Don't you miss the days of mandatory breaks from work (aka school)? I know that there are days I miss it a lot. Sometimes my job feels like nothing more than overpriced busy-work. Other days, I know that what I do is valuable and helps the corporate bottom line, but man oh man do I get slammed with work to make that happen. Face it, recess (downtime) is necessary for us all, not just kids.
Let's talk busyness versus productive occupation. We all know what being busy is like; just as we all know that being busy doesn't always lead to a measurable result. Unfortunately, we cannot just throw our hands up and do nothing - that way lies sloth and that's perceived badly. What we want is to strike an adequate balance.
In this world that moves at the pace of e-mail and the internet, you have to get creative. What do you do when you get 200+ e-mails per day that the senders expect you to personally attend to immediately upon receipt? Constantly checking your e-mail isn't a focused task. It's actually a distraction from all of your other daily tasks but the dopamine your brain feeds you for clicking makes it hard to stop.
Then there's the information overload that happens these days. It feels like being caught in a sensory cyclone of information. So many different things to remember: school recitals, doctors appointments, bills, the meetings at 9:00am, 11:30am and 1:15pm, the presentations, etc. And all of that without factoring the phone ringing, people stopping at your desk or finding time for a quiet personal moment to attend to nature.
Did you know that your brain’s massive energy consumer? It uses as much as 20% of the body’s energy intake while on-task. I bet that you, like most scientists, expected that the brain would default to a more frugal, energy-saving mode.
Recently, however, research being conducted on the brain has found that there are sets of scattered brain regions that fire in a synchronized way when people switch to a state of mental rest (such as daydreaming). This help us process our experiences, consolidates memories, reinforces education, regulates our attention and emotions, and so much more.
We can be culturally conditioned to perceive of time off-task as “wasted” or "useless" and to take it as a sign of inefficiency or laziness. We can all benefit from recognizing how downtime can help. It not only gives the brain an opportunity to make sense of what it has just learned, shifting off-task can help their minds when they're frustrated so they can return to a problem and focus better to find a solution.
Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries writes in their paper
Unfortunately in contemporary organisations work addicts are highly encouraged, supported and even rewarded. The insidious development of the manic defense is difficult to counter because such behaviour is useful to organisations. And there is an element of control. There’s the attitude, “I’m paying that person a good wage, why aren’t they at their desk working?”
But there isn’t necessarily a relationship between working hard and working smart. In fact a workaholic environment may contribute to serious personal and mental health problems including low morale, depression, substance abuse, workplace harassment, relationship breakdown and above average absenteeism.
Taking quiet time for oneself and allowing ideas and concepts to filter through the subconscious is actually a positive trait and can lead to unexpected rewards. It just may take longer than working yourself to frazzled will.
What can you do in an office setting to take downtime? 5 minutes of moving around the office. Look out window for a couple of minutes. Even closing your eyes and taking 2 or 3 deep breaths could be enough of a break in your routine to help.
I still say bring back recess.
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Jabr, F. (2013, October 15). Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime.Scientificamerican.com.Retrieved November 30, 2013, from
Sabourin, J. Rowe, J.P, Mott, B.,W. & Lester, J.C. (2011). When Off-Task is On-Task: The Affective Role of Off-Task Behavior in Narrative-Centered Learning Environments. Artificial Intelligence in Education, 6738, 534-536. doi:
Welsh, J. (2013, October 17). Scientists Have Finally Found The First Real Reason We Need To Sleep. Businessinsider.com. Retrieved December 2, 2013, from