The modern office is a fast-paced place, and as a result, stress levels of employees are rocketing. Newsweek reports that anxiety and depression are at an all-time high among Americans. This is carrying over into the workplace, and staying productive can seem like an impossible feat.
Knowing this, it might surprise you to learn one of the most important things you can do to maximize your productivity: you need to take more breaks.
Stress Reaches a Peak
Workers are “reaching an information breaking point”, according to an extensive international survey done by LexisNexis.
59 percent of workers surveyed across the United States, Australia, China, the United Kingdom, and South Africa have said that the “amount of information they have to process at work has significantly increased since the economic downturn” in 2008. This has led to a loss of productivity and increased anxiety.
These workers also “report spending slightly more than half (51%) of their workday receiving and managing information, rather than actually using information to do their jobs.”
It doesn’t help that employers are expecting more and more out of their team. “Lingering effects from the 2008 recession, which caused widespread downsizing, continue to put pressure on new hires today,” according to Fast Company.
So, there’s more pressure in the workplace than ever, and employees are expected to churn out excellent work in half the time. Employee stress can lead to a poorer quality of work, destruction of company culture, and serious health repercussions.
What’s the Science?
This all means that you absolutely need to be giving your brain a break throughout your workday. Scientific American reports that the brain is constantly demanding 20 percent of all the energy the body produces. It goes on to explain that “downtime is an opportunity for the brain to make sense of what it has recently learned, to surface fundamental unresolved tensions in our lives and to swivel its powers of reflection away from the external world toward itself.”
Taking breaks means you can work smarter, not longer. This will result in more productive workdays, higher levels of personal success, and better overall health.
What Break to Take
So we now know breaks are important. However, your productivity also strongly depends on what kind of break you take. There are really two ways to work. 1) In short increments of productivity, or 2) in longer, marathon sessions of work followed by long rests.
When reevaluating your work habits, it’s easiest to start out slow. Try the Pomodoro method, which advises 25 minutes of work followed by five minutes of downtime. After four “Pomodoros”, take a longer 15 or 30-minute break.
There’s a reason this method is so popular; Lifehacker says “The Pomodoro Technique is often championed by developers, designers, and other people who have to turn out regular packages of creative work.” This applies to most professionals, especially marketing specialist and entrepreneurs.
Are you looking to get even more done? A study by Deskmate that evaluated data of productive employees showed that the most productive people work for 57 minutes, followed by a 17 minute break.
This might seems preposterous by a workaholic’s standards, but it makes sense. The study showed that those productive employees worked smarter, not longer. By knowing a longer break was coming up, they managed to commit to getting more done in the time they were actively working.
Extend Your Focus
Our brains aren’t built for extreme focus for hours at a time. Those 57 minutes hit a marker in productivity. Buffer explains, “the human brain just wasn’t built for the extended focus we ask of it these days. Our brains are vigilant all the time because they evolved to detect tons of different changes to ensure our very survival. So focusing so hard on one thing for a long time isn’t something we’re ever going to be great at.”
The time away can also heighten creativity; by stepping away from our projects briefly, we allow our brains to reset and refresh. A study by Science Daily showed that “activity in many regions of the brain increases when your minds wander. Your brain solves its difficult problems while you daydream.”
What to Do, When to Do it
You’ve seen the science, you know the methods, but the final piece of the puzzle is important: what you do on your break. Sitting at your desk and checking your Facebook is a temporary respite from the workday grind, but it’s overall an ineffective break because it keeps you glued to your screen and sedentary.
The Huffington Post reports that people who sit for more than six hours a day die earlier and are at a higher risk for depression, obesity, cancer, and type 2 diabetes. That’s scary stuff! The good news is you can minimize these risks with strategic breaks. If possible, get a standing desk or exercise ball. If you’re stuck with a regular office chair, then make sure you’re getting up and moving every twenty minutes.
The best type of breaks get you away from your computer and phone. So give your brain something non-electronic to focus on. Try to do something entirely different than sitting at your desk.
The creator of the Pomodoro method has a list of activities you can do on your five-minute break and advises not committing to any break activity that’s too strenuous or absorbing. Good ideas are refilling your water or making a cup of coffee. Try walking a quick lap around the office, stepping outside for fresh air, or even meditating for five minutes.
The most important takeaway is that you need to shake up your routine, get your blood flowing, and give your brain a break from the constant stream of information in the workplace. By working in productive increments, you’ll be surprised at how much you can achieve.