The help desk can be a high-pressure work environment, especially on those days when there has been a rollout of new software, you have someone on vacation, or your network guru has the flu. Breaks are essential in order to clear your head and refresh your body. Unfortunately, many of the techs I’ve worked with find it difficult to let go. They are keen to resolve problems and are genuinely interested in their work. They find it hard to relax at the end of the day or even take a break during work. Breaks, however, are an essential part of the workday and allow you to recuperate and to continue with your work efficiently.

Organize your work so you can take a break
So often you hear that people are “far too busy” to leave the office. If you don’t take a break, however, your work rate suffers, and it will take longer to complete your assignments. If you can’t cope with your present workload, then it’s time to stop and review your situation. Remember, your employer pays you for a set number of hours. If you can’t get through the work in those hours, it’s time to see what changes can be made to the routine and what tasks you can delegate.

Remove yourself from the work environment
Without outside influence, many techs I know will forgo sleep or food and sit at a screen for days on end. Having dealt with a problem, their attention will be grabbed by something they saw on the Web, which will lead to one query after another. The only way to save such folk from themselves is to pull the power lead out of the wall, although this can be traumatic.

Whenever two or more techies are gathered together, the talk will invariably turn to matters geeky. Therefore, to get a proper break from the working day, I feel it is essential for support staff to remove themselves completely from the working environment. If you use the office cafeteria or lunchroom, there is always the chance that you’ll be hijacked by users. Without appearing boorish, it is hard to insist that you have your lunch in peace.

As the point of a lunch break is to actually have a break, I most often leave the office all together or lock myself in the server room—not a bad option on a hot summer’s day. My usual lunch break is to eat my lunch in the car and listen to the radio. When it is nearly time to go back, I stretch my legs by walking around my building to the back entrance. Sometimes I go around twice, just to loosen the knots.

Five quick tips to help you keep your cool
Here are five very easy ways for you to avoid working yourself into the ground:

  1. 1.      Take all your allowable breaks. Most workers are given a one-hour lunch break and two 15-minute additional breaks during the day. Take them all!
  2. 2.      Disconnect. When taking a break, get away from your computer. Don’t answer the phone, and don’t check your e-mail.
  3. 3.      Stretch your legs. Get out of your chair and walk around.
  4. 4.      Go outside. Unless it’s the dead of winter or raining heavily, get outside and get a little sun.
  5. 5.      Don’t think about work. Most importantly, think about anything except work. Let your mind wander, and think about your significant other, your car, your cat—anything but work.

Remember that those who went before us fought for the right to have proper breaks in the working day, and for a very good reason. If you feel mentally and physically fatigued, you aren’t going to do your best, and this could lead to your employer giving you a permanent break from your job!
How do you relax after a day’s work? What do you do to stay sharp and focused during the workday? We want to know. Please leave a comment or write to Jeff Dray.