The mantra “more work means more productivity” is starting to lose its stranglehold over the workforce as more studies emerge that show breaks are actually good for you and your ability to concentrate.
Though many of us have grown accustomed to justifying break-skipping by relying on the excuse that we’re simply “too busy,” a Staples study says it might actually come down to guilt. More than a quarter of workers don’t a break other than lunch, and one in five employees says they feel guilty about stepping away from their desks while on the clock.
Feeling guilty about taking time out during the day is certainly understandable: whether you’re writing code, content or business strategy, the pressure to constantly churn out new work product remains high, especially in startup environments where there never seems to be a shortage of things in need of getting done.
So when a fresh stack of “to-do” items lands on our desks, our natural reaction is to hunker down and prepare for the long haul. But, as Buffer’s Courtney Reiter points out, there’s a good chance that “powering through” a project for a few hours may actually do more harm than good.
The bottom line, she says, is that we all need to take more breaks. Here are her reasons why, backed by science:
1. Breaks keep us from getting bored (and thus, unfocused)
When you’re in “the zone” it feels like you can get through anything. But the brain isn’t really built to stay there that long: spending too much time in a high-intensity productivity binge can actually leave us feeling unfocused, burned out or even irritable
2. Breaks help us retain information and make connections
Studies show that brain activity actually increases when our minds are allowed to wander, like when we’re in the shower or on a long drive. Some even claim to get their best ideas during these times.
3. Breaks help us reevaluate our goals
Quoting the Harvard Business Review, Seiter says breaks allow us to step back and make sure we’re tackling problems the right way:
When you work on a task continuously, it’s easy to lose focus and get lost in the weeds. In contrast, following a brief intermission, picking up where you left off forces you to take a few seconds to think globally about what you’re ultimately trying to achieve. It’s a practice that encourages us to stay mindful of our objectives.
In other words, our brains aren’t wired for long-term, high-intensity work sessions. Reiter suggests giving your brain a rest with one of these four methods:
The Pomodoro Method
One approach is to work in small bursts: 25 minutes on, five minutes off. Use that five minutes to stretch, grab a drink or just stare off into space. After four Pomodoro sessions, take a longer 30-minute break instead and then begin the cycle again.
90-Minute Work Blocks
Maybe you’re more of a long-distance runner. With this method, which takes advantage of our bodies’ natural rhythms, work in 90-minute intervals with 20-minute breaks
The 52-17 Method
This model splits the difference between the Pomodoro and 90-Minute Methods by setting a timer for 52-minute blocks followed by 17-minute breaks. Why 52 minutes? A study by the Draugiem Group found that users treated their working times like sprints, in an effort to maximize the time they had available. In other words, they worked with more purpose because of the relatively short time between breaks.
Take Two 15-Minute Breaks a Day
A simpler, but equally effective method is also an old standby: in addition to lunch, plan two 15-minute break periods throughout the day: on in the morning before lunch and one in the mid-afternoon after lunch.
Reiter also offers up a few tips on how to spend that break time. If you’re not comfortable with “sitting quietly,” try these instead:
- Take a walk
- Get a coffee
- Draw something
Photo Credit: Ed Schipul via Flickr