Founder of DRIVEN Professionals. Enhancing professionals' Intentional Productivity and creating organizational cultures of DEI.
You’ve likely heard the old phrase, “There are only two things that you can count on in life: death and taxes.” Allow me to offer my very own spin on that cliché. “There are three things you can count on in life: stress, death and taxes.” After all, even amoebas experience stress. Another sure thing? If we don’t manage stress, it will manage us.
Since we humans are perpetually under enormous stress, my writing partner Ute Franzen-Waschke and I have chosen to focus on health and well-being in the workplace for our next series of articles. In the initial installment of the series, the first step to managing stress was revealed: Be intentional about your breathing. It almost sounds too easy!
The second step, as we touched on in "Well-Being 2.1: How Leaders Can Combat Stress In The New World Of Work," is to build breaks into your day. By contrast, this concept is the opposite of easy! In fact, the reflexive response of many driven professionals is that this suggestion is a pipedream. Many believe breaks are impossible, given their grueling schedules and the perpetual urgent demands on their time. In the spirit of motivating these naysayers, my writing partner referred to a Mircosoft study that found a 10-minute break will lower stress in people’s brains. If this study inspires you, and you’re dedicated and motivated toward the short- and long-term benefits of mitigating stress, begin experimenting with how you’re going to embed 10-minute breaks into your day.
This can be accomplished with a technological approach, but after programming these breaks into your calendar, you'll also want to go ahead and have a conversation with your team about this intention.
Next, look at how to best use these 10 minutes. Consider that each of us has gotten lost in “relaxation” when this recovery time inadvertently veers toward playtime on the web, whether through social media compulsion or catching up on email. Ten minutes may seem like the blink of an eye to some and an eternity to others. But with a little intentionality, you can maximize your 10-minute breaks to help revive your four energy tanks: the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual energy sources.
Here are six suggestions for quality use of those 10 minutes:
1. Take two minutes to “close the file,” both mentally and physically, on the meeting or whatever task you’re coming off of. Whether you take notes in a notebook or on an electronic document, highlight key points and jot down your follow-up steps. Embed these steps into your calendar or priorities list when topics covered are still top of mind.
2. Check for urgent email. This does not mean open and read everything new in your inbox. Scan what’s come in and decide if there is anything that needs to be taken care of right away. Ideally, you’ve clarified communication channels with your team, making it easier to recognize urgency in the subject line. Of course, this method works best when you have time devoted exclusively to email during the course of the day so you can open, read and respond to all messages in a timely fashion.
3. Get up and stretch. A couple of gentle stretches will help while you focus both on your breathing and looking out a window toward the horizon for 20 seconds. This movement is essential, as we’re finding that stillness is detrimental to our health.
4. Take care of your body. Whether it be taking a bio break, filling up your water glass or tea cup or grabbing a snack like nuts, dried fruit or carrots and hummus (all can be pre-portioned and brought to work). Maintaining your body throughout the day is like changing the oil in your car at appropriate intervals. When you take care of it, it will take care of you.
5. Open the file for the next meeting for a one-minute review before you dive into the meeting. Consider your role in the meeting. What will you contribute? What do you want to take away? How do you want to be present?
6. Meditate. Since connecting with the breath is a key to managing stress and coming to the present, take part in my favorite three-breath meditation as you walk into or log onto your next meeting.
It’s quite a list and while it is possible to do all of this in 10 minutes, it may require some practice to get fluid with this flow. The liberating aspect of the 10-minute break is the plethora of other 10-minute investments you can make toward your own recovery. Consider yoga, a quick walk around the block or even playing with the dog! The common denominator is to invite your thoughts to wander, allowing your brain to breathe.
I encourage you to experiment. Why don’t you commit to one 10-minute break today? See if you can repeat this for a week straight. Then, up your commitment to two 10-minute breaks a day next week. Continue to build in breaks and notice how your stress levels shift and your focus becomes more concentrated.
In our next article, we will explore how to better use technology to decrease stress and online meeting marathons while increasing well-being and engagement. Think about how many of us have leveraged all the ways we can communicate by using technology effectively. You wouldn’t drive a Ferrari only in first gear; why underutilize the digital tools at your disposal?
This article is part of an ongoing series with fellow Forbes Coaches Council member Ute Franzen-Waschke, founder of Business English & Culture.