Your job is extraordinary and exhausting.
You get to connect and create, but you're also drowning in information. Comments, retweets, likes, requests, questions, emails. Notifications whooshing around at 90mph, all day. KPI's and ROI. Everyone demanding attention, needing you to listen, to respond, to cajole, to soothe, to champion.
Some days you want to break every screen in front of you, join the National Park Service and spend three months manning a fire tower in Montana.
People who deal in content generation and manage relationships use more emotional and mental energy than most every day. Every interaction drains your cognitive power source - only a little, but these little losses add up.
Picture a thin, red string running from you to each member of your community - whether it's forum/community members or social followers. If you manage an account with 150k Twitter followers, that's 150k tiny threads. Picture much bigger threads running to influencers, colleagues, and your company's leadership.
This makes it easier to envision your impact, and also to see how you can get pulled in multiple directions at once and get tangled up in all those threads. To keep from being tripped up, each one requires a little bit of energy and attention. It's rewarding, but tiring.
This is where the practice of taking breaks comes in.
We are inclined to believe that more time > more effort > and more speed > will make us more productive.
A majority of the research on peak productivity recommends working intently for 40-50 minutes and then taking a 10-15 minute break. This technique is not only taught and encouraged at major corporations, it's how students at MIT and other elite universities are encouraged to study.
Break time isn't wasted time.
In order to allow your hardworking brain to function at its peak, you need to allow it a few minutes of rest every hour. Just like cooling down between exercises at the gym, your brain experiences fatigue and needs to rest. These breaks have an added benefit for social professionals - they allow you to step away from all of the strings pulling on you and re-center. By stepping away for a few moments, you'll be more effective at creating top-notch content and managing all those relationships.
Bottom line, you get more accomplished when you take breaks (and, your dreams won't be limited to Montana fire towers).
What constitutes a break?
An ideal break gets you out of your chair, away from your computer.
Go for a walk, go to the bathroom, doodle, listen to music, get outside, set a timer and breathe for a minute or two, stretch, meditate, read a few pages of a book, talk to a co-worker.
Once you do one of these, come back and enjoy some baby animal pics. I'm serious, and you can thank Japanese researchers for this one. They have found that college students performed better after looking at images of baby animals. Interestingly, adult animals and food didn't have the same impact. So: baby French Bulldogs, yes. French fries, not so much.
Another tip: Take your vacation days, all of them. Every year. Even a long weekend away from all of those threads provides valuable rest, as people returning from extended time off have been shown to make fewer mistakes and be more productive.
If taking breaks is new to you, start slow. I recommend working in at least two 10-15 minute breaks a day, and going from there. Or commit to eating lunch away from your desk, every day.
We talk a lot about burnout for social folks. It's an amazing, demanding job. So, think of it this way: To reach your full potential, to impact the most people, to stay healthy, schedule breaks or be ambushed by a breakdown.
It was my pleasure to talk about breaks and other techniques for reducing stress, increasing productivity and cultivating mindfulness earlier this month at Social Shake Up. Since the conference I've heard from multiple attendees who are now planning to take summer vacations. My hope today is that you commit to scheduling yours.
What's your take on breaks? Got a strategy to share? I'd love to hear from you.