Is it time to take a break?

Jun 28, 2018

Summer has arrived but some people might still be wrapping up studies with a year-round programme, thesis-writing and so on and it might be a bit hard to keep the focus while the rest of  us are lathering on sunscreen and planning trips to beer gardens, the beach, barbeques. It might be a good time to consider how best to use downtime.

The value of a break cannot be underestimated. Breaks are written into everything we do in a formal setting. In school, there was “little break” and “big break”. In employment acts, there are specific amounts of time allocated to defined lengths of work time. Professional drivers legally have to break for rest stops. We have intervals at theatre shows and who can remember when there used to be breaks at the cinema?

Little breaks

Don’t underestimate the value of a break. Every hour or so, you should stop, stand up, ideally leave the room and even more ideally, step outdoors for some fresh air. If this all takes just two to three minutes, that’s all it needs. That will give you a bit of oxygen into the brain and a fresh insight into what you’re working on.

Bigger breaks

Just as importantly, you should take a bigger chunk of time off whenever you can. If you have the luxury of this being a half day or day a week, you might be one of the lucky ones. Try for a meaningful block of time as often as you can. And here’s the important bit: plan something. If you don’t allocate yourself something to do, you will inevitably schedule something mundane like folding laundry or bringing something somewhere for someone else. This time needs to be for you.

First things first, get out of the house if you feel you need to. There will therefore be no temptation to sneak open your notes.

Secondly, turn off your phone’s internet access. No checking of emails or social media is allowed! Your phone should just be about making arrangements for today, with actual conversations.

Then it’s down to making a plan. Don’t be too ambitious. Chances are you’ll be preoccupied as it is so manage your expectations. Don’t aim for anything life-changing; the focus here is just a while of not thinking about your studies for even a short time. Try to not do anything involving looking at a television or computer screen or reading. Rest your mind and your eyes now.

Here are a few suggestions. Some of them sound terribly wholesome but the aim here is not to have a nail-biting experience, spend a lot or to be out late, it’s about getting a mini-escape.

Take the plunge: Is there a swimming pool nearby? Having a dip is refreshing and invigorating.

Culture vulture: How about a gallery or museum? If you can find even 20 minutes to stroll around and look at nice paintings, sculpture, photography, it can be really calming.

Get some fresh air: One of the nicest things is a long walk by any type of water. Do you live near a canal, the sea, a river or lake? Walking here can be very relaxing.

Discover: Grab a guide book for your town, city or county and be a tourist. Randomly pick something you’ve never done and see a couple of sites. It’s amazing what is right in front of you that you don’t see. Even a cheesy bus tour can be a good escape from the books.

On your bike: Preferably one with a basket. Pack a small picnic, a rug and ideally arrange to meet a pal. Find a park, canal path, the zoo, beach. Whatever is nearby where you can sit or even better lie down to watch the world go by, listen to its sounds and have a sneaky doze in the sunshine.

Go somewhere: are you on a train line? Why not take a day trip somewhere? Get the trusted guide book out again and find something new to see in a new place.

Catch a flick: there’s nothing like being in the cinema in the daytime midweek. You’ll have the place to yourself and it’s pure escapism.

Have a snooze: if you’re tired, admit it. A powernap for 20 minutes can really do the world of good. On your break, if you have a little sleep, go for a quick walk, you will find yourself far more effective afterwards.

Be antisocial: while you may think that being on social media is fun and is taking a break, it can actually be harming your study capacity. It has been shown to increase stress and decrease focus: two things you ultimately don’t want to do.

To sum up, the best breaks are those in which we rest our minds and exercise our bodies. Studying usually involves lots of sitting so when you feel restless, tired, or otherwise just not “into it” anymore: stand up and walk away. It will make the time after the break so much more productive and therefore you’ll be much happier…and hopefully had a nice experience to boot.

Good luck!

Amy Dawson

Amy is a member of the Specialist Qualifications team at Chartered Accountants Ireland. With over ten years experience in arts administration, she has also worked in education administration, providing support for distance learners. From a postgraduate diploma to an online Masters to swimming, oil painting and theatre production, she's always looking for the next learning indulgence or to help you find yours: https://www.charteredaccountants.ie/en/CPD/Specialist-Qualifications/