Earlier in my career, I would never take breaks at work. I thought I was too busy and that breaks were a waste of time. I would work for hours at a time, only stopping during the day to eat lunch quickly at my desk.
However, I had an epiphany while teaching a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) class. HIIT is a training approach in which you alternate short periods of intense exercise with brief recovery periods. Research has found this approach to be more effective and efficient than working at a slower, steadier pace for a longer period of time. One day, it hit me: “Why don’t I work like I train at the gym?” That has been my approach at work ever since.
Research Says You Should Take Breaks at Work
There’s a lot of scientific research supporting the power of breaks. For example, one survey by The Energy Project (a consulting firm) and Harvard Business Review found that people who take at least a brief break every ninety minutes reported a 28 percent higher level of focus than those who only take one break or no breaks during the day. The Energy Project also found that those who take breaks reported their capacity to think creatively as being 40 percent greater and their health and well-being as 30 percent greater. 1
How to Take Breaks at Work
You will increase your energy throughout the day and produce higher-quality work in less time by taking breaks at work. Alternate intense periods of focused work with short recovery periods, which I refer to as Boost Breaks.
A Boost Break is my term for a strategic, five to ten minute break that is designed to boost your energy quickly and naturally. These breaks help you bring a higher intensity to your next period of focused work. Here are some of the best activities to do during a Boost Break:
- Stand up and go for a short walk
- Drink some water
- Eat a healthy snack
- Perform some light stretches
- Meditate or do some deep breathing
Do not use Boost Breaks to check emails, surf the internet, or to do other tasks that can sap your energy. Disconnect from work and technology for a few minutes. This will help you come back stronger for your next period of focused work.
How Long Should Your Breaks Be at Work?
It’s up to you how structured to be with your focus/recovery ratio. There might be times when you focus intensely for forty-five minutes and then take a fifteen-minute Boost Break before resuming or moving onto another task. Other times, you might focus intensely for sixty minutes and take a five-minute Boost Break before diving back in for another sixty minutes.
My energy and concentration usually start to wane if I try to work much longer than an hour or so without taking a break. I usually focus intensely on one task for about an hour. Then, I take a Boost Break before starting another period of focused work.
Use a Stopwatch
If you want to bring some extra rigor to your time management and productivity at work, use a stopwatch at work (like athletes do when they train). Whenever you start a new task, start your stopwatch. Then, stay focused on the task at hand for 45-90 minutes. Then, reset your stopwatch and take a short break. Repeat this process throughout your workday, and you will be amazed at how much better you will feel and perform each day.
Summary and Final Thoughts
Many people spend their entire workday bouncing from task to task and meeting to meeting without ever taking a break. A much stronger way to work is to alternate intense periods of focused work with short recovery periods, which I refer to as Boost Breaks. When used strategically, breaks are not a waste of time. They actually help you achieve more in less time and with less stress.
- “The human era @ work; Findings from The Energy Project and Harvard Business Review,” The Energy Project, accessed on August 11, 2017.
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About the author: Pete Leibman is the Creator of StrongerHabits.com. He is a best-selling author, keynote speaker, executive recruiter, athlete, and peak performance coach. His work has been featured on Fox News, CBS Radio, and CNNMoney.com, and over 500,000 people across the world have read his articles.