Why Taking a Break Actually Increases Productivity
Have you ever watched a NASCAR or Indy Car Race and the leading car heads to the pit for gas and a tire change?
On the outside it appears like a waste of time and they actually lose the lead.
But what happens if they push it and push it hoping they make it to the end?
I’ve watched a race where the lead driver blows a bald tire or worse, runs out of gas. Why?
They didn’t take the time for the much needed break.
The same principle is true in our daily productivity.
What appears like a waste of time when 15 more minutes of work could’ve been completed is actuality short-sighted.
But it’s easy to judge and brag on pushing through and being SO busy.
According to Starre Vartan, “In many low-wage jobs, breaks are built-in requirements; if you work in retail, fast food, or at a big box store, there are mandatory breaks — and this is because even large companies (that often don’t even pay their workers a living wage) know that to do our best work, we all need mental and physical breaks, even if just for a few minutes.”
She goes on to say, “The same is true for high-paying and stressful gigs: Airline pilots, surgeons and big-rig drivers are closely monitored to ensure they have plenty of time off from work. “
But this is not the reality to most in the corporate world. Breaks are not required and often not even encouraged. If fact, our coworkers may even make us feel guilty for “taking time to ourselves.”
Is this the best for our overall productivity though?
Here is my definition of a Work Break:
a clean stop of what you’re doing in the short term in order to be more productive in the long term
And a clean stop doesn’t mean checking email or social media.
So why even take this pit stop when you feel like you’re in the lead of the race for the day?
Reason One: Your Mind Gets a Rest
Focus is absolutely critical but also draining. And the more you drain your mind, the less productive it will ultimately be for you.
In a NY Times article, I read “Mental concentration is similar to a muscle”, says John P. Trougakos, an assistant management professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough and the Rotman School of Management.
He goes on to say, “It becomes fatigued after sustained use and needs a rest period before it can recover, he explains — much as a weight lifter needs rest before doing a second round of repetitions at the gym.”
“Try to take a break before reaching the absolute bottom of your mental barrel”, Professor Trougakos says. “Symptoms of needing time to recharge include drifting and daydreaming.”
You may not be able to shut down your mind but you sure can change channels. Think of it as if you went from watching action or drama and switching to the lightness of comedy.
Give your mind this quick rest that it requires and desires. See what happens.
Reason Two: Your Body Gets a Wake Up Call
Your body needs movement especially if you’ve been sitting for a long period of time.
“Workers don’t take enough breaks — especially breaks involving movement”, says James A. Levine, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic. His studies have shown that workers who “remain sedentary throughout the day are actually impairing their health.”
Here’s two ideas I implement often:
Go for a short walk – nothing beats getting the blood flowing through your body. If you can go outside, all the better. Just a five minute walk will do wonders for your body
Get a healthy snack – putting a little fuel in the tank will be good for your body and it’s that changing of the channel of doing something else and giving it something positive (I highly suggest NOT eating it at your desk – change your scenery and move!)
Your body needs a break just like your mind so find a way to give your body this gift too before you go back into another work time block.
Reason Three: You Need Something to Look Forward to in the Short Term
I like knowing that in a few minutes I can stop whatever I’m doing and take a break.
This is especially true if the task you’re working on is NOT something you enjoy. It’s amazing how you can push forward knowing it will end soon.
If you know you have a few minute break to go for a walk, read a few pages of a book, or have a quick healthy snack, it becomes a reward for staying on task.
I’m a huge fan of mini rewards and this quick hit of delayed gratification packs exponential results for me and it can for you too.
It allows me to really focus knowing a reward of a break to do what I really enjoy doing is coming soon.
It’s now a scheduled time block within my day especially after knocking out one or two of my most important tasks for the day. I aim at one break in the morning and one in the afternoon.
You should try it. You’d be amazed at how much more productive you can be with this simple break strategy.
It’s sprinting all out knowing you can rest before the next run. Your day works a lot like that if you plan it right to be more productive.
You may already be taking a break. If so, are you maximizing it? Are there changes you could do to make the break more effective?
If you’re not, I challenge you to not feel guilty for the few minutes off realizing it will help you be more productive in the long term. And isn’t that what it’s all about anyway?
The evidence is there of why taking a break actually increases your productivity. Now it’s time to figure out why you’re not doing it and how you could implement a quality break into your day.
When can you insert at least one break within your day?