Smart Lawyers Take Microbreaks

By | Oct.07.13 | Daily Dispatch, Law Practice Management, Productivity, Time Management


Scientific studies show that taking a 30-second microbreak periodically during the day can reduce stress and increase productivity. One microbreak technique, in 30 seconds, will cause you to be more centered (C), aware (A) and resourceful (R). The technique involves pressing your thumb against your little finger, as if pressing a button — hence its nickname, the “CAR Button.”

The Science Behind the Microbreak

Before we discuss how to activate your CAR ButtonTM let’s discuss the science behind it.

  1. A joint study between Cornell University and Lockheed Martin showed a 59 percent productivity improvement when keyboarders took 30-second microbreaks periodically during the day. These microbreaks could be as simple as a posture check, a stretch, standing up, or a walk to the water cooler.
  2. A study of 21,000 people demonstrated that taking six deep breaths reduced systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure and pulse rate, all of which are signs of stress reduction. This moves your physiology more from the fight-or-flight sympathetic nervous system (which constricts the vascular system) over to the calmer, less stressed parasympathetic nervous system, allowing for more dilated vascular blood vessels (allowing more blood to flow to the brain).
  3. Brain science involving left brain-right brain research shows how to leverage the dominant functions of the right cerebral cortex (seeing colors and performing abstract functions) and the left cerebral cortex (working with numbers and using analysis to find solutions) to calm the mind of unwanted mental chatter. This quieting of the mind prepares the mind and body for a period of very clear-headed, focused activity.
  4. We are able to quickly communicate messages about motion to the brain and body by using the conscious and subconscious messaging of the iconic imagery of traffic science, specifically, the globally accepted colors of the traffic signal, which are green (go), yellow (slow down and get ready to stop) and red (stop). In the CAR Button process you will be asking the brain to look at the top fingerprint portion of the small pinky finger and imagine seeing a green circle on that spot with the number 1 inside the green circle. This has the result of capturing much of the conscious attention of both the left and right brain hemispheres to achieve the assigned task. Don’t worry if you cannot actually “see” the green circle with the number 1 in the center of it; just imagine that you see it. Then go to the next step.
  5. A 2012 study published in Psychological Science stated that “… wearing a smile [even a pretend smile] brings certain benefits, like slowing down the heart and reducing stress.”
Creating Your Centered-Aware-Resourceful Button, aka Your CAR Button

Now, you have the scientific background to tap into the microbreak power of the CAR Button, and here is how to do it.

  1. On the fingerprint pad of your left little finger, imagine that you see a green circle with a “1” on it. Now press your left thumb against the green circle, release your thumb, and
  2. Now replace the green circle with a yellow circle with a “2” on it and press your left thumb against the yellow circle, release your thumb, and
  3. Now replace the yellow circle with a red circle with a “3” on it and press your left thumb against the red circle, and then continue to comfortably press the red circle with your thumb while taking six deep relaxing breaths. At the end of the sixth breath, release the thumb and smile inside while allowing the ends of your lips to come up into a slight smile (or a big smile). Do this slowly and deliberately.

Set your computer or smartphone to remind you to take a CAR Button 30-second microbreak every two to three hours. Most of the time when the reminder pops up you’ll think, “I don’t have  30 seconds, right now.” But when you “take control” and pause for those 30 seconds you will feel better — with the added message to your subconscious that you are in control of your life, not at the mercy of circumstances.

Of course, there will be the occasional microbreak reminder you’ll have to ignore, but for that millisecond you may think, “centered, aware, resourceful.” Try this not only when you need to calm yourself in preparation for an important meeting, talk or trial, but also periodically to maintain focus and work-life balance. Given time, linger on the last part and take a few extra deep relaxing breaths, as the tension in your shoulders melts away and your whole body feels refreshed with increased focus and clear-headed alertness.

Next time you’re in your car and you see a traffic signal, you may just remember to take advantage of the science behind the CAR Button microbreak.

David King Keller is the award-winning author of 100 Ways to Grow a Thriving Law Practice, and the ABA best-seller The Associate as Rainmaker: Building Your Business Brain. He is CEO of Keller Business Development Advisory Group. He has lectured at UC Hastings College of The Law, various county bar associations, annual ABA Conferences and law firm training sessions. He is a member of the ABA, BASF, AAJ and LMA. His company website,, provides many free articles, including “Social Media for Lawyers.”  

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20 Responses to “Smart Lawyers Take Microbreaks”

  1. Mary K.
    7 October 2013 at 9:57 am #

    Interesting and fascinating! I can’t wait to incorporate this technique into my day and experience the benefits!

  2. Marilyn M
    7 October 2013 at 10:36 am #

    Thanks for the background and insight into this technique. Great information!

  3. Rudy P
    7 October 2013 at 11:33 am #

    Great advice for an industry of stress-a-holics! I can already feel the stress dripping off of my body!

  4. Blair
    7 October 2013 at 11:40 am #

    Incredible. This actually works. I just hope that I can keep up the habit. I might try a 5 day challenge. I have been following this author and have found his articles insightful and relevant.

  5. Kristen Young
    7 October 2013 at 1:47 pm #

    This technique would come in handy for many professionals. I’ll give it a try — who couldn’t use more productivity?

  6. Jim Raggio
    7 October 2013 at 4:05 pm #

    Interesting! Will try it.

  7. David
    7 October 2013 at 4:24 pm #

    great piece. would love to read more by this author. i’m going to get his book.

  8. Nate Bolt
    7 October 2013 at 7:26 pm #

    Awesome tips for escaping the evil machines for a little bit here and there, Dave. Sent from a laptop in a cab. Maybe I need more then a micro-break.

  9. Beth H.
    7 October 2013 at 7:32 pm #

    I’m thinking teachers need to take these microbreaks!! This sounds like the perfect solution to a stressful day. Thanks for the current research and useful strategy!

  10. Brian Y.
    8 October 2013 at 9:42 am #

    Great technique. Even more important than productivity, in my opinion, is quality of work. Small breaks to center yourself and collect your thoughts ensure that your client will be getting the quality they expect and deserve.

  11. Susan Baldwin
    8 October 2013 at 4:00 pm #

    I love this reminder, one that everyone of us can practice in only 30 seconds! I’ve been doing this for a while now since first learning about it in David’s groundbreaking book, Associate As Rainmaker. If you haven’t read it, you must! David discusses the CAR method in detail. Not only that, it is chock full of practical tips, strategies and forms that any lawyer will find valuable.

    Susan B.

  12. Kent McKeithan
    9 October 2013 at 9:29 pm #

    Great stuff, Dave, and it ain’t just for lawyers. Thanks for sending us the link!

  13. Elsa McKeithan
    10 October 2013 at 11:30 am #

    I needed to hear this today! Counting to 10 never worked for me. This works. Imagine! Thirty seconds and your head’s clear and focused. Thanks, David!

  14. Dave Bolt
    11 October 2013 at 1:58 pm #

    Great ideas Dave, you always have wonderful insight into how to make life better as we work through the day.

  15. Kris C.
    11 October 2013 at 8:10 pm #

    Thank you David. I’ve bookmarked your article.

    And for a two-minute break idea, see social psychologist Amy Cuddy’s TED talk on “power posing”:

  16. Ann Eakins
    12 October 2013 at 10:06 pm #

    I will certainly use this technique during my day. I like that I can engage both sides of the brain at the same time. Thanks David.

  17. Howard Hale
    15 October 2013 at 11:47 am #

    Very thoughtful article David, I am going to use this technique today! Would you be OK if I re-posted this article on my website?