Start Stopping - Personal Development Advice

Start Stopping - Personal Development Advice

Written by Professional Academy Management and Leadership Tutor, Kathryn Knights

When was the last time you gave yourself permission to stop? The modern world is filled with distractions and demands for our time. Taking breaks during work is vital for your physical and mental health. If you push yourself or too long without giving your brain a rest you start to become irritable, easily distracted and fatigue sets in. As a school teacher of mine always used to say at the end of each lesson - it’s time to start stopping.

Our brains have two modes: ‘focused mode’ and ‘diffuse mode’. When we are in focused mode we’re doing things like learning something new. When we are in ‘diffuse mode’ we feel more relaxed and daydreamy because we’re not thinking so hard. You might think that the focused mode is the optimal mode to be in at all times, but diffuse mode is important too. Some studies have shown that the mind solves its stickiest problems while daydreaming. Breakthroughs that seem to come out of nowhere are often the product of diffuse mode thinking.

Stopping in the present moment

Pomodoro TechniquePomodoro

The Pomodoro Technique is a simple way of structuring your breaks and improving productivity. It was developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. Pomodoro means ‘tomato’ in Italian and Cirillo named the technique after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that he used when he was a university student.

Here’s how it works: set a timer for 25 minutes and start workin- . When the timer stops take a five minute break (one Pomodoro). Repeat this process a further four times. Then take a 15-20 minute break.

Working in this way will help your mind feel refreshed and focused. Make sure your breaks also involve being away from your screen. Getting up and moving around promotes movement of the major muscle groups in your legs which is important for your physical health.


It’s been proven time and time again that getting outside in a green space is vital for good mental health. It improves self-esteem, mood and sleep quality. It also reduces stress, anxiety and fatigue. When you remain active you have a reduced risk of becoming depressed, and if you feel depressed walking is great way to recover.

History’s most creative and successful people integrated walking into their daily routines. After writing from 9am to 2pm, Charles Dickens would go for a long walk. A 20-30 miler was routine for him. When Dickens couldn’t sleep at night, he’d walk London’s streets until dawn. Despite his serious obsession, walking clearly worked for Dickens. He was prolific – writing novels, short stories and plays.

Stopping to reflect on the past


If the idea of journaling fills you with thoughts of the diary you kept as teenager – think again. People who invest in themselves and really want to get ahead keep a journal.

A journal is a personal and private notebook that captures your thoughts on a daily basis. Journals can take different forms so pick one that works for you. Or create a structure all of your own.

Types of journal:

  • Stream of consciousness – writing about anything that comes into your mind
  • Awesome list – writing down only the good things that have happened
  • Structured / goal led – using headings to track your progress against a specific goal e.g. what have you achieved, what worked, what didn’t, what have your learnt
  • Travel journal – capturing all the things that happened during a trip

Keep in mind that you might want to change or evolve your journal as your needs change. For example, I started this year writing a goal led journal, then moved into writing a travel journal and I am currently writing an awesome list journal.

The great thing about journals is that they force you to stop and think regularly about what has happened over the past 24-hours. Rather than continually looking forward they provide an opportunity to reflect and look backwards. I find the awesome list journal is a great way to boost self-esteem as it captures all the good things I have achieved – however large or small. I make a habit of reading my journal at the end of each week to re-set my mind and give me a boost for the week ahead.

Two-week sprints

If you’re looking for a regular review technique that works well in teams then two-week sprints are ideal. Sprints are a defined period of time where you work on a goal. It’s a core tool of the Scrum methodology, which is an approach that allows a team to self-organise and make changes quickly, in accordance with agile principles.

You start by setting your goal, agree what actions will happen each day to help you sprint to your goal. At the end of the two weeks you stop and review.

This is a fun way of working that fosters real energy and motivation in a team. Using sprints also gets people into the habit of stopping on a regular basis and reflecting on the past in order to be successful in the future.

If you need further advice, get in touch via My Website or LinkedIn.

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