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Don’t Take a Break Unless You Need One

Break

One area where I find myself disagreeing with many of the community gurus is the area of breaks and the taking of breaks. Many will say that one should work n minutes per hour and take a 60-n minute break, like clockwork. I disagree. Attempting to shoehorn humans into a robotic schedule when their work doesn’t dictate such a schedule is, in my opinion, counterproductive. After all, when you take a break, you’re no longer being productive (and, yes, I understand that “recharging” is important to overall productivity – I just don’t believe it to be something that should be scheduled).

We’ve all heard about “the zone” (though, perhaps by a different name). Those rare occasions when you’re completely focused on what you’re doing and you’re at the peak of productivity. The rest of the world has faded into the background and it’s just you and [your task]. For those of us who have been there, it’s a bit like a good night’s sleep: you don’t realize how awesome it was until it’s over. This is my main reason for not taking scheduled breaks.

As I’ve said many times before, I write software for a living. This affords me plenty of “alone time” with my current project, as my interaction with others is generally limited to specification clarification or requirements collection. Most of the time, it’s me, my iPod and my computer. Given the correct set of circumstances, I can work for 3-4 hours straight, without needing to take a break. Even if I do “come up for air”, so to speak (leave the zone), I still might not take a break. My mind is (almost) fully engulfed in the task at hand, and leaving my desk or looking at other things would do little more than drive my focus away from my work.

Obviously, I’m not saying you shouldn’t take a break – you definitely should. But please don’t feel like, in order to maintain your sanity and posture, that you must take scheduled breaks. My experience has been that they can definitely do more harm than good, especially if your work requires a great deal of thought and concentration to be done properly.

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