Many of us feel like our days are back to back workflow with no “white space” on the calendar for breaks. On the surface, this can feel like we’re getting a lot done, but in truth, scheduling days like this is actually counter-productive. Breaks allow our brains the chance to refocus and refresh, which boosts productivity. So the question is, how much or how often should you take a break?
Timed Work Breaks
The science shows it’s not about how many breaks you take. Rather, it’s about how long you should do focused work before you need to take a break. In general, our brains are wired to apply focused attention to something for 75 to 90 minutes. At that point, a 15-minute break actually helps our brains retain the information better. It’s far more effective for productivity than sugar, caffeine, or tapping your own energy reserves – healthier too.
If you don’t have one highly focused task that takes an hour and a half, that’s okay. The most productive 10% of workers break their day into “sprints” of 52 minutes of work with 17 minutes of rest in between. People who break their days up this way get more done without working longer hours and are more efficient than their counterparts.
Another option, if your tasks are even shorter, or you simply get antsy, is to work for 25 minutes and then take a five-minute break.
Effectively Using Breaks
It’s almost a default for people to use their breaks to eat, drink coffee, or vent to peers about their workday. Unfortunately, these methods don’t actually renew your energy. Instead, you need to mentally disengage. Morning break activities can include meditation, goal setting activities, talking with a friend, etc.
Afternoon breaks are work best for other activities that also boost your energy for the remainder of the day. Exercise not only keeps you healthy and manages weight, but it also boosts your afternoon energy level. A 20-minute walk or bike ride can be the ideal use for an afternoon break.
Another afternoon break option is a nap. While many European cultures have an afternoon siesta as a cultural norm, in America, you need to carve out this time for yourself. Use an alarm clock to make sure you don’t overextend your nap time. If you don’t work from home, it’s still possible to take an afternoon nap in the car. You may need to spend some weekend time setting it up for maximum restfulness.
Instead of seeing breaks as a waste of time or slacking off, switch your thought process. Breaks increase your productivity, help you work more efficiently, and are an important part of maximizing your time and brain power.
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