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Getting more done starts with taking more breaks

Sometimes, taking two steps forward starts with taking one step back.

As an example, let’s travel to Ann Arbor, Mich. There, best-selling author Daniel Pink introduces us to the anesthesiologists at the University of Michigan Medical School’s Department of Anesthesiology. Before they put a single patient to sleep, these physicians and medical residents run through a remarkable exercise that is increasing the quality of patient care, decreasing the risk of complications and accidents, and putting both doctors and patients more at ease.

That exercise involves nothing more than taking a break.

It’s what the school’s chair, Dr. Kevin Tremper, calls a “pre-induction verification.” It’s a pair of simple checklists — one before anesthesia and one before the first incision of surgery — that ensure the doctors are working on the right patient, that they know the patient’s medical conditions, and that they’re aware of what medications they are about to administer to that patient. They don’t just dive into the procedure; they take a break to review what they’re about to do so that they’re confident they’ll do the right thing.

In his remarkable new book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, Pink says such pauses in the work routine — what he calls “vigilance breaks”— have been known to send surgical mortality rates plunging by close to 20 percent.

Those types of breaks benefit more than just doctors and their patients, though. They help all of us be more productive.

“Breaks matter,” Pink writes. “Even little ones can make a big difference. ‘Vigilance breaks’ prevent deadly mistakes. Restorative breaks enhance performance. Lunches and naps help us … get more and better work done in the afternoon. A growing body of science makes it clear: Breaks are not a sign of sloth but a sign of strength.”

The folks at EOS Worldwide would agree. They call them “clarity breaks.”

“Keeping your head clear, your confidence high, and your focus strong is vital in maintaining forward momentum,” the EOS folks say. “Most leaders spend most of their time overwhelmed, tired, and buried in the day-to-day routine, unable to see beyond tomorrow. As a result, they don’t solve problems as well as they could, they don’t lead their people as well as they could, and they’re not a good example to them.”

These breaks don’t need to structured, laminated checklists. They can be as simple as a 30-minute walk each morning or a couple of hours once a week at the local Starbucks. The idea is to simply take a step back. Stop working in the business and take some time to work on the business. Schedule some time to breathe and think freely. You’ll be amazed at the ideas and solutions that surface.

My clarity breaks always happen at the gym. I spend my lunch break each day on the treadmill. That’s where I get my reading and thinking done, and believe me, more ideas surface during that hour of free thinking than while I’m hunched over a keyboard.

What’s that old saying? “Free your mind. Your ass will follow.” There’s a lot of truth in that.

Get it on your calendar now. Schedule an hour-long break with yourself sometime during the next week, and spend that time doing nothing but thinking. About your business. About your career. About … nothing. Spend it meditating. Or reading. Spend it doing anything except working. Then make that a recurring appointment on your calendar. Once a week. Every week.

You’ll be amazed at how much you get accomplished.

How strong is your business?
Use the free EOS Organizational Checkup to gauge the strength of your business … and to find out whether you’re taking enough clarity breaks.

Take the Organizational Checkup here.

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