Mark Zuckerberg was recently trending on Twitter and social media, and it wasn’t because of a PR move from Facebook or any of his other business ventures. The tech boss was trending after he shared a video of himself tossing spears at bullseye targets and arrows at bowling pins while working remotely in Hawaii. Even as one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world, Zuckerberg knows that taking a break and engaging in something you enjoy is crucial and it is something that the Facebook CEO doesn’t take lightly.
Now Zuckerberg has exponentially more on his plate than me at a wedding buffet, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get “burnout” as well from everything going on at work. That is why I regularly take breaks even while I work and these breaks allow me to get back into what I was doing, more focused and productive.
Taking a break is good for you and the science backing it up is quite large. A study from the University of Illinois found that when a group of people were tasked with an exam to recall certain digits after prolonged attention to the exam performed worse than the other group whose attention were diverted sporadically during the exam suggesting that prolonged attention towards a single task can actually worsen overall productivity. Another study from Stanford University showed that creativity and critical thinking was fostered after participants took walks during mental tasks more than those who continued to sit. And Lastly, one of my favorite studies conducted by University of Amsterdam, gave two groups of students the challenge of choosing the best car purchase based on a set of parameters, with one group heavily concentrating and going over the material for 4 minutes straight and the other poring over the same material but were distracted during that time with anagram puzzles they were asked to solve. The second group chose the best car.
Being distracted, diverting your attention or simply taking a break during your workload can be positive towards your productivity.
Now that we understand that taking breaks is not a waste of time according to research and tech moguls, the question now becomes, how often and long should one take a break?
Well we can listen to our bodies and how they work. Our bodies go through several natural processes of recurrence like our circadian rhythm that recur every 24 hours, but our blood circulation, pulse, heart rate appetite, arousal and more go by an ultradian rhythm within a 90 minute cycle. Thus, some productivity experts suggest connecting our minds to our bodies and taking a break every 90 minutes is ideal. Robert Pozen, author of Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours, suggested every 75 minutes one should take a break because this is the amount of time professional musicians practice a piece and the average time of most college lectures. You know yourself the best and therefore can judge how often to take a break, so no need to obsess over exact time frames, but most suggest anywhere between 50-90 minutes is ideal.
With 50-90 minutes intervals of work and then break time, breaks should come out to about 15-20 minutes with a longer break for lunch or midday. Peretz Lavie, who researched ultradian rhythms, found these 20 minute ‘troughs’ after peaks of activity during the ultradian waveform, so then following suit we should go by 20 minutes of break. Most common practice among workers both technical and creative is 15-20 minutes.
The What To Do:
We’ve agreed that breaks are important and how long we should be taking them, our next logical question is, What should we be doing on our breaks? The easy answer is anything except for work! But to dive deeper into some great practices here are some suggestions. Whether you are a coder, in marketing or even in sales, in 2021, you most probably spend most of your day looking at a screen, that’s why I suggest staying away from your screen while you take your break. It might be easy to tend your full 20 minutes watching videos on youtube, scrolling through instagram or swiping left (and occasionally right) on some dating apps but using other areas of your brain will allow you to actually restup as other parts are being exercised. Taking walks or engaging in some sweet and short physical activity is a great way to rejuvenate the brain, afterall physical activity (even in small amounts) releases endorphins for focusing and boosting your mood.
If you are still working remotely due to COVID19 or have always been a work from home employee, you can be more creative with your freetime. I take a work from home day once a week and during those moments, I tend to do errands around my apartment, tend to my hobbies (continue a bit on an acrylic painting I am in the midst of) or just sit outside on my balcony soaking in the Middle Eastern sun. Another great way to think of taking a break is changing your environment. Leave your workspace and venture out into nature and meditate or sit on a bench and people watch in the concrete jungles. Meditating and daydreaming are also sweet options for those who enjoy it as they offer great relaxation. And if you're one of those who don’t get too attached to sleep during a nap, take a 20 minute power nap (if your boss allows it), as they have been shown to have amazing health and productive benefits. The most important aspect of how to utilize your breaks is to engage in low concentrating activities that allow your brain to re- energize.
Just like any other muscle in the body, our brains need to rest in order to function to its fullest. This time of relaxation actually works to our advantage because it actually gives us time to sit with our thoughts and very often you will find it allows for creativity and ideas to flow. Think about how many times you’ve thought of a great startup idea, or worked out a problem that you had been sitting on, while on a walk, taking a shower or doing other mindless activities. For me it happens often while I am watching tv at the end of a long workday that an idea for one of my blogs pops into my head and I honestly get excited by it. And like always, this has been proven in many psychological studies, that during brain downtime, our subconscious is actually working and mulling over the knowledge that we were previously working through. So, taking a break is actually an extension of our brain power and the reward is greater productivity.
Do not take, taking a break lightly, as you will see, this relaxing and fun usage of your time and brain function does a lot of good for your overall productivity and well, after all, we don’t need a real excuse, we all deserve a break!