The joy of non-smoking breaks

strolling k j payne

A quick stroll outside

Credit: flickr / K J Payne

This is a quick post that asks you to consider, if you're a non-smoker, adopting a habit that might just help to energize you throughout the day -- the "non-smoking break". As someone who has never smoked, I began some years ago to get a little envious of my coworkers who were popping out to the top level of the parking garage for a smoking break. Yes, me who rarely left her desk, me who was driving roughly 2.5 hours a day to work and back, and me who was beginning to feel very sleepy around 2 PM every afternoon. What I needed was to move around more often and to stop believing that tying myself to my desk was the best way to get a lot of work done.

Introducing -- the non-smoking break. Consider the time that your smoking coworkers take to get outside the building, enjoy their smokes -- maybe staring at clouds in the distance, or the roofs of nearby buildings, and then heading back into their offices. Let's estimate six minutes for the cigarette and four to wander out and back into the office and maybe chat with someone along the way. What can you do in ten minutes and why should you?

Some of us might have time to circumnavigate the buildings in which we work. Head for the stairs, walk briskly out the door, circle the building, and then back up the stairs to your desk. And why would you do this? First, because a brisk walk, especially a brisk walk outside, is likely to energize you in surprising ways. While I went for years thinking that working long hours and rarely leaving my desk was the way to be maximally productive, I realized (primarily after reading "The Healthy Programmer" by Joe Kutner) that I was way off track. I get more done when I get a little exercise every day and when I take a short physical and mental break after completing an intensive task. Feeling more energetic -- and more comfortable, I end up thinking with more clarity and completing more tasks. These days, I go out for a brisk 20 minute walk just before I set down at my desk to start digging into a pile of chores for the day. And sometimes, after wrapping up a particularly engaging project, I head outside, stand in the sunshine for just a couple of minutes, and then walk back inside ready to start on the next task on my queue.

Admittedly, not everyone works in a setting that is conducive to brisk walks in the sunshine. If this doesn't work for you, how about a stroll down the hallway and back, or walking up several flights of stairs and then back down? You might be surprised how easily the activity becomes part of your daily routine and how much it lifts your mood. Too much sitting in place everyday has got a lot of health issues plaguing those of who build software or manage systems. You can do something to change this for yourself just by using the time equivalent of a smoking break to get your heart pumping and legs thumping. It might have you feeling better *and* getting more done.

You might want to check to see whether your company or organization has a policy on smoking or other breaks. Maybe you need someone to cover for you when you step away from your desk, but give this some thought. I have been doing my 20 minute walks for several months now.  What surprises me most is how much better I feel when I sit down to work and how much more energy I have. Instead of having to push myself out the door in the morning, I find that I thoroughly enjoy the walks and feel considerably more comfortable when I plop back into my desk chair.

Oh, yeah, and I'm not trying to countermand or conflict with the advice of your doctor, nurse, guru, fitness instructor, or favorite superhero. Just get around to realizing that you're likely to be a happier sysadmin and get more done if you take some little breaks to better care of yourself.

And in case you want to take another look at the book I referred to, check here.

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