Breaks are scientifically proven to boost focus and productivity. A 2008 University of Illinois study found that the brain’s attentional resources drop after a long period of focusing on a single task, decreasing our focus and hindering performance. But even brief diversions, the study found, could significantly increase one’s ability to focus on that task for prolonged periods of time.
Though breaks might seem counterproductive, they’re more important than ever in the 24/7 workplace of constant connectivity and non-stop streams of emails. We’re constantly checking and updating our email, Twitter and Facebook, in addition to the other work we’re doing, and frequently we forgo real breaks in favor of cyber-loafing or Facebook-updating.
There’s no way to perform at your highest level without allowing time for rest.
1) Reduce boredom
As we increasingly demand information in smaller snippets rather than longer, more in-depth articles, our attention spans are becoming smaller. We’re all bombarded with so much information and marketing that we’re becoming immune to anything but the quickest and easiest things for our brains to digest.
Our attention spans are now a paltry 8 seconds – a goldfish can pay attention for longer than that!
One way that we can stay focussed and concentrate on the task at hand is to take regular breaks. This enables a change of scenery and external stimuli, that will effectively recharge our focus and allow us to continue when we get back to our desks.
Going for a walk outdoors is best, but even going to a room in the office that overlooks a natural scene, such as a park or woodland, can suffice.
2) Improve creativity
Removing yourself from the sights and sounds that you’ve been exposed to for any length of time, while at your desk, will stimulate your senses.
Again, taking a walk outside is best, but going anywhere that has a variety of colours, textures and sounds will inspire your creative side and help you think about the task at hand or new ideas.
If you work in a silent office, then the lack of noise can stifle your creativity. Taking a break and visiting a busier place with ambient noise is an effective strategy to boost your creative thinking and get back ‘in the zone’.
If you’re in a mindful mood then you can even practice meditation, which can boost your creativity.
3) Increase productivity
Taking regular breaks may be seen by some as counterproductive, however it’s actually the opposite that’s true. Stepping away from your desk helps you to recharge your focus and concentration, allowing you to continue with work upon your return.
One of the most popular productivity techniques is called the ‘Pomadoro Technique’.
The method is simple:
- Set a timer for 25 minutes
- Focus on your work for 25 minutes
- After 25 minutes take a short 5 minute break
- That’s one “pomodoro”
- Repeat the above process, at every four pomodoros, take a longer 15-30 minutes break
Another boost for productivity is a hit of caffeine, if the below stats are anything to go by!
46% of workers claim they are overall less productive without their java. 20% of coffee drinkers claim that it allows them to better socialise with their co-workers and 10% say that it helped them focus before giving a presentation.
4) Improve wellbeing
Moving away from your desk and standing up for periods of time throughout the day is much better for your health than staying put and staring at your monitor constantly.
Using a computer, laptop or mobile device for long periods can cause eyestrain, headaches and blurred vision. This is known as ‘computer vision syndrome’. By simply getting up and moving away from your desk regularly throughout the day, you’ll help yourself to avoid these problems and potentially taking time off work, which your employer will benefit from too.
Some great advice from BUPA regarding staying healthy in the office is:
Sitting in the same position for a long time at work can leave you feeling tense and achy. If you work at a computer, tension across your back, neck, shoulders and arms is common.
Shrug it off and use your breaks to get moving and do some stretches. The upper back stretch is particularly helpful. Cross your arms and raise your hands to rest on the front of your shoulders. Then using your arms, push your shoulders back, keeping your elbows down. Hold this position for 15 seconds and then repeat three times.
To help ease tension throughout the day, follow our top three tips.
- Break up long spells of work on a computer, or if you do a job where you’re in the same position for a long time
- Take 5 to 10 minute breaks every hour if possible
- Use your breaks to get moving. Go for a walk or to the gym on your lunch break and have ‘mini’ walks and stretches regularly throughout the day
5) Improve collaboration/relationships
Using your breaks to meet with colleagues and interact is great for office relations, collaboration and engagement. Without distracting your colleagues, you can get updates on tasks, share ideas and organise projects.
Being seen as a colleague and member of staff that takes an active interest in what’s going on around the business can only have a positive impact on your profile as an employee.
Speaking with business leaders is also a great way to use your breaks to benefit your career. As well as building relationships with senior members of the business, you can also build your personal brand and promote yourself to managers from different areas of the company.
6) Increase employee advocacy
If you feel that you’re encouraged to take breaks and that your wellbeing is important to your employer, then you’re more likely to become a brand advocate and share that positive news with friends and family, probably through social media.
This is great for your employers brand and essentially free marketing for them.
Employees who feel happy and healthy will be more productive and less likely to look for alternative employment, this in turn reduces turnover and the costs associated with it.
Businesses that are known to take care of their employees are a very attractive prospect for talent looking for a position. Attracting passive candidates in this way will reduce recruitment costs and time to recruit.