Do you intentionally and regularly take breaks at work? Are you “too busy” to take breaks? Do you know why taking breaks is important?
My guess is that regardless of how you answered the first two questions, you answered “no” to the last one, and that is okay. I learned why taking breaks was important when I started developing training sessions at Exeter, where breaks figure very prominently (see our blog post, “It Takes More Than a PowerPoint to Engage Participants”).
With an, on average, 20-minute attention span, it is no surprise that as humans we get fatigued and distracted as we work through our 8-hour plus days. Taking breaks allows us to work smarter not harder, so we can be more efficient and effective.
WHY SHOULD I BE TAKING BREAKS?
Breaks have been shown to increase job satisfaction and help prevent decision fatigue. Decision fatigue is the wearing down of willpower and reasoning ability caused by making numerous and frequent decisions each day; it leads to procrastination and choosing the easiest and/or safest option when making decisions. If you are actively taking breaks from your work, job satisfaction increases because you are not overworking yourself and are therefore less prone to burnout. Movement breaks specifically have been shown to mitigate some negative health effects that come from sitting for long periods of time, such as heart disease, depression, and diabetes.
A very real example of decision fatigue and the consequences of not taking breaks is the now famous study about Israeli judges. The study found that judges were more apt to grant prisoner’s parole requests after they had their breaks than they were after they had been working for a long period. The longer judges went without a break the less likely they were to grant parole.
WHAT ABOUT MY TEAM?
To all the leaders reading this, this is a good time for some reflection on your team and your leadership. Ask yourself, “Do my team members take breaks? How do I know? How am I encouraging them to take breaks?” Finally, ask yourself, “What are the consequences when my team members do not take breaks?” Your team may not be in charge of granting parole, but they are in charge of your clients, your deliverables, and your bottom line.
If I have convinced you, or if you just need a break, here are some Exeter favorite break suggestions:
- Lunch Break – take your full lunch break. Get outside if you can. Do not respond to emails or engage in work discussions during your lunch. Use this time as an opportunity to disconnect and recharge.
- Movement Break – stretch, do yoga, power pose, take a walk outside, or take a walk inside around your building or office. The most important thing is to get out of your chair!
- Breathing Break – practice mindful breathing or meditation to clear your mind and recenter yourself.
- Journaling Break – consider what you are thinking and feeling and write everything down. Journaling can help you clarify your thoughts and feelings, solve problems, and track patterns or trends. This is a great option if you cannot get away from your desk but still want to unplug.
- Walking Meeting – this is not a break, but if you are really “too busy” to take a break then this is the next best thing. Take your meeting outside and enjoy the benefits of walking. This article by Forbes shares some tips on how to get the most out of your walking meetings.
HOW LONG SHOULD MY BREAK BE?
In case you are wondering how long you should be “breaking” for, this article from Business Insider shares recent research on the subject. This research suggests a 52-minute focused work period followed by a 17-minute break as the formula for productivity. It is important to remember that your 52-minute work session should be uninterrupted, so no sneaking peeks at your phone. Your break, too, should be uninterrupted, so no answering emails.
The last thing I will leave you with comes from author Daniel Pink. In the audio clip, “The Science Behind Perfecting Your Timing” Pink says “Breaks are what professionals do, amateurs are the ones who don’t take breaks. Pros take breaks.” Now get out there, be a pro, and take your break!
Kara Genereaux is an Organizational Development Project Analyst, specializing in the construction of high quality deliverables such as leadership assessments, individual development plans, training materials, benchmark analysis and research, qualitative and quantitative data analyses, and training and coaching plans. Passionate about reducing healthcare disparities across underrepresented populations, she is dedicated to facilitating positive interactions in the field of healthcare between people and business.