taking breaks

When at work, it’s easy to avoid taking a break. After all, you have big deadlines, heavy workloads, and bills stacking higher and higher; it doesn’t take long to become locked in a mindset that says you must complete your work and not waste an ounce of time. You can take a break later! Right after you finish this large project. You can enjoy your time once you’re finished and at home! Until then, it’s work, work, work for eight hours straight. You have to boost your productivity and do better, and breaks will counteract this. Right?

Wrong.

Studies have shown that taking a break can actually contribute to your productivity, even boost it for greater results. While it may seem that stopping your work, losing your momentum and concentration, and instead doing something unrelated for a few minutes would hinder your productivity, it actually does the exact opposite. By taking a break, you can benefit your mental health, make work enjoyable again, and even boost your productivity.

Here are five reasons why taking a small break can in fact increase productivity:

1. Breaks Help Your Brain Retain Information

The brain operates on two levels, namely the focused level and the diffused level. The diffused level is activated when you’re in a state of relaxation or when you’re completing tasks that don’t take a lot of concentration. This can be driving, doing the dishes, staring out a window, and the like, because your brain doesn’t have to work very hard to complete these tasks. The other function, the focus function, follows exactly what its title suggests; it’s active when you are vigilant and attentive to tasks, such as work, or studying, or handling intensive projects. When in the focused state, your brain automatically ignores whatever is not crucial to the project being completed and therefore does not store information as clearly as it can when in the diffused mode. While in the diffused mode, your mind can calmly review and catalogue information.

With this in mind, by taking a break every few minutes and letting your brain relax, you’ll actually retain more information than before. This allows you to return to your project with a more focused perspective and greater knowledge for the future.

2. Breaks Prevent Redundancy

Following the previous point, when your mind is in focus mode, it becomes very proficient in handling routine or familiar tasks at a fast rate. This might sound excellent for productivity, but the issue comes when you work for such a long time that your brain figuratively ‘runs out of gas’ and starts ‘operating on fumes.’ At this point, it can’t concentrate and lapses into diffused mode on its own. At this stage, if you keep pushing on with work, your brain simultaneously tries to relax and tries to block out that relaxation so it can keep focusing, making you feel conflicted, and inherently frustrated and bored. By taking small breaks throughout the workday, you’re letting your brain balance itself out and handle tasks with more enthusiasm and focus, boosting your productivity.

3. Breaks Let You Look at the Bigger Picture.

When your focus mode is running on fumes, it’s doing the opposite of what it should be doing – focusing. In this case, you develop a sense of tunnel-vision where you are handling the individual details of the project, but perhaps not handling them well and end up swerving off track. By taking a break, you are allowing your brain to figuratively take a breath and broaden its scope of attention from just “finish the task, finish the task, finish the task.” In doing so, you can look at your project as a whole more objectively and see where you need to adjust your course to bring better results, boosting productivity and the quality of your work as a whole.

4. Activity Helps Your Brain Think More Clearly

You may be dreading that break, since you only have a few hours to handle a certain project and that’s a few minutes you can’t spare. You’re already stretched too thin; if you leave, you’ll never be able to focus again, right? The exact opposite is true, actually. By standing and walking around during a break, you are boosting your blood flow and allowing your body to stretch out its muscles. Biologically, you are telling your body to be prepared for activity and a new sort of task, and it is priming itself for the work as it did for our ancestors back when we were fighting tigers and other cool things. In modern day, desk jobs represent the calmer elements of your life and your body can interpret this as a time of rest rather than work, lulling into a sleepy feeling.

5. Food Boosts Your Brain’s Abilities

In this same way, while your brain cannot run on fumes, neither can the rest of your body. While you may feel that you’re not that hungry and can skip a meal, if you find you’re lagging behind in work, this is the perfect time to go against your judgement and eat a decent meal. By eating something – and something of substance, not just a snake – you are giving your brain fuel to work with and to devote to its ‘power cells.’ You ever notice that lights become brighter after a meal? This is your body coming off ‘power-save mode’ and preparing for action. By eating something, your brain can function more clearly and more efficiently than before.

It can be easy to feel guilty about taking a break, especially if you have many responsibilities weighing down on you and your productivity level. Businesses and employees alike all strive to deliver the best they can, and rather than feeling guilty about taking a few minutes to yourself every few hours, you should feel accomplished. By allowing yourself this small amount of time, you are actually ensuring your work is more efficient and more pleasing than before.

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