You know the feeling. After a few hours of intense focus at work, your eyelids start to droop, your mind starts to drift and your muscles tense up. Your progress on the work at hand plummets. You know the solution: it's time for a break. The problem is that today many people do not take enough breaks at work.
The Human Brain Did Not Evolve in the Office
You may believe this popular myth: if you could just exert more focus and work longer, you will increase your productivity. You might be tempted to abbreviate your breaks at work, skip your lunch and just keep pushing through the fatigue.
Your employer may believe this as well. Many employers limit the amount of time available for breaks and support people who work through lunch.
This will not work for long. In the end, it will lead to burnout. When burnout sets in, then productivity really comes to a stand still. Your motivation disappears. The fact is that the human brain was not designed for long periods of intense focus.
Our brains did not evolve in an office cubicle but in the wild. They are designed to detect changes in the environment in order to identify threats to survival. Intense focus on one activity for a long time does not come naturally. When we do focus for that long, it comes with a price.
How can you solve this problem? The answer is simple. Brief interruptions can restore your focus and mental energy.
In order to stay focused, your brain needs brief breaks at periodic intervals. So you should take frequent break at work and enjoy your lunch.
There is no need to feel guilty. Your brain needs these breaks at work to stay focused on the tasks at hand.
The Benefits of Breaks
There are many benefits to taking brief breaks from your work. Here are just a few:
When you maintain your focus for a long time, your productivity begins to deteriorate. Taking breaks can keep your productivity at high levels. Breaks help to sustain your concentration and keep your energy levels high.
By taking breaks, you can increase the speed and accuracy of your work. As your mind fatigues, you naturally slow down and make mistakes. You can prevent this with frequent breaks.
The longer you work, the more uncomfortable you become. You are hunched over your computer, staring at the screen and squinting your eyes in intense concentration. Your muscles tighten and become sore. The result of intense concentration is stress and strain on your body. Frequent breaks can help alleviate this stress. They help you to reset your body and be more comfortable and productive.
Repetitive work, like data entry, is boring. Breaks at work will reduce boredom when engaged in repetitive tasks.
What to Do on Your Break?
Certainly taking breaks is important, but it is equally important how you spend your break if you want to reap all the benefits mentioned above.
You might be tempted to check your phone's messages, scroll through your social media accounts or surf the web. These activities are not really restorative. They require the same kind of focus that your work requires. Here are some better suggestions:
Physical activity can restore your mental focus and refresh your body. You can do some stretches or some basic exercises near your desk. At lunch, you can take a walk or use the gym if your workplace has one.
Mindfulness exercises are great for restoring concentration. These exercises will help you to live in the present moment and appreciate all that is going on around you. It could be as simple as spending a minute focusing on deep breathing and clearing your mind. You could also visually explore the environment you are in by trying to take in every detail about it.
Healthy eating can give your body energy for the rest of the day. When you take a break, you might be tempted to head to the snack machine for a sugary treat and a soda. This will only give you an energy crash in the afternoon. Focus on eating healthy snacks like nuts, seeds, fruit, carrots or whole grains. These foods promote brain activity and help keep your energy flowing throughout the day.
Be sure to combine eating with mindfulness. Do not just gobble down your food. Pay attention to each bite and savor every flavor. In this way, you will not only restore your body but your mind.
Spending time outside in a natural setting is also restorative. It is another way to practice mindfulness. By paying attention to the plants, trees and wildlife around you, you will restore your spirit.
Reading fiction can also be a great break. It takes your mind to a far away world that is different from your day-to-day office grind.
How Long Should Your Breaks Be?
Most workplaces allow employees to take two 15 minutes breaks in an eight-hour day in addition to a lunch break. These scheduled breaks are very helpful.
Studies also show that productivity can begin to decrease after about 45 minutes of work. It is a good idea to take a 30 second break every 45 minutes or so. Take a few deep breathes and stretch at your desk before getting back to work.
You also want to be careful to rest your eyes. Many recommend that after 20 minutes of work at a computer, you should focus your eyes on something that is at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
The Pomodoro methods suggests working for 25 minutes and then taking a five-minute rest break. After two hours of these 30-minute cycles, you should take a longer 30 minute break. You might also consider a 90-minute work period with a 20-minute rest period.
Others work in 90-minute cycles with 52 minutes of work and 17 minutes of rest. With these strategies, you approach your work time as a sprint. You try to work rapidly and get as much done as possible while working. The rests are a reward for working hard.
You are not helping your productivity by refusing breaks. Taking breaks at work is natural and healthy. Breaks restore your mental energy, increase your focus and boost your productivity. So do not feel guilty about getting up from your desk to take a breather at work.