Do you take an honest-to-goodness lunch break when you’re at work? If you do, count yourself among the few. Studies show that just one out of five employees take a "real" lunch break–the kind that involves actually leaving your desk and thinking about something other than work for a few minutes.
With the pressure to be constantly productive, taking time away from your work seems counterintuitive. But breaks actually make you more productive in the long run: they refresh you, they re-energize you, and they inspire new ideas. They also raise morale in an office, and happier workers means better work.
Breaks are a good thing, but how can you make sure that you get the most of your breaks? In other words, how can you plan your breaks so that they make you more productive?
1. Get outside.
Or, at the very least, give yourself a change of scenery. Professor Kimberly Elsbach, who studies workplace psychology at the University of California has found that people are more creative when they change their environments. As she told NPR, " staying inside, in the same location, is really detrimental to creative thinking. It’s also detrimental to doing that rumination that’s needed for ideas to percolate and gestate and allow a person to arrive at an ‘aha’ moment."Getting outside and experiencing a natural environment, even for a few minutes, is restorative. Her research shows that even something as simple as a walk around the block can make you more creative.
So don’t take your breaks at your desk! If you want to recharge, get outside.
2. Take short breaks, even if you don’t think you need one.
By now, most people are aware that working at a desk is hard on your body. So taking breaks isn’t just important for your creativity, it’s important for your physical health. And having employees who are off sick or are unable to do their jobs for health reasons is a major drain on company productivity. Encouraging people to take breaks is just good business.
The Center for Disease Control recommends taking short breaks, even just a few minutes long, once every hour. Something as simple as standing up, stretching, or even moving to a new sitting position can make a huge difference.
3. Take a break early in the day.
Drs. Emily Hunter and Cindy Wu of Baylor University studied the break habits of close to one thousand workers. They found that taking a break in the morning, before lunch, was more effective at replenishing energy, concentration, and motivation. Workers who took breaks early in the day were more productive later in the day.
4. Do something fun.
Another aspect of Hunter and Wu’s findings? Breaks were more effective if people used them to do something that they actually enjoy. Hunter says that "Finding something on your break that you prefer to do–something that's not given to you or assigned to you–are the kinds of activities that are going to make your breaks much more restful, provide better recovery, and help you come back to work stronger."
So consider bringing a favorite novel, a creative project, or something else that makes you feel good to do during your break, and you’ll be more productive later.