Erik's Security Blog Practicing Constant Vigilance

Go take a break!

I’m on vacation for the week, and while I considered posting a technical article as usual, I decided this would be good opportunity to highlight the importance of taking a break every now and then. For some of you this news will come as no surprise, but there may be others who are more focused on productivity and think “sleep is for the weak!” or “I’ll rest when I’m dead!”. For better or worse, I sometimes lean towards the latter category, so this post is for others who have difficulty with the choice between taking a break and maintaining an unbroken streak of productivity. I’m not suggesting long vacations are the most productive approach to every goal, but I would advocate that taking a rest can be extremely helpful when done right. By using the weasel words “when done right”, I admit the implementation details (frequency and length) of how breaks are taken will vary from one person to another, but the reasons why breaks should be taken is more consistent. So I am not here to advocate how one should take breaks in detail - I am only here to remind you to take the occasional break.

Perhaps the best reason to take breaks is to avoid burnout, which has gotten a bit of press in security. If you are unable to avoid burnout, your productivity will take a substantial hit regardless of whether you take a break or not, and no doubt you will improve your mindset if you choose to take breaks rather than take the burnout route. But a second reason where breaks can be useful is in your daily routine itself. One example would be the Pomodoro technique, which I have found useful when I am focused on a single topic or project for large chunks of time. If you wish to try out the Pomodoro technique, there are plenty of mobile apps and websites that offer a free Pomodoro timer.

Another approach to breaks in a daily routine is to focus your energy during your most productive hours of the day, leaving the less productive parts of the day open for breaks (such as meals, etc.). Everyone’s internal clock operates a bit differently, and because of this we have different times during the day that we are more likely to do our best work. We hear frequently of people working 6 days a week or other stories of intense struggle, but we hear less about how efficiently some people use just a few hours per day to accomplish great things. I speculate this is because it is easier and more common to be productive than to be effective. To apply this second approach, I would suggest recording your work output in half-hour chunks for 1-3 weeks to determine what parts of the day you are more productive, and review Peter Drucker’s timeless book “The Effective Executive” to go further and remove unnecessary tasks from your work or person to-do list.

Now if only my future self would heed these words, since I did not take a break from writing a blog post… Wisdom is the ability to follow your own advice!