Science-Backed Ways to Take a Break for Better Productivity
You’ve heard it before: breaks are good for productivity. Taking breaks actually helps you sustain your focus and energy, so even though you’re taking some extra time to work regular breaks into your schedule, you’re becoming a more efficient worker.
But are you really taking the right kind of break that best serves your efficiency? Let’s face it — not all breaks are helpful. In fact, you could feel just as distracted as ever right after a break when it’s time to get back to work.
Here are a few tips and techniques you can take advantage of to help optimize your breaks so they support your productivity and make you more efficient.
Work in 50-minute sprints.
The folks who run DeskTime, a productivity tracking tool, looked at the top 10 percent of their most productive users and analyzed their computer use throughout the day. What they found was that the most productive people worked for 52 minutes, treating this period like a sprint by focusing on completing a single task (no distractions or multitasking) and making the most of it.
Take a 15 to 20-minute break between 50-minute work sprints.
The DeskTime study found that the sweet spot for break time length was about 17 minutes. Although this may seem long, it’s optimal for refreshing the mind, body and attention span when you return to your work for another 50-minute sprint.
Avoid staying “plugged in” while on your break.
If you’re constantly checking email or social media while on your break, then it’s not a real break. What made the top workers in the DeskTime so productive wasn’t just a commitment to purposeful working during those 52 minutes — it was also a commitment to making breaks all about relaxation and refreshment.
Use your break to go for a walk.
Breaking up long periods of sitting with movement isn’t just great for your waistline and your heart — it’s healthy for your brain too. Stanford researchers found that walking actually boosts creative thinking. The simple act of walking itself is what does it, and while getting outside may be ideal, it’s not a requirement. Walking indoors and outdoors was shown to provide similar benefits.
Allow your mind to wander while on your break.
The great thing about getting up to walk on your break is that it gives you the opportunity to stop thinking so much about what you’ve been working on and allows your mind to wander openly and naturally. Some studies have shown that mind-wandering enhances creativity and problem solving. In other words, distraction on your break can be a very good thing.
Eat a healthy lunch or snack that isn’t too heavy.
Break time is also usually food and beverage time, and if you eat something that’s mostly sugar, or fat, or both, you’ll be in for a sluggish and drowsy ride later on. A 2001 study looked at how the right combination of carbs, protein and fat affected memory and thinking, concluding that the optimal lunch should include veggies and whole grains as carbs, protein from lean meat/beans/nuts and healthy fat like avocado or olive oil.
Now you’ve got the recipe for the perfect break. While these break tips and techniques are mainly tailored to those who work at desks and have to put a lot of mental effort into their work, you could definitely experiment with some of them to support other types of work (like perhaps housecleaning, yard work, or even reading) to see how they might benefit you there as well.
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