I’m livin’ in a world that won’t stop pullin’ on me./I’m not complaining but it’s true./It’s like I owe my time to everyone else./’Cause that’s all I seem to do. —Keith Urban, “What about Me?”
Pssst. Hey. Look over there. No, not there, there. You know what that is? It’s a neat little invention called a window. Yeah, pretty nice, eh? You can see things, like trees, and flowers, and other fun stuff. Oh, and look over there. Another neat invention. It’s called a door. You can actually open it and walk through it. It takes you places. Pretty cool, huh?
What’s that? What are a door and a window for? Oh, boy. I’ve got some work to do here.
Where to start? Hmm. . . .
Well, there are these things called breaks that people—uh, people other than you—take from time to time. What’s a break? Yeesh. Well, since you’re a lawyer, why don’t we start with defining the word break—in a non-legal sense. You know, like the rest of the world. According to Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary, it’s a verb deriving from the Middle English breken, from the Old English brecan, akin to the Old High German brehhan and the Latin frangere (who knew?) and meaning, among many other things, “to interrupt one’s activity or occupation for a brief period, <break for lunch>.”
See, wasn’t that fun?
Okay, so maybe it was a bit dry. But have you taken a closer look at that milk carton lately? That’s a picture of you on the side, under the caption, “Have you seen me?” You’ve been so bogged down in work (or is it panic?) lately, that you haven’t taken any time for yourself. And that’s not a good thing. Seriously. Science has shown that not taking a break can be bad for you, and you know you can’t argue with science.1 Heck, there was that kid who died after doing nothing but playing video games for something like four days straight. At least he was doing something interesting. How would you like this for your epitaph: “Attorney dies after spending four days straight writing a brief.” Can you imagine? You’d finally make it on The Tonight Show—as the butt of a joke. Hey, maybe you’d even get on Letterman. After all, an attorney keeling over at his desk is bound to make even the snarkiest host laugh.
What’s that you say? Your life’s goal isn’t to be the butt of a joke? Then you really need to learn how to look/walk away from the computer and take a break from time to time. Online shopping, playing video games, or checking your Facebook/Twitter/Match.com account doesn’t qualify. You need to get away from the computer—or as one former co-worker’s screen saver used to say, “back away slowly and no one gets hurt.” Even if it’s only for 15 minutes, a break can be a good thing. You can recharge your batteries, clear your head, and maybe even have a Eureka! moment on that brief you’re writing (or whatever it is you’re doing).
So without further ado, here are ten things you could do in the next 15 minutes to clear your head,2 brought to you free of charge (woohoo!!! A lawyer giving FREE advice!3) by people with a combined experience of over 35 years of loafing, occasionally punctuated by actual work.4
1. Look out the Window
It’s big. It’s transparent (uh, you can see through it). And it presents you a world of possibilities. Let your imagination flow. Does your office look out onto a street? Imagine what those people are doing as they walk by your office. That guy in the long coat, walking by himself? Jason Bourne,5 on a mission to stop the CIA from its latest evil adventure. The woman, with the kid? Well, you come up with that one.
Maybe your window looks at the San Gabriel Mountains.6 You can imagine taking a walk in the mountains, or maybe skiing (not me—I like all my parts in one piece), or camping, or . . . it’s really up to you.
Maybe your window looks out onto a restaurant. You could think about lunch (or dinner). One where you’re not eating at your desk. A novel concept, I know.
Or maybe you’ll just realize that your windows are dirty. Try Windex.
Whatever the result, it’s not work. And that’s the point—by focusing on something else, you can actually be more productive.7
What’s that? Your window looks onto a brick wall? Where are you? Chicago? Okay, then maybe you need to . . .
2. Take a Walk
Science (there it is again) has shown that exercise is good for you. It improves your mood, clears your head, and helps you live longer. And walking is exercise. See? You can finally start that exercise program you keep promising to take up every New Year’s Eve! (Day?)
Seriously, taking a walk is a good thing. It gets you out of the office (unlike looking out the window, which doesn’t, unless you happen to see someone breaking into your car, which I plan to cover in another suggestion-packed article elsewhere). And it can give you perspective.
Where should you go?8 Does it matter? The point is to get away from the computer (remember? “Back away slowly . . .”) and get your mind off of work for a while. Even if all you’re doing is walking around the block, you’d be amazed at how refreshed and recharged you’ll be when you finally do get back to your desk. I highly recommend taking a walk whenever your writing is feeling a little forced or when you can’t find the right words to make a point, or—and this is the best time—before you respond to your insane opposing counsel’s ludicrous, inane, and totally wrong arguments.
By the way—for those of you reading this at home—that pile of fur in the corner? It’s not a coat. No, that would be your dog, and he would probably be happy to get out of the house.9 If you’re single, this is a perfect way to meet someone. Of course, that might lead to something called a date, which would lead to a relationship, which would result in you being gone for more than 15 minutes, so maybe let someone else walk Fang. You don’t want to lose too much focus.10
It should also be noted that if you have kids, walking Fang is one of their purposes in life, though in reality they probably convinced you to buy Fang by promising to walk him every day but then never actually followed through, leaving it to you to walk him every day. So think of it as payback.
What’s that? The walk didn’t do it for you? The dog growled at you? Then . . .
3. Take a Drive
This is America, darn it! It’s your constitutional right to drive! I should know—I’m a lawyer. And frankly, I’m close enough to Los Angeles these days that I am subject to what’s known ’round here as the “Missing Persons”11 rule: “Nobody Walks in L.A.”12
So get in the car and take a drive. Where? How the heck should I know? That’s up to you. Point in a direction and go. To the second star on the right.13 Or maybe you have a favorite spot for a drive. Turn on the radio if you want—thrash metal if you need to blow off some steam, or Sinatra if you want to chill out, or whatever works for you—or drive in silence.
