Breaks are a wonderful thing, especially if you work in a fast-paced or extremely stressful environment. The truth is if you work in America, you probably don’t take enough breaks. You may even be scared to take a break because of the repercussions if your boss or supervisor finds out.
Some recent studies have begun to appear, claiming taking breaks throughout the work day leads to happier workers and a more productive workforce. Is there any real benefit to taking more breaks throughout the day, or is it the wistful creation of those who want an easier work day?
Napping on the Job?
Some companies in Japan have begun allowing their workers to nap on the job. Inemuri, as it is called, is not seen as laziness or indolence. Instead, it is seen as a great indication of the worker’s dedication to his or her job. The Japanese National Health Ministry recently recommended that all working-age people take a break and, specifically, one 30-minute nap every day. Why?
They found, after conducting a poll of working-age Japanese citizens, that barely half of them felt they were getting a good night’s sleep, leaving them too tired to do their jobs both correctly and efficiently.
Why Do We Get Bored?
Why do you get bored after you spend the whole day doing the same thing over and over again? This phenomenon, known as ‘vigilance decrement,’ has been the subject of study for over 50 years, but it is only recently that scientist have discovered what is really going on inside our heads.
Previous studies on the subject have always treated attention like a finite resource, assuming that you become bored or distracted because you’ve used up all of your allotted attention.
But you don’t actually run out of attention. Instead, scientists have discovered when your brain is constantly stimulated by the same thing, it marks it as unimportant and slowly pushes it to the back of your mind.
Put it this way — even if you’re trying to focus on your project, your brain will begin to consider it unimportant if you don’t take a break now and then.
Mental Exhaustion — Real or Fake?
While you may not burn extra calories by thinking extra hard, spending a day focusing on your projects or trying to remember all of the details for an important test can leave you feeling just as tired as if you had run a marathon. After cognitive testing, healthy individuals can feel fatigued for 5-7 hours, where individuals who suffer from other ailments can feel that same mental fatigue for days afterward.
That fatigue can have a detrimental effect on productivity and work efficiency. If you are mentally exhausted, you’re more likely to make mistakes you would never have made otherwise.
How to Take a Break
Taking a break may seem like a simple concept. You walk away from your desk, go get a sugary snack to ward off that inevitable office-induced fatigue and spend a few minutes staring at your phone before you get back to work.
You’ve been doing it wrong the whole time.
Staring at your mobile device or sequestering yourself away from the rest of your coworkers allows the same cycle of mental exhaustion and boredom.
So how can you avoid falling into that same brain-draining trap?
There are four different break methods you can try to help break that mentally exhausting cycle.
- The Pomodoro Cycle. This method breaks your day down into smaller increments, making it easier to stay focused on the task at hand. One cycle is made up of four 25-minute work periods, broken up by 5 minute breaks. At the end of the cycle, take a 30 minute break. Set a timer for 25 minutes, stick to your times and you will mostly likely see a distinct improvement in your productivity.
- 15-Minute Breaks. Now you may work in a job that doesn’t allow you to break up your work cycle like the above method. Instead, just dedicate yourself to taking two 15-minute breaks every day. Try to take one break mid-morning and the second sometime in the mid-afternoon.
- Ultradian Rhythm. This method is made up of working in 90-minute increments with a 20-minute break in between each. This is a technique often utilized by professional performers, such as musicians, actors and athletes.
- The 52-17 Method. This method is similar to the previously mentioned Ultradian Rhythm in that it breaks up work periods with longer breaks. This technique focuses on shorter work bursts of 52 minutes, then taking 17-minute breaks to rest up for the next burst of work.
Having a strong work ethic is a noble thing, but working straight though without taking breaks will damage your productivity. Try to take a break, even if it’s just stretching your legs and looking away from your computer screen for a few minutes before tackling your next email or project. You may be surprised how much it helps increase your efficiency and your overall enjoyment of your job.