If you are in a busy job and already working long hours, you may be someone who can easily get consumed with your busy-ness and “forget” to take a break. Or perhaps you believe you simply don’t have time to take a break. You are attached to your computer, lunch is eaten at your desk while checking emails (#efficiency), and you rush from one meeting to the next.
On the topic of lunch, 62% of Americans eat lunch at their desk. Despite not being an American, I am ashamed to admit that I most definitely fell into this category of people. I used to think I was being more productive by eating and working at the same time. Multitasking, right? Wrong.
Research has shown that this style of working has a big impact on productivity. We believe that we are working more (through not taking a break), however, we are actually in a constant state of poorer cognitive performance. The amount of time we spend working generally doesn’t correlate with the quality of our output.
So what does the ideal break look like? Fortunately, science can shed light on the answer.
One study showed that the most productive performers worked solidly for 52 minutes and then had a break for 17 minutes. Other research has shown that in contrast to one 30 minute break, hourly five minute walking breaks boost energy, sharpen focus, improve mood and reduce feelings of fatigue in the afternoon more effectively. And another study found that taking a 40-second “Green Micro-break”, that is, looking at a view of greenery, increased concentration levels by 8%.
To help make this happen in my own working life, I have banned 60 minute meetings from my diary. Instead, I make what would have previously been 60 minute meetings as 50 minutes. This gives me time for a quick walk and a few minutes to get ready for my next meeting or activity.
In addition to short frequent breaks, research has shown that the simple act of eating our lunch anywhere but at our desks leads to us being better able to cope with workplace stress and also gives us greater energy for the afternoon. Real estate company CBRE has even gone so far as to ban desk lunches in their Toronto office.
So if you are a desk-eater, set yourself the goal to eat lunch away from your desk for a week. In addition, schedule regular short breaks in your diary. By experiencing this boost to your energy levels, continuing with your new habits will be much easier.
Have you read my latest book, The Innovation Formula, tackles the topic of how organisations can create a culture where innovation thrives?
Latest posts by Dr Amantha Imber
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