Keeping your head down and your nose to grindstone may appear to make you a hard worker, but it doesn’t make you more productive, or healthier. More and more studies are showing that taking short breaks during the workday will help your well-being and make you more productive.
The concept of working more productively started in the early 20th century, and was implemented by Henry Ford in the 1920s when he established the five day, eight hour schedule, creating the forty-hour workweek. The idea, based on the law of diminishing returns, recognized that having employees work longer hours didn’t result in better productivity.
A long period of physical inactivity, like sitting at your desk, creates stress on your body and mind. Taking a short break, either mental or physical, can reinvigorate you and improve your productivity. A recent British study has identified 2:55 PM as the least productive time of the workday. Logic would tell us that it’s a great time to take a break.
While popular opinion indicates that going outside for a walk for fresh air and exercise is possibly the best activity, giving your brain a diversion can be almost as beneficial. Your diversion can be checking your Facebook or Twitter account, watching non-work related videos of kittens, puppies, or babies, or even finding out what happened on this day in history. Data estimates that those who spend ten minutes on social media or surfing the web display an 8-12% increase in productivity. The essential point is to clear your mind of your tasks, and stimulate other parts of your brain.
Like a car, your body is designed to move. If you start your car in the morning and just let it idle all day, it uses up fuel, builds up deposits, and doesn’t get anywhere. Your body is the same. Taking short breaks during the day, revs up your body, and improves efficiency.
A common recommendation is that you take a 5-10 minute break every 60-90 minutes of focused work. If going outside isn’t feasible, you can consider some stretching exercises, having a healthy snack, (fruits, vegetables, or yogurt), or looking out of the window at passing traffic or pedestrians. These activities will stimulate your circulatory and respiratory systems, replenish your body’s glucose levels, and clear you mind as well as rest your eyes.
The key elements in a re-energizing break are to get away from what you’re doing, (physically and/or mentally), and use different body and brain parts. The dangers associated with breaks are doing the wrong things. Here are some dos and don’ts relating to breaks.
What To Do During A Break
- Try to get away from your desk
- Go for a walk
- Get a drink of water
- Eat a healthy snack
- Surf the web (non-work related)
- Play puzzle games (Crossword or Sudoku)
What NOT To Do During A Break
- Think about your work
- Use it to perform a different work task
- Talk shop with others
- Drink caffeine or sodas (they cause dehydration)
- Spend it at your desk
As more data surfaces on the correlation of breaks and productivity, employers are becoming increasingly aware and supportive. A number of studies have also indicated that there are benefits to short naps as a productivity improvement tool. Although there may be data that supports this position, I’m not sure the prevailing job market is ready to embrace the practice.
The fundamental message here is that taking breaks results in greater productivity, and that trying to steadily churn through your to do list is a classic case of working harder not smarter. Everyone should be dutiful in your work, but just like your car, in order to get the best performance you need to keep all of the parts in top working condition.