Welcome to week 4 of the 12 books in 12 months challenge. We’re pretty much at the end of the first month. So if you’re doing this along with me, you should be close to the end of your book now, depending on how long it is. The way I had scheduled it out, I was supposed to finish by the end of next week, but it ended up being shorter than I expected so I’m actually done! My first book is already in the can.
Now the tricky part, I think will be keeping up the momentum on the next book. I’m used to taking a break in between books so I can work on outlining, editing, and just relaxing a bit. I’m not doing that this time. In order to make the challenge work, I can’t afford to have that many breaks. So I’m doing outlining and editing on the side, while I continue the writing non-stop. And it would be easy for me to say that, since I ended this book early, that I could take next week off and start the next one when I was scheduled to do so. But I don’t want to do that either. Mostly because I want to get as far ahead of myself as I can, just in case something comes up when I really do need to take a few days off. So I’ve already started work on the next book in my series.
Taking Breaks as an Author
That actually is a good lead-in to talk about breaks. Now I’m not really going to discuss long-term vacations or anything like that. That’s kind of a separate category of breaks, and not what I’m referring to. I do have some of those planned for the year, but I’ll talk more about that when it’s time. No, I’m talking more about the breaks you take on a daily basis, and to a lesser extent, on a weekly basis as well. Last time I talked about the 52/17 rule, where I mentioned that I take frequent breaks of around 17 minutes long. And that may seem like a long time, but let me talk more about what I do, and how it can help you.
The physical and psychological benefits of taking breaks throughout your day are well documented. I’ve linked to an article on Psychology Today that outlines some of these. Also, Joanna Penn of the Creative Penn has a whole book that she co-wrote on remaining Healthy as a writer. And you can bet that breaks take an important role.
If you work at a desk job, you especially need to take breaks. Constant sitting puts you at a greater risk of heart disease, diabetes, depression, and obesity. Even a simple walk around the office every hour or so can make those risks far less urgent. And for writers, we do a lot of sitting. So this is definitely something we need to keep in mind.
It should also be noted that breaks can reduce decision fatigue, restore motivation, increase productivity and creativity, and even improve memory retention and learning. But this will only work if you’re doing the right kind of breaks. Checking your Facebook feed and other similar activities will actually make your day worse, because you’re not actually taking a break. You’re just switching from one draining task to another. That act of switching can be even worse than if you had just kept working on the thing you were originally working on.
So what do we do during a break? Well the first, and probably most widely circulated recommendation is:
Personally, I have a series of exercises that I rotate through during the day. I start with some pushups during my first break, and in subsequent breaks I also do things like stretching, planking, taking a 10-minute walk, going up and down stairs, etc. And even if you don’t do anything else in your breaks, having some physical activity is perhaps the most important reason to take them.
If you follow the first piece of advice and take a walk, consider going outside. Nature is one of the most soothing influences on the mind, and direct sunlight on your skin will actually help in the healthy production of serotonin, which will help you sleep better at night. If you have a window, take some time to just stare outside for a bit. This will relax your eyes from the strain of a screen and have similar effects as going outside.
One of my favorite activities is having a brief meditation session. This really isn’t as intense as it sounds. All it means is that you take a few deep breaths, close your eyes, and try to shut out all the things competing for your attention.
Review Your Plan/Affirmations
Another favorite activity is using this chance to review your mission statement, values, goals, and affirmations. Remind yourself about why you’re doing what you’re doing, and you’ll have even more energy to continue doing it when your break is over.
If you have a book or kindle handy, reading a few pages from a book can be incredibly relaxing and motivating. I like to have a self-improvement book of some kind so that I can continuously find encouragement. Reading religious texts, letters from loved ones, past journal entries, etc, can also be incredibly relaxing.
My typical break usually consists of a short exercise, then I’ll get up and get a drink or go to the bathroom, maybe chat with a coworker if the opportunity is there, and then I’ll either read a page or two from a book or I’ll review my affirmations. The most important thing that I don’t do is look at my screen. I even printed out my affirmations and I use actual physical books (or a kindle with no glowing screen) to do my reading. If I’m doing the full 17-minute break, I usually have plenty of time to do all of that, so I often end just by taking a deep breath and going running through, in my head, what I’m about to do in the next work block.
So that should give you an idea of what to do in your breaks. Remember, it’s not taking breaks that’s important, it’s what you do in them. Some breaks will end up being worse for you, but some can be hugely energizing and renewing. It all depends on what you do. I would advise you to remember my most important rule for my breaks, which is not to look at a screen, be it your computer, tablet, or phone. If you can do that, I guarantee you’ll already be well on your way to a renewing break.