If you’re a business owner, chances are you’re always busy. You’re multitasking, working long hours, and you worry that if you slow down, you’ll never get everything done. But research has proven that task-switching make us less efficient–not more. This kind of behavior can account for up to a 40% loss in your productive time.
So when you’re already overwhelmed with too much to do, how do you switch out of the unproductive, multitasking habit into a zone where you’re focused and getting more done? The answer is counterintuitive but straightforward: You take breaks.
When you take breaks the right way, you escape the spiral of constant busyness, refocus your attention, and get more done in less time. If you’re someone who continually faces interruptions or gets pulled into last-minute meetings, taking regular breaks will help you even more.
How to take a productive break
The first thing to do when you’re overwhelmed with work is to remind yourself that a quick break will help you get more done. You’re not going to get much done from operating when your head feels like a tornado, but you can (and will) regain your focus when you press the reset button.
The next thing you need to do is take a pause. Take your hands off the keyboard, close your eyes, and take a deep breath. Give yourself at least 30 seconds, but five minutes is even better. Your brain will tell you that you can’t stop, but you can–and must. Because when you get back to work, you’ll quickly make up for the break time with increased productivity.
The concept is pretty simple: When you work, you work, and when you take a break, you stop. The key to clearing out the internal noise is to pause and physically take yourself out of chaos mode. Once you feel re-centered (and don’t cut yourself short here, or the break won’t serve you), ask yourself what needs your attention most right now. Think about where your time and energy need to go next and be deliberate about what you’re going to do next.
Establish break triggers
To make taking breaks a habit, you need to determine your break triggers. The first trigger is obvious and one that all business owners probably know well: internal chaos. Your head is spinning with a million things that you need to do, your team members’ requests for your input, and that looming deadline. The crazier you feel inside, the more you need a break, and the more a break will help you refocus and get it all done.
But you also need to set other triggers yourself, preferably corresponding with things that happen throughout your day. It can be when you finish a phone call, before you start a new task, or after someone interrupts you with an impromptu meeting. When these triggers occur, pause for a few moments before diving back into work.
Taking breaks in these pre-planned moments helps you recenter, refocus, and get ready for the next task. Doing so will help you get more done in less time because the quick break sets you up to give 100% of your attention to the next task at hand.
Plan your breaks in advance
Once you have the basics of taking breaks down, you’re ready to amp up your productivity by planning your day (and your downtime.) Do you want to take a half-hour, non-working lunch every day? Do you want to stop mid-morning and get a latte at your favorite coffee shop? Do you want to fit in an afternoon walk or run? You get to decide how you want your day to run.
By being intentional with your time, you’ll find that switching between work and break mode comes more naturally. You’ll always know what to work on when, and you’ll have clear boundaries for work time and downtime. When you set aside slots in your calendar to rest and recharge, you’re more likely to commit to it because it no longer becomes something you do “when you’re less busy.”
Don’t be too hard on yourself
When you start experimenting with this way of planning your day and incorporating more breaks, it’s important to be kind to yourself. It can be easy to fall back into old patterns–and that’s okay. But instead of criticizing yourself for the slip-up, notice what happened and change it right away. The better you get at checking in and reflecting, the better you’ll be able to focus and fit in breaks throughout the day.
Taking breaks might sound like a luxury, but if you think of them as a tool to get more done, you’ll soon find yourself feeling more relaxed and less busy. Remember, taking breaks is about focus: The more focused you are, the more you’ll get done, and the more opportunities you’ll have to pause for a few moments—even when you have a never-ending to-do list.
Jenny Shih is a business coach who has taught more than 25,000 women how to earn a full-time income working 30 hours per week or less as online, service-based entrepreneurs. You can get her 7 strategies for working less without making less here.