Does this scene look familiar? Too busy to take a lunch break so we end up chowing down our bento box while at our desk combing through that backlog of emails. That paper napkin might as well be worn as a cape since we’re feeling so super productive. But in fact, the opposite is actually happening.
A growing body of evidence shows that taking regular breaks from mental tasks improves productivity and creatively — and skipping breaks can lead to stress and exhaustion.
A study by the University of Illinois concluded that the brain is built to detect and respond to change; prolonged attention to a single task actually hinders performance. Researchers found that when faced with long tasks (such as finishing up a project or studying for an exam) it’s best to pause and take a brief break. These mini-mental breaks will actually help you stay focused on your task and be more productive.
Besides beating boredom, breaks help your brain retain information and make connections. When we are in the “diffused” mode of thinking — when we are doing the opposite of focusing, like daydreaming— that’s when that difficult problem is processed and resolved.
So, breaks are scientifically good for you, but then why do we feel so guilty taking them?
A study of office workers and managers by Staples discovered that even though 66 percent of employees spend more than eight hours a day at work, more than a quarter of them don’t take a break other than lunch. One in five employee respondents said guilt was the reason they don’t step away from their workspaces.
And that’s with 90 percent of the bosses surveyed saying that they encouraged breaks and 86 percent of employees agreeing that taking breaks makes them more productive. It’s become normal to think that if you never take a break from work, you’ll get more done, get promoted and be more successful.
“An alarming trend that’s plaguing workers is job-related stress, which costs companies hundreds of billions of dollars each year,” says John Trougakos, Associate Professor of Management at the University of Toronto in a released statement. “Disconnecting from work can do wonders for people’s energy and mindset.”
And their overall health.
James A. Levine, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic has done studies showing that workers who remain sedentary throughout the day are impairing their health, “The design of the human body is to be a mobile entity.” says Dr. Levine.
When it comes to productivity and concentration, everyone has a different capacity. Dr. Levin encourages management to inspire employees to create individual break routines. Try working in 15-minute intense increments, punctuated by breaks in cycles that are repeated throughout the day. This works according to Dr. Levine, because “the thought process is not designed to be continuous.”
“Long hours don’t mean good work — highly efficient, productive work is more valuable,” Dr. Levin says and frequent breaks promote that.
One simple way to spend your breaks and recharge is by walking. A 20-minute stroll can increase blood flow to the brain which can boost creativity. Walking opens up the free flow of ideas, and it is a simple and healthy solution to the goals of increasing creativity and increasing physical activity. Listening to music and
Now, grab your headphones and go take a break.