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How the "Pause” Can Improve Your Productivity

Young man in contemplation at Windhover

We all know about unhealthy habits that plague the work day, such as sitting too long at our desk without taking breaks or being distracted by email and text notifications. But are these bad habits affecting your job performance?

As it turns out, they might be. Tia Rich, manager for Resilience, Stress Management and Contemplation programs for Stanford Medicine’s Health Improvement Program (HIP) and BeWell, says there is a growing body of research that shows that your production, creativity, and memory all suffer when there is unrest in the mind, body, or spirit.

Tia points to the work of Stanford neuroscience researcher Vinod Menon, Professor of Psychiatry & Behavioral Science. His studies of the brain show that, for example, when you are deep in thought and stop to look at a text message, you spend significant energy switching between thoughts, and significant time in returning to your original thought. That interruption may be costing you dearly. Researchers at the University of California, Irvine found that workers only accomplished 11 minutes of work between distractions, and that it took up to 25 minutes to re-focus after a distraction.

In other words, trying to juggle multiple tasks at once probably does not mean you are accomplishing more.

However, learning how to take mental breaks throughout the day could be the key to your success, says Rosan Gomperts, Director of the Faculty Staff Help Center.

“Knowing that your mental health is linked to productivity, you may want to seek ways to improve both,” she says. Many solutions can be found in practices of contemplation—either brief moments of pause or longer meditation exercises. If that seems outside of your comfort zone, you are not alone. “We have developed a low-boredom threshold,” Rosan says. “People are not used to doing nothing. When actually, this is an important part of mental health.”

Tia agrees, having recently been part of a School of Medicine study alongside professor and principle investigator Marcia Stefanick on the value of offering short (less than three-minute) contemplative practices to busy physicians. As a result, the doctors admitted they felt an improved resilience and well-being at work and in life.

Your workplace rituals may be part of the problem, Rosan adds, and they may be part of the solution. For example, if you drink from a water bottle on your desk, make a goal to get up and fill it a couple of times throughout the day. “Think about what you’re doing when you’re working in a healthy way, and make a point to do that more,” Rosan suggests.

Here are a few other practices you can incorporate in your work day:

  • Take a pause. Stop doing everything for one minute, and actively think about relaxing your muscles from your head to your toes
  • In your moment of pause, ask yourself “What’s happening for me now?” Assign a word to your emotion or mood. Avoid judging your thoughts or problem solving—just be aware.
  • Walk. Make a loop around the office or outside. Walk slowly. Let your shoulders and arms be free and stroll. Be in touch with each foot hitting the ground. This isn’t space to brainstorm, rather to be in touch with your body.

Need a little help getting started? Contemplation by Design is a weeklong series of events presented by HIP, BeWell, WorkLife and the School of Medicine to help you learn and enjoy the “Power of the Pause.” The events are November 3-11 and include contemplative walks around campus, guided meditation, and more.

Benefits & Rewards, Health