Right after I graduated from college, I took a job with a division of KIII and I worked long hours. Four o’clock in the afternoon was the most difficult time of the day for me; I got very sleepy.
There was no place and no time to take a nap, so every day around that time I brushed my teeth. There was something about the tingling mint and zesty flavor combined with the massaging and stimulating of the gums that really helped bring my energy back and helped me get through the hours still ahead.
The Science Behind Taking Breaks
According to James A. Levine, a professor at the Mayo Clinic, longer hours do not translate into more productivity—it’s just the opposite. Work done in concentrated 15-minute periods, divided up by breaks, is much healthier. Says Levine, “The thought process is not designed to be continuous."
John P. Trougakos, an assistant management professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough and the Rotman School of Management agrees that this is the way the brain works. Mental concentration is similar to a muscle, Trougakos says. It becomes fatigued after sustained use and needs a rest period before it can recover.
A group at MIT did research on jobs associate with long, tedious hours—like positions at call centers. They found that those who took the time to interact with their co-workers a little bit throughout the day got through calls faster and felt less tension.
Jack Groppel, co-founder of Johnson & Johnson’s Human Performance Institute with a Ph.D. in exercise physiology from Florida State University, says that stretching and walking around once every 30 minutes throughout the day stimulates blood flow and leads to a burst of hyper oxygenation in the brain, increasing energy and attentiveness.
Stimulate the Creative Part of Your Brain
So, breaks help us accomplish more. But do they really help with creativity?
Science writer Jonah Lehrer, author of the book Imagine says that many of our most creative, productive thoughts come “at odd moments outside the office," not while we’re trying to force them during long sessions at our desks.
The famous “Google 20%" is a takeoff on the notion that work breaks are crucial for both creativity and productivity. One day per week (20% of the work week hours) an employee can spend time on creative side projects. Google has since morphed this idea and Google Labs into Google X, now considered the company’s creative and entrepreneurial hub.
In my article Four Tips to Staying Focused When Working From Home, I have made suggestions for breaks when you work from a home office. I give tips on appropriate times to step away and helpful cues that help you with your workday flow. Activity suggestions include a simple walk around the block, exercise, meditation and running errands.
If you work in an office away from home, Susan Adams, a writer for Forbes.com, recommends chatting with a colleague, spending ten minutes checking social media (if you have access at work), going to the gym and going out to lunch.
- John Kotter, “Google’s Best New Innovation: Rules Around 20% Time,” Forbes, http://www.forbes.com/sites/johnkotter/2013/08/21/googles-best-new-innovation-rules-around-20-time/
- Phyllis Korkki, “To Stay on Schedule, Take a Break,” The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/17/jobs/take-breaks-regularly-to-stay-on-schedule-workstation.html?_r=2&
- Susan Adams, “Eight Ways Goofing Off Can Make You More Productive,” Forbes, http://www.forbes.com/sites/susanadams/2012/06/18/eight-ways-goofing-off-can-make-you-more-productive/