Tanveer Naseer

Leadership Coach, Speaker, and Writer

Got A Few Minutes? Why It’s Important to Take That Daily Break

Last week, I experienced the worst thing that could happen to any of us in this technological, wired age – my computer wouldn’t boot-up completely. After spending a few days trying to figure out what was behind this computer failure – a virus attack, a malfunctioning memory stick, or worse, a dying motherboard – I discovered the real culprit was the power supply unit. A quick trip to my preferred computer parts store (no big box stores for me thanks), and I got my computer back up and running – though with some other glitches that needed additional work in the days after.

Needless to say, this headache created its own share of problems, even though I was able to work off another computer while the other one was down. The biggest one was this urgent feeling that I needed to play catch-up; that since I hadn’t operated at my peak capacity the previous week, I had somehow fallen behind on work and such. Even though I intuitively knew that I had stayed on top of matters, I still couldn’t shake this feeling that I had to keep working so as to keep the beast at bay.

After giving this some thought, I realized what was behind this feeling of anxiety or pressure. Instead of taking breaks from work so I could relax or do something unrelated to my job, I was spending this time working on getting my main computer to work again. I did this not just because I missed working on my regular computer, but also so I get back into my technological comfort zone and feel like I was once again performing at my usual level of productivity.  Although this expedited the process of getting my computer back to normal, it also nurtured this feeling that I couldn’t take a break; that I always had to be hooked up, reviewing this or working on that. And now, instead of taking a break in my work day to unplug, I’d be thinking about how I still needed to get certain tasks done, reply to those last three emails marked urgent, and chase up that person to get an update on the status of the project we’re working on.

But here’s an undeniable truth about humans – unlike computers, we can’t always be on. There are times where we need to disconnect ourselves from our work, from interacting on social media sites, or simply replying to emails and just give ourselves time to focus on something else. Sure this might sound counter-intuitive – after all, what if some opportunity presents itself and you weren’t there to jump at the chance?  But by not giving ourselves time – to rest, to relax, or to simply enjoy the fruits of our labour – we’re actually doing more harm than good because we’re not giving ourselves the chance to catch our breath, so that we might take on these new opportunities with a fresh outlook, if not a rejuvenated pair of eyes.

As I’ve noticed in my own case, we also create this vicious cycle of feeling constantly on the run; that we feel like we’re chasing some finish line that can never be reached. Undoubtedly, such sentiments affect not only our perspectives, but our quality of life. Of course, this doesn’t mean we have to work less hours or even try to reduce the number of days we work. Sometimes all it takes is simply unplugging yourself for 10 minutes and just wandering away from your desk to see what else is going on around you.

I know I’m now keeping an eye on the clock – not so much to ensure I meet those deadlines or that I get one of those dozens of tasks completed in time. Instead, my focus on that clock is simply to make sure that I once again start making time . . . for myself.

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5 Comments » | Tags: , , , , , | December 3, 2009 by |

  1. On December 3rd, 2009 at 6:10 PM Martin Perron said:

    Hi Tanveer,

    You’re absolutely right! We can’t always be “on” and need those breaks. By unplugging and learning how to relax and disconnect, it actually can improve your energy and focus during your “on” time. Often, I find my that my best ideas come when I’m as far away from a computer as possible. The problem is, it’s easier said than done when things get really busy! How about a follow up post on tips to force the habit of taking a break 🙂

    Glad the computer problems were fixed…you know, if you keep getting PC problems, there is an alternative.


  2. On December 3rd, 2009 at 7:28 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Hi Martin,

    Thanks for your comment. You’re right that it can be hard at times to make that time when those deadlines start too loom. And that’s a great idea for a follow-up piece on this one, of providing tips on how we can get into the habit of finding that time we need. I’m going to start looking at writing up a piece on that. Thanks for the suggestion. 🙂

    As for the computer alternative, yeah I know. If Jobs isn’t paying you already, he really should; you’re like a portable Apple store. LOL!

    Thanks again for the comment, Martin, and the good idea for a follow-up piece to this one.

  3. On December 4th, 2009 at 2:22 AM Ching Ya said:

    I’m laughing right now.. not at what you wrote but amazed at how identical my situation is like yours now. My laptop went bluescreen since a week ago and now I had to plea my nephew to borrow me his PC sometimes just so I can update my work/emails. So much for a ‘working’ vacation huh? ha.. good thing is I really can reduce my working hours now. Pray for both of our tasks to be finished at scheduled.

    2 more weeks to go. My laptop will be revived then! (hopefully)

    Social/Blogging Tracker

  4. On December 4th, 2009 at 5:50 AM Xurxo Vidal said:


    Thanks for bringing this one to my attention – it really does hit home. Especially in the last couple of weeks when the work level has picked up quite a bit – it get's harder to unplug and take a break.

    I've managed to force myself to take the odd break, but often find my mind wandering back to the things I have to do once my break is over – unless I'm doing something that fully engages me and takes my mind off work.

    Like Martin pointed out, we all know that theoretically taking a break actually improves productivity and performance once you get back to work, it's just that you have to constantly remind yourself to take the break and make it a habit.

    Not quite related, but you might want to check out Justin Locke's recent book titled "The Principles of Applied Stupidity" :http://www.justinlocke.com/poas.htm

    He covers this point in his book and illustrates how it is beneficial. I'm sure you'll find other material from him that would make for great future blog posts (He's a really creative and entertaining guy who's a pleasure to talk to as well – be sure to check out his videos).

    And if you have any tips of your own on how to make taking a break a habit, I'm all ears. 🙂

  5. On December 4th, 2009 at 6:59 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Hi Ching,

    You know, it's funny how 30-odd years ago, we were being told how 'personal computing would simplify the way we do things'. Obviously, there's now the understanding how because of the speed at which computers can perform tasks, we're now expected to do more, not less. And yet, I think what you're going through – and what I went through – with our computers highlights another double-edged sword about personal computers – customization.

    Thanks to the fact that we no longer have to settle with out-of-the-box configurations, that each of us can modify the computer setup/interface to suit us, our efficiency/effectiveness takes a bit of a toll when we have to shift to a backup computer when our usual one goes under. As I wrote above, even though you can still do most of the work you'd normally do on your regular computer, somehow it doesn't 'feel' right, like something's missing when you have to use another one out of necessity.

    Thanks for comment, Ching. And I hope you get your laptop up and running soon. 🙂


    Hi Xurxo,

    First off, thanks for pointing out Justin Locke's site. Watched the video he has on his site and it's quite enjoyable, if not accurate about human dynamics. Going to be adding his book to my reading list . . . which admittedly is rather long these days.

    I think it's intuitively understood by many that it's important to take breaks, to just walk away from our desk and focus our mind on some unrelated tasks or ideas. And yet, as is the case with most things, it's simply a question of execution; of moving the concept from the theoretical into a regular practice.

    If you look at many of the people out there who we hold up as models of success – be it on the business or personal level – one common denominator we'll find is they not only understand the importance of unplugging from the world, they actually make it a part of their daily regimen. As Justin Locke pointed out in his video about this book of his you mentioned, it's not that these successful people are smarter than us; it's just that they are taking that chance at doing something we're not.

    Of course, that's not to say that if we start giving ourselves daily breaks, we'll become millionaires after 30 days. But it will mean that our lives will feel more manageable, more satisfying which personally is a huge reward in and of itself.

    Definitely think there's more material in this to cover in a future post, something I'll be pondering on when I'm off on one of my daily breaks. 🙂

    Thanks again Xurxo for the thought-provoking comment. And I'm adding writing a post about how to make habit of taking breaks to my list.

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