. Hours do not necessarily match outcome, and if we are brave and disciplined enough to just take a break, we would see both our productivity and our outcomes soar.