As a species, we’ve spent most of the last few thousand years outdoors doing physical labor so it’s perhaps no surprise that sitting in front of a computer for eight hours a day, with just one break for lunch, doesn’t really come naturally to us. That’s not to say we can’t do it. In fact, I’m sure most the people reading this blog have pushed on through an eight hour day on more than one occasion. The problem is that when we do so we’re less productive and we’re likely to produce a lower quality of work than we would otherwise. Fortunately, there’s a simple solution to this problem: regular breaks. Even a short break can improve focus and performance.
How often should we take a break?
The obvious question we’re going to have is how regular these breaks need to be to keep us running at optimum performance. The magic number 90 is often thrown around: one break every 90 minutes. This number is almost certainly taken from the work of psychologist K. Anders Ericsson who has shown that top performers in many areas (including actors, chess players and violinists) tend to work for concentrated periods of 90 minutes before having a break. For this reason, a lot of people recommend breaks every 90 minutes. Personally, I favor a less one-size-fits-all approach and prefer to suggest that people should take breaks somewhere between every 30 and 90 minutes depending on the rhythm that suits them and the task they’re currently working on (of course, the more often you have a break, the shorter it will need to be if you want to get that job finished on time!).
What to do on a break
So that’s the when but what about the how? What are the best ways to spend these short breaks? More important than anything else is this one simple rule: do not continue to sit at your computer. Scrolling through Facebook or clicking onto Youtube can be easy, but a proper break requires you to get out of your work environment so that you can come back refreshed. Here are 5 of our favorite ideas.
#1: Get some exercise (yoga!)
Physical activity is a particularly powerful way to get a break from intellectual activities. It’s good for your health, good for your mood and good for your focus. So if you’re deciding what to do on your break, getting some exercise has to come near the top of the list. Looking for something that you can do at work? Why not do some yoga. There are plenty of guides out there for how to do yoga in the office (like this one).
Being social is another one of the most powerful ways to boost our performance. Why not arrange to grab a coffee with a work colleague or give a friend a call and have a chat. No one available to socialize with? Be old fashioned and write a letter to a friend that you don’t manage to find the time to speak to often.
#3: Go for a walk
Okay, walking is physical activity so I guess I already covered this under idea #1. Still, as well as letting you stretch out your legs and getting a bit of physical activity, walking has another benefit: it gets you out of the office for a few minutes. A change of environment can be a great way to get the best from your break.
While there’s still controversy over what the science says about the health benefits of meditation, plenty of scientists agree that it’s effective. In any case, regardless of the exact medical value of meditation, it’s a great way to relax so why not give it a try at work (Wikihow has a how-to guide for those new to meditation).
The take home lesson
But look, it doesn’t matter if you go for a walk or meditate or do yoga or socialize or ignore all of these suggestions. The important thing is that you take a break and that your break takes you away from your computer. This, more than anything else, is the key to greater productivity. Bonus tip #5: If you’re reading this blog post as part of your break – stop, step away from the desk, and take a real break! Why not share this post to encourage your friends and colleagues to take a break? Or tell us how you spend your break in the comments below. photo credit: John Wiseman via photopin cc