Take A Break Will Ya?

In small business, you work long hours and you wear many hats. It’s inevitable. The job has to get done, and you don’t have a corporate ladder full of staff members to do it for you. During periods of business growth, you pick up the slack in operations until you can hire people to help.  During periods of decline, you work extra hard on marketing and sales to fill the gaps.  It is endless, and sometimes it feels like if you worked 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, you would never catch up.

Unhealthy Work Habits

I’m the worst boss I ever had. When I worked in a corporate setting, if my superiors had told me I’d wake up thinking about my job, get up early to get to the office, work all day long, many times skipping lunch, race to finish the workday, taking calls right up until my kids got off the bus, answer texts while I’m cooking dinner, then get right back to emails after they go to bed AND go to sleep thinking about the next day?  I would have told them to go pound sand.   But, as a business owner, that 24 hour focus is not unusual.  I suspect I am not alone in my work habits as a “mompreneur”.

Not to be “master of the obvious”, but you can’t physically or mentally work yourself that hard without taking a break without hitting a wall of sheer exhaustion.  That Yankee work ethic of yours is good for getting your business through a growth cycle or seasonal peak, but it is not sustainable.  (Teach what you need to learn, they say.)  Agreed?  OK, then let’s spend some time talking about better work habits.

I recently heard a speaker suggest that to be more effective, you must close your door to the world for two or three 50-minute periods a day, and then take a 10 minute break before starting your normal work routine again. Seemed like a luxury concept when I first heard it.  With a growing business, I’d give my left arm for one uninterrupted hour every day.  And, take a BREAK?  Yeah, right.

Distractions Kill Our Productivity

What he said next made a lot of sense. This expert argued that our most productive time is when we are focused, and yet we allow many distractions during the work day.  With people knocking on your office door, calling or texting your phone, the ongoing stream of emails, and endless social media posts and Tweets that interrupt you, it’s no wonder your productivity goes down. He went on to cite study results which showed it took 11 minutes for your brain to get back to that focused state after an interruption.

So, without setting limits like closing the office door, shutting off the phone and closing the laptop, as the hour draws to a close, you feel like you didn’t accomplish what you set out to do, and you fall behind quickly.  And, when you fall behind, you never take a break.

Taking a Break

So, we agree that setting aside 2-3 one hour periods a day helps productivity.  Now let’s talk about that ten minute break.  When you’re working “in the zone” It’s easy to blow right through that break and keep working. Or, you may take a mental break by checking your messages. Then, you eat at your desk or decide to skip lunch altogether, before you know it, the end of the day has arrived, and you’re feeling exhausted, because you didn’t give your body and mind the fuel and downtime that it needs.  Sound familiar?  Not good, and, you did it to yourself!  No one told you to work that way.  Only you can choose healthy work habits.

So, a simple ten minute break after each 50 minute period of focused time makes sense. (Hey, take a five minute break after 55 minutes of unproductive time, if you feel guilty.)  But, make sure you break! Turn off the computer or phone, get up and stretch, grab a drink or a snack, go outside and take a breath of fresh air, and disconnect from the task for a bit before diving in again, or starting something new.


 What the Ladies Say

I reached out to my network of smart business women in Rhode Island to discover what “downtime strategies” worked for them.  It was a mixed bag of responses:

Johanna Merz Corcoran, founder and President of Familytopia, a resource for working parents, said, “I’ve started taking at least one weekend away – all by myself.  My heart and soul need it!! I also take a month during the summer while my daughter is out of school and not in any camps to just be lazy and have fun with her.

Natalie O’Neill Thompson , co-owner of Voila art Gallery in Wickford Village quips, ‎”Downtime”? What’s that?”  As a busy mom of three girls, art teacher, and brilliant retailer, she definitely has her hands full!  In a retail environment, you can’t just shut the doors for 60 minutes, 3 times a day, but you can arrange to have people cover the desk while you grab a coffee, take a quick walk, or (gasp!) go on vacation.  Your sanity is worth the expense line item.

Tracy Cheney, who, after her day job is done, is a direct sales rep for ThirtyOne, a line of custom bags, added,  “It’s a combo approach for me – I walk each morning with my puppy (starts the day off right, especially because it’s bright and early).  I love reading, as it truly helps me escape the day to day doldrums. I make a point of getting together with friends at least a couple of times a month for girls’ nights outs. Vacation time is a combination of long get-away weekends, just the hubs and I, and then at other times, full family vacations with whoever is free; and I just began a mini-vacation tradition of just my daughter and I. An occasional day just for me happens once in a while too! And, last but not least, Facebook is my relaxation each evening.”

Tuni Renaud Schartner, VP of Business Development for Deep Blue Technologies consulting firm explained, “I take off early in the day, at 2pm or 3pm to spend focused time being present to my kids.  After they go to bed, I’ll work another 2-3 hours until 11pm or midnight.  Taking that mid-day break just works for all of us.”

All four mompreneurs originally put smiley faces at the end of their post.  So, downtime feels good.  Taking time off, establishing relaxing rituals, and budgeting both time and money to give yourself some downtime is not just the best thing for your business.  It’s the best thing for you!


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