Taking a break makes biological sense. In Harvard Business Review article, Are You Working Too Hard, leading Mind/Body Researcher Howard Benson describes how to use advanced relaxation techniques to produce breakthroughs where you or your team have got “stuck”.
Howard is the author of The Relaxation Response (1975) and more recently The Breakout Principle (2003) and has spent 35 years researching neuroscience and stress.
The four stages to the “breakout principle”:
- First you wrestle with a difficult problem until you get to the point where you are no longer making progress. This is known as reaching the plateau on the Yerkes-Dodson curve of stress versus performance.
- Secondly you suddenly stop and walk away from the problem and do something utterly different such as a relaxation exercise or just taking the dog for a walk.
- Thirdly you achieve the actual breakout experience triggered by the previous step. The biological explanation for being able to produce these breakouts is that the relaxation “shifts our internal biology by producing more nitric oxide and the neurotransmitters associated with well-being and creativity.”
- Finally you return to what you were doing with the new insight and a heightened state of confidence in general
Breakout with teams
Benson goes on to describe how the breakout technique can be used in a team or group situation.
In the first step the team are asked to prepare for the team meeting by thoroughly researching the difficult tasks/problems they are facing – this is to bring them to the plateau of the performance curve.
Step 2 is to facilitate the relaxation technique as a team for about 10 minutes.
Step 3 is to bring the team’s focus back to the problems at hand.
According to Benson “its very likely that more than one insightful solution will emerge from the group”.
Breakout at home
This approach would be particularly valuable for virtual workers who may find themselves sitting in front of a computer screen or manuscript for a long time after they have ceased to be productive.
The irony is one of the unique potential advantages of virtual working is the flexibility to just take a break and do something or go somewhere without worrying about what your colleagues might think!