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I want to talk to you today about a very simple intervention that can save you a ton of headaches and increase your productivity and happiness.

Take a break.

Sometimes my work can be frustrating. I spend a lot of my time writing, and it can be difficult to figure out how to communicate ideas clearly. Recently I was editing a manuscript that I am an author on, and I started to get frustrated. I knew what we had down wasn’t great. The writing and presentation of results was disorganized and confusing. I kept trying to move sections around and re-write certain parts of the paper. The paper didn’t seem to be improving. In fact, I wondered if I was making it worse.

I started to get frustrated, both with the writing project and myself as a writer. I even started to get angry with my colleague who had drafted the paper. “This paper is terrible,” I told myself. “Why didn’t my colleague do a better job of drafting it?” “I’m spending all this time on this stupid paper, and it isn’t getting any better!”

My anger and frustration didn’t help me think any clearer. In fact, I think my anger and frustration made the situation worse.

When I get in situations like these, I need to take a break. I need to put down my laptop, and do something else. Maybe move on to a different project, or even exercise or watch a movie. Whatever it is, I need to put the project aside and take a break from it, at least for the rest of the day.

After I take a break, what usually happens is when I get back to the project, a day or two later, I’m in a better place emotionally and can think more clearly. And I usually have better results.

This advice to take a break can be helpful in our relationships as well. When I am angry or frustrated, it is difficult for me to think and communicate clearly. I might say something to my friend or family member I regret later, which can make things worse. A better option might be to take a break and cool down, and come back to the discussion at a later date.

The key is to be self-aware and notice when I am getting angry and frustrated. For me, I notice my muscles in my face and neck start to tense up. I get antsy and might start bouncing my leg. Those are my ‘cues’ it might be time to take a break.

Most of the time in life, it’s okay to take a break and come back to something later. There usually isn’t a rule that says we need to finish a project or deal with an interpersonal issue right this second. Because the fact of the matter is, when you are feeling angry or frustrated, you are less likely to be successful in whatever it is you are trying to accomplish.

This is true whether you are writing a paper or trying to resolve a conflict with your spouse.

If you take a break and come back to it when you are feeling more at ease and peaceful, you are more likely to be able to direct your energy to discover a creative solution to your problem.

So… I think I will follow my own advice and put away the frustrating paper for now. I will get to it another day.

And that’s okay.

Discussion: What are your ‘cues’ when you are getting angry and frustrated? Next time you notice yourself feeling that way, try to take a break and get back to it another day. Did this strategy work?