Ask around the office and there often two schools of thought regarding breaks. Some people see them as a necessary part of the day where you can socialise with your colleagues and enjoy some food, others think they’re an excuse for slacking and prefer to power through. Let’s take a look at a little bit of the science behind it all and see where the balance lies.
Your Brain is a Muscle
Okay, well not quite but the analogy will hopefully open your eyes. You know that when you go for a run your legs feel tired at the end and they need some rest before you run again. They also need to be refuelled and stretched if they’re to recover properly. Whilst your brain recovers much faster than your muscles, it does suffer from exertion after prolonged periods of mental effort. This means that there is only so long that you can maintain your focus and concentration before you’ll need a break.
When to Take a Break
Research shows that the period of time you can concentrate for varies from person to person, and can be extended through repetition — much like how you will get better at running the more you train. The secret here is to stop before you go into what scientists call the ‘red zone’. This is when your focus and concentration are completely shot and you just feel like sitting in front of the TV all evening and being left in peace. At this point you’ve taxed your brain to the point where it needs an extended break of several hours, or even a good night’s sleep, before it can work efficiently again.
Pay particular attention when your concentrations starts to initially wander and then persevere for a maximum of 5 minutes. This will give your brain a gentle workout without running the risk of burning it out. A 15 minute break where you move around or talk will then give your brain the rest it needs so you can power on through.
The Social Element
There are a number of indirect influences on your productivity that also need to be mentioned, and none is more important than the social element of taking a break. As well as giving your brain a well earned 15 minute time out, interacting with your colleagues on a social level will allow you to work more efficiently in a number of ways.
You’ll have made yourself more approachable which in turn means that you are better integrated into the team. When someone needs your help for a couple of minutes they won’t be too shy to ask for your assistance, and vice versa. Plus there’s the enjoyment you get from the social side of things. People who invest in their working relationships are far more likely to want to go to work and to fully embrace the all important team dynamic.
All you have to do now is find the right balance for you and you’ll see your productivity skyrocket!