If you were driving, you wouldn't skip a stop at the gas station in order to get to your destination faster. Nor would you try to get the most out of your cell phone by vowing just to keep on talking all day no matter how low the battery icon gets. So why on earth are you trying to maximize your productivity by reducing your breaks?
That's the sensible question Christian Jarrett asked on 99U recently in a fascinating post boiling down a ton of recent research on the psychology of breaks. Many of the studies he mentions have been covered here on Inc.com before, but Jarrett does a fantastic job of assembling them all into a simple three-step guide to taking a truly refreshing break.
You can check out Jarrett's complete post for all the details on the research, but here in essence is his ultra-easy plan:
1. Take a break before you need it
Sometimes the computer screen starts to swim before your eyes, your lids droop, or your stress level just makes further constructive thought impossible. These are not the ideal times to take a break. The ideal time was WAY before you reached that level of exhaustion.
"It can be tempting to wait until we're flagging later in the day before allowing ourselves a short break. However, findings suggest that we actually respond better to breaks in the morning - it seems you need to have some fuel in the tank to benefit from a re-fill," writes Jarrett. Plus, if you recharge before you absolutely must, shorter breaks will suffice. (Here's the ideal pattern of break-taking, according to one study.)
2. Put your phone down!
When many of us need a few minutes to recharge, we instinctively reach for our phones for a bit of internet browsing, online shopping, or social media scrolling. Bad idea, according to recent research that found office workers who fully unplugged from their gadgets during breaks had more emotional energy in the afternoons.
3. Get out of the office
You could pave a road from your office to the nearest park with all the studies showing the incredible benefits of spending even a short amount of time out of doors, particularly in a natural setting. And even if you don't see a single tree on your jaunt out of the office, getting away from the need to think about work, keep up appearances, and make small talk with colleagues will make your break hugely more refreshing, Jarrett reports.
So, to recap, all it takes to increase the effectiveness of your breaks and your all around productivity is to take breaks sooner and more often, go outside of the office, and critically to leave your cell phone behind.
Do you think you can manage that?