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Disconnect to reconnect

Lucy Dunleavy, CEO & Founder LearnBox
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Leave the break, have a KitKat.

Isn’t that what we do these days? No time to stop, we just grab a snack on the go.

When Rowntree employee Donald Gilles penned the phrase, ‘Have a break, have a KitKat’ back in 1957, no one could have predicted that 64 years later it would be one of the best-known slogans in marketing or that it would still be so relevant.

Joseph Rowntree firmly believed that “employees should never be merely regarded as cogs in a machine, but rather as fellow workers in a great industry, which reflects his family’s pioneering efforts towards creating better working conditions and ensuring the improved wellbeing of their factory employees.

The 11am tea break was the inspiration for the iconic tagline and appealed to the working classes of Britain, who wanted to satisfy their sweet tooth as they took a breather from the factory production lines.

The slogan grew in popularity when it became a regular feature on television adverts, with people realising that the idea of taking a break from something could be applied to a range of situations in everyday life, not just work.

KitKat ‘Have a Break’ TV Commercial 1962

The whole premise of the KitKat tagline was to stop, move yourself out of whatever situation you were in, and to have a break (and enjoy your KitKat).

1957 to today, removing yourself from a situation and taking a break

may be even more important than ever, as we recover from the Covid-19 Pandemic.

Post-lockdown, statistics are still showing that some businesses favour home-based working. With commuting now out of the equation and the ability to attend meetings all over the world from the comfort of our own homes, we are no longer ‘on the go’ like we used to be.

But maybe the lack of commute or travelling to meetings is making things worse. Many of us find ourselves in back-to-back video calls, our whole days filled with meetings, leaving little time for completing the follow-up work. Our workdays creep into our family time and down time, our necks ache from staring at the screen.

Then there are the constant distractions; Teams chat, emails, WhatsApp, phone calls, we are constantly pinging from one thing to the next, trying to respond to everyone in record time and attempting to be as efficient as possible. Not to mention the reduced physical movement leading to our Fitbit (or similar device) beeping at us to get some steps in.

Image by Joseph Mucira

Image credit: Joseph Mucira

Well, the research shows every time you get distracted you put yourself back for 20 minutes. Yes, 20 minutes! Many of us are on one big responsive-but-inefficient rollercoaster, and what is worse, we often feel like we aren’t getting anywhere on the hamster wheel of modern-day working life.

Often, we won’t stop for a lunch break, and a break is making a quick cup of coffee in the 2 minutes before our next Zoom, shoving down a KitKat while the kettle boils and not really tasting it. We are moving less too, so shoving down the processed food isn’t doing us any favours; sometimes the majority of our movement comes from answering the door to collect the Amazon parcel, while our trainers sit gathering dust under the stairs.

There was a time when work stopped the moment, we left the office and breaks were built into the working day. People met up in the canteen to unwind. Slowly but surely, the world got faster. Even before the pandemic, people rarely stopped and emails kept coming all hours of the day and night. The lines between work and home have continued to blur.

Even on holiday, I’ve been known to say (at least once a day), “I just need an hour to get on with some emails, you head to the pool”. I know I’m not the only one and I know many feel it’s better to keep on top of emails than to have loads to return to, but the result is you’re not really getting a full break.

checking mail

checkin’ mail – Image credit: Leonard J Matthews

We spend our workdays staring at screens, to then ‘relax’ once the day is over by staring at smaller screens (our phones) or bigger screens like the television. Without even realising it, we’re consumed by technology from the moment the dreaded alarm tone wakes us, to when we finally stop scrolling through Instagram, Facebook, or the newest (and highly addictive) social media platform TikTok and go to sleep, after promising to have an early night.

We are constantly bombarded, and we are shattered!

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One popular KitKat advert from 1989, depicted a photographer patiently trying to snap a pair of pandas in a zoo (I know you remember it!). Only while he is taking a break do they finally emerge – on roller skates.

Kit Kat Panda Advert From The Early 90’s

I believe the underlying message we can take from this is – when you down tools. the magic happens. If you just keep going and going you miss the good stuff. Don’t leave the break until burnout stage.

The meaning is in stopping and enjoying the moment, taking a breath. The irony is that you become much more efficient by stopping.

We can’t expect to be creative or expect our teams to be creative, innovative and forward thinking if they are constantly on the wheel. Creativity requires embracing boredom. Why? Well, research shows that being bored actually propels us towards deeper thinking and creativity. The theory goes that a bored mind searches for stimulation, which moves it into the daydreaming state, which leads to new ideas. That would be impossible if you’re not even stopping and moving away from the screen for a break.

We shouldn’t expect our team members to switch off just outside of work either, we should trust them to take work time to switch off and get creative together or alone. We should encourage breaks, including time to get outside (ideally device-free) at regular points each day, and the result of this will be a happier and more efficient workforce. We need to give them permission to do this and we need to lead by example.

Removing the distractions and interruptions is key, and yes, in a nutshell, this means removing the technology.

How many times have you met up with a friend for a coffee and caught yourself checking your phone instead of actually listening to the conversation? Or sat through a zoom meeting with one eye on your second monitor or phone, trying to multitask as the day ticks by?

The message of ‘disconnect to reconnect’ has been said to “bring power to the importance of human interaction”. But what does that even mean? In an illuminating TedX Youth Talk, thirteen-year-old Noa Richard spoke about the importance of human interaction. As a child who has grown up with technology at her fingertips, the awareness she has of the downsides to digital life is impressive.

“Never forget there is a whole life waiting for you, with small moments and experiences that should be treasured, and if you can’t look away from your screen, you might just miss it.”

Noa Richard at [email protected]

If we don’t stop and carry on living in virtual worlds, headaches, dry eyes and burn-out catch up with us all eventually, and it’s not usually until this point that we realise we need to truly switch off and give ourselves a break.

Feeling burn-out creep in, I turned my phone and laptop off for four whole days recently, yes four whole days! Here’s what I learned: I read (lots), mainly outside, I walked (lots) always outside. Everything I did was conscious and undistracted, I thought of lots of great ideas, I wrote lots of notes and the information I was reading went in the first time. I felt at peace, and I felt empowered. I was much more present on the school run and after school and this was priceless. I thought I would be constantly reaching for my phone out of habit, but I was surprised how quickly I got used to it not being there. I gained a lot of time each day and I gained a lot of clarity too. I felt so much better. It was clear nothing in work is really that important that it can’t wait a few days, especially at the expense of mental clarity. Overall, I learned that having a real break made me a better business owner, in fact it made me much better at all the roles that matter to me.

reading gce32778b9 640

Image credit: Mohamed Hassan

I missed listening to music or audio books when walking but it made my time in the car much more enjoyable (lots of singing and car dancing took place) and I did still use the Satnav in the car (I’m not an idiot!) but I had to be organised pre-sabbatical and get the postcodes ready in advance. I missed talking to certain people, including the team, but it made it more enjoyable when I spoke to them again and with a full energy tank. It made me feel grateful, particularly in having a team that I can trust to get things done while I took a real break.

All in all, I didn’t miss my phone! I was actually a bit gutted when my four-day break came to an end. The clarity, tranquillity, and time to think was invaluable, to me and to the business, and it is definitely something I look forward to doing again. I now encourage the team to switch off and remove distractions, and I do the same. I am much more efficient, but more importantly much calmer and much more effective.

Sometimes you need to stop to start.

Have a break, leave the KitKat (and the screen).

Disconnect to reconnect.

Lucy Dunleavy, CEO & Founder LearnBox

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