Maybe you need to run an errand—go to the post office, the supply store, or the grocery store. Maybe you need to move the car to a shady spot, so it’s not 110 degrees when you get in it to go home,14 only 109.
So where should you go? Honestly, it doesn’t matter. Just make sure you fill up the tank first. Remember, this isn’t about meeting the nice guy with the tow truck. It’s about you getting some “you” time.
No car? No gas? (Hey! We have something in common!) Try this:
4. Pick up the Phone and Call a Friend
This one will involve a little effort on your part, because you’ll actually have to 1) remember your friend’s name, 2) recall their phone number, and 3) remind them who you are. But trust me, once you’ve done all that, you’ll agree that it’s totally worth it.
Once they realize who you are, that is. Oh, and if you’re feeling really edgy and adventurous, try calling them by actually dialing15 the number. Scary, I know. But you can do this.
And if your friend hangs up on you, then see #3. You’ll have a destination, at least.16 Or try . . .
5. Phone Your Spouse/Significant Other17
This one is for those of you who work somewhere other than your home. Because if you’re in the living room and he/she is in the dining room, you’re just gonna look like a total loser. And I’m not responsible for your relationship going into the toilet because you’re too lazy to get out of your chair.
On the other hand, if your S.O. is busy all day with small children, he or she will appreciate hearing an adult voice and actually having an adult conversation involving multisyllabic words. Just stay away from “furthermore,” “moreover,” or anything else that might appear in a legal brief. Unless you’d like to read their legal brief, of course. But that might involve something accountants call an “unusual expense.” You don’t want to know. Trust me.
Not up for a conversation? Then maybe you need to . . .
6. Take a Nap
Another good idea,18 though it can be dangerous—you might wake up hours later. Consequently, I don’t recommend this right before an important deadline.
Need help falling asleep? My S.O. claims my accounting texts work wonders. For me, her HGTV habit does the trick.
7. Do Laundry
This one is for those of you who work from home. Sure, nobody sees you. But that shouldn’t be an excuse to never change clothes. How are you supposed to be inspired if you’re still wearing what you woke up in? Of course, if that’s you, you might also want to try 7(a) Take a Shower, 7(b) Eat, and 7(c) Shave/Groom. All of which have been shown to improve your mood and help form a good start to your day.
Oh, and studies show that if your clothes are clean, people are more likely to talk to you and less likely to think you’re homeless. Which means you’re more likely to get a new client (and thus more work) and less likely to meet Officer Friendly.19
8. Go for a Run
Or do Pilates, or yoga, or stretch, or whatever exercise you enjoy. It’s not really about burning calories or building up a sweat (both of which are nice, and not to be ignored), but about—wait for it—looking away from the computer/book/paper/whatever else you’re working on for 15 minutes, and relaxing.20
For example, to blow off some steam, my girlfriend and I like to play a game called “catch me if you can.” That’s where we go for a run, and one person chases the other. Winner gets to pick what we do afterward. She’s a really fast runner. And we watch a lot of HGTV. Your mileage may vary. For your sake, I hope it does. On the other hand, I’m really liking Vern Yip’s style on Deserving Design. You got a problem with that?
9. Try Retail Therapy
When I was in law school,21 one of my classmates regularly practiced what she called “retail therapy” after final exams. For the clueless among you, retail therapy is when you go to the retail outlet of your choice and buy something—anything—without regard to cost or credit card limits.
I thought this was silly until I tried it, and then I realized that it was strangely therapeutic and uplifting. Particularly if what you buy goes really, really fast, and comes with low, low payments.22
10. Read a GPSolo Magazine Article
You might learn something or be entertained. This one will do. In fact, it’s probably taken you about 15 minutes to read this, so . . . quit goofing off and get back to work!
1. Well, maybe you can, but roll with me on this.
2. Warning: While the point of this article is to suggest things to do for a quick, 15-minute break from work, the author is not responsible if you wind up having so much fun that you’re gone for more than 15 minutes.
3. Not really; read the next footnote. No, not now. Wait until you get to it up there.
4. Suggestions courtesy of my nephews Ryan and Kyle; I was too busy to come up with this list. Of course, now that they’re both in the U.S. Army, they need this article, too.
5. Or Matt Damon, who plays Robert Ludlum’s character in the movies.
6. Mine does! Okay, you can envy me now. I give you permission. Right, that’s long enough. Back to the article.
7. At least that’s what I tell my girlfriend. I’m not sure she believes me.
8. If you’re in a multi-office environment, you could try talking to the other people you work with, thereby becoming something other than “the weird person in the corner office who never talks to anyone.”
9. The cat, on the other hand, would just like it if you left for a while. She’s getting tired of your pushing her away from that really warm spot on the desk.
10. Then again, if you’ve named your dog Fang, you may already have limited your dating options.
11. They were a mid-80s band. Had a couple of hits. You may have seen pictures, or heard one of their songs. No? Then take a break and Google them.
12. That’s actually the name of their biggest hit.
13. If it’s good enough for James T. Kirk, it’s good enough for you. Take a break and watch part of Star Trek VI now. On the TV, not the computer.
14. You do know where that is, right? Lie if you must.
15. Careful, though. You might start a trend: People dialing their phones instead of using speed dial. The horror.
16. The author takes no responsibility for what might happen as a result. You’re on your own.
17. Thanks, Shawn French.
18. Courtesy of Rick Rutledge.
19. Of course, you could always call it “research” for an ABA article, but they’re not likely to believe you. Not that I know for sure, of course.
20. You can do this. I know you can.
21. Hat tip: Faust, my contracts prof.
22. Disclaimer: The author is not responsible for negative reactions from your S.O., who may not approve of what you bought (particularly if it isn’t for them).