The One Where: We Take Breaks to Get More Done

We’ve all been there, we have lots to do so we work through our lunch break – never mind having any coffee breaks, in order to meet our deadlines. At the time, this feels like the only way to accomplish our tasks before the deadline, but does this approach actually make us more productive?

 

No, according to science.

 

Staying in one place, and/or concentrating on one thing for too long is bad for the body and the mind. It is bad for the body because it places strain on the hands, neck, back etc and it’s bad for the mind because mental fatigue becomes an issue and mistakes are made. The Energy Project, (https://theenergyproject.com) found that people go from full-focus to mental fatigue in 90 mins – and this 90 mins is longer than similar studies!

 

But why do we need to take breaks?

 

You may well be a workhorse, that can plough through tasks. For repetitive tasks, you may well ‘get away with’ less breaks, but for more complex tasks, it is important to let your mind be creative, which means taking a break. Simplifying, the brain has two modes. Focused – which is when you are doing a task, and ‘diffused’. Diffused mode is where the brain is more relaxed and when we solve complex problems. Focusing intently for long periods of time, stifles creativity. Have you ever had a brainwave when daydreaming? That’s your diffused and creative brain at work.

 

When you are ploughing through the work. It is often easy to lose sight of what you are actually doing – you just do it. Through taking a break, you give yourself more time to consider ‘why’? What is this doing? Where is the value-add? Is there a better way of doing it? It allows you to think about the bigger picture, and the purpose of the action you are taking.

 

Taking breaks gives you more time in the day to build healthier lifestyles. More breaks equals talking to your colleagues, finding time to network and opportunities to eat healthier foods. Sitting down and working through any breaks will end up with you distancing yourself from your colleagues, likely resulting in more stress, fatigue, lower morale and job satisfaction.

 

Your productivity will increase. You will be rested and able to concentrate on your task. If you are able to create a schedule of your breaks, then this can also boost productivity because you have given yourself a deadline to work towards – for example, “I need to get this task done before the break”. This has a positive effect as it breaks down tasks into smaller chunks, keeping you motivated and productive.

 

 

The concept of micro-breaks has also been championed in more recent literature. Micro-breaks are small breaks, lasting from 20secs to a couple of minutes, where you knowingly or unknowingly, break from your high focus task, allowing your mind to rest, before continuing your work again. You may already be doing this if you play on your phone for a couple of minutes or talk to a colleague about the football at the weekend frequently during the day.

 

Whilst it may seem counter-intuitive to take more breaks to be more productive, the science says it works, so why not give it a try?