Taking breaks makes you more productive. Check the research.
Now that so many employees are working from home, fatigue is taking a toll in new ways. The strain on your body from staring at screens and attending zoom meetings builds up over the course of a long day. And when we don’t know how to take effective breaks, the end results are predictable: we’re less motivated and less productive.
For starters, Zoom fatigue is a real thing. A recent Stanford study isolated four main reasons why the new surge in excess face-time on Zoom is slowly draining us and contributing to that wave of exhaustion that hits late afternoon:
Another buzzkill impacting our productivity and draining our mental resources is decision-making. As a leader, you’re responsible for coming up with plans, making tough calls, and navigating constant problem solving for your team. All day. No wonder you’re feeling sluggish when 5 o’ clock rolls around.
Creative burnout can also affect your workflow. Being responsible for coming up with new ideas and generating meaningful content at work can be as much of a drain on your energy as making sure you look alert and interested in a zoom meeting. Forcing yourself to constantly churn out new ideas might not actually be as effective as you might think. If you’re experiencing creative burnout, it’s hard to come up with content that meets your standards.
But a deadline is a deadline, so what can you do?
The good news is studies show that the most productive employees are the ones who take more frequent breaks throughout the day. But before you close this article to go take your next 15, consider there’s a right way to take those breaks.
The reason why breaks can be so effective is because they allow you to step away from what you’re working on and focus on something entirely different than your work. Ideally, something that refreshes you and re-energizes you to get back to the rhythm of your workday.
It’s this disconnection from the daily grind that allows for more creativity and innovation. You don’t have to take a full year off just to get the rest you need. Breaking away from your work from time to time on a typical day is just as effective. Disconnection from screens gives your body the rest it needs to continue performing at its best.
When it comes to taking breaks, there are the habits that don’t give your brain a proper rest, and habits that do.
Let’s get into it:
Notice a pattern? One of the common themes among these bad habits is the attachment to a screen. No, it’s not really a break for your mind or body if you switch from a browser where you’re working to a browser where you’re shopping. Your brain is still putting in the work to process all the visual information, plus you’re still inundated with choices to make. You might find after a break like this, you’re no more rested than you were before. And you might still be stuck in a rut, unable to generate those crucial new best-selling ideas.
Same goes for tuning into messaging apps or texting on your break. Moving from one screen to another won’t give your mind the chance it needs to rest. And that rest is what’s going to boost your productivity.
So how do you take better breaks, then?
The best breaks let your mind detach from what you’ve been concentrating on, giving your brain an essential pause. Engaging in movement, rest, and getting outside are all ways to calm your mind, get your blood flowing, and re-awaken your senses. When you walk away from something you’ve been hyper-focused on and put your attention on something else, you might be surprised by the new ideas that come to mind when you return to the task with a fresh perspective.
Studies show taking micro-breaks throughout the day is ideal. This is different from the traditional model of two fifteens and a lunch. But everyone’s different.
People who find themselves fatigued after 90 straight minutes of working might make a break schedule that supports less burnout. Some people set a timer for 25 minutes and focus intently on their work until it runs out. This method is the Pomodoro technique, and that 25 minute cycle is called a “Pomodoro”. After working through one Pomodoro, they take a short break to pause, relax their mind with a quick walk or meditation, then return to their work and start the timer over. After four Pomodoros, they take a longer break of 20 - 30 minutes.
When you break depends on your own workflow. And considering the average 8-hour employee only gets a solid 3 hours of actual work done in a day, there’s a lot of flexibility for how you decide when you break.
Pay attention to how you feel during the day.
When does your attention start to fade?
When do you start to feel restless and unfocused?
When do you feel fatigued or foggy?
When do you feel too busy?
Those are definitely good times to take that break. But experimenting with taking breaks before fatigue strikes is even better. That way you learn a method that helps you avoid that burnout altogether.
You might be thinking, “Wait, what? When I feel too busy I should take a break?” That’s right. The whole idea of taking breaks to increase productivity can seem counterintuitive, especially when we do find ourselves in this “too busy” zone. It’s important to recognize when we’re feeling overworked, that’s when we need breaks the most. Like the old Zen saying, “Meditate for 20 minutes a day. Unless you are too busy, then meditate for an hour.” It clears our minds, improves our energy, and increases our ability to focus so we actually get the work done. So when you’re buried in to-do lists that keep getting longer and longer, breaks can help you actually check things off, moving you forward where stress has you stuck.
So set a timer for anywhere between 5 - 15 minutes and step away from the desk. I find that a lot of the time, 5 minutes is all I need to refocus. But some days it’s 10. Give yourself the chance to recharge and feel it out for yourself. After taking your break (the right way), come back and recommit to your work. See how you feel.
Over time, you’ll start to notice what frequency of breaks feels good to your body and benefits your own workflow.
Normally, we’re used to scheduling when we work and when we take our lunches. Consider making a schedule for when you break, too. After you get used to your own rhythm, you can put the breaks you’d naturally take into your schedule so it’s easier not to miss them.
And it’s okay for there to be a little spontaneity. If you need an extra five minutes for coffee in the morning or you want to take 10 to walk around the block after a stressful call, give yourself a break! You’ll feel better and more productive when you do get back to work since you took the time to clear your mind and reset your senses.
The secret’s out. Taking the right kind of breaks at the right time improves your productivity. Detaching from the screen and practicing good habits for breaks will leave you feeling more rested and have you putting your best effort forward at work. So send this post to your manager and let them know you’ll be back in 10. 😉
Enjoy your break.
When I'm not writing blog posts and help articles, I'm chatting with customers. I help you get the answers you're looking for so GQueues runs as smoothly as possible for you and your teams. And who would I be without my oatmilk latte in the morning? ☕️