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The Surprising Benefits of Taking Breaks at Work

Do you ever feel guilty for taking a break at work? You’re not alone. Many people feel like they should be constantly working, even during lunch breaks or downtime. But did you know that taking breaks at work can actually be beneficial for your productivity and well-being?

It may seem counterintuitive, but research has shown that taking regular breaks can actually increase productivity, and improve focus, playfulness, and creativity. In fact, many successful people swear by the power of taking breaks, from business leaders like Richard Branson to artists like Salvador Dali.

So why are breaks so important? For one, our brains aren’t designed to focus on one task for hours on end. Taking a break allows our minds to rest and recharge so that when we return to work, we’re more focused and efficient. Additionally, breaks can help prevent burnout and reduce stress, which can have a negative impact on both our physical and mental health.

Of course, not all breaks are created equal. Mindlessly scrolling through social media or checking emails may feel like a break, but it’s not truly restorative. Effective breaks should involve activities that give our minds a break from work, like taking a walk, doing a quick meditation, or engaging in a creative hobby.

Research about the benefit of taking a break

The benefits of taking breaks at work are not just anecdotal – there is scientific research to support them. In a study conducted by the University of Illinois, participants were asked to complete a task for 50 minutes. Half of the participants took a break in the middle, while the other half worked straight through. The results showed that those who took a break were able to maintain their focus and productivity for the entire duration of the task, while those who didn’t take a break showed a decline in performance over time.

Another study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that taking a break in a natural setting, like a park or garden, can reduce stress and improve mood. Participants who took a break in a natural setting reported feeling more relaxed and refreshed, while those who took a break in a city setting did not show the same benefits.

In addition to improving productivity and well-being, taking breaks has also been linked to increased creativity. Research has shown that when our minds are given a break from a problem, we’re more likely to come up with creative solutions. Some of the world’s most successful people are known for taking breaks as a way to boost their creativity, like Steve Jobs who famously took long walks to brainstorm ideas.

These studies and many others demonstrate that taking breaks at work is not only beneficial for our well-being but also for our productivity and creativity. It’s not only the Meaningful Profit and Purpose over Profit companies who stimulate frequent breaks. More and more companies adapt to human nature and embraced this concept. So if you’re feeling guilty for taking a break, remember that it’s not just a luxury – it’s an essential part of being a successful and healthy professional.

How to take effective brakes

First and foremost, it’s important to disconnect from work during your break. This means putting away your phone, avoiding work-related tasks, and focusing on activities that give your mind a break.

There are many different activities that can be effective for taking breaks, depending on your personal preferences and workplace environment. Some ideas include: 

  • taking a short walk outside, 

  • practicing mindfulness or meditation, 

  • doing a quick workout, 

  • or engaging in a creative activity like drawing or playing an instrument. 

The key is to find activities that allow your mind to rest and recharge so that when you return to work, you’re more focused and energized.

The Pomodoro Technique

One effective technique for taking breaks is the Pomodoro Technique. This involves working for a set period of time, typically 25 minutes, and then taking a short break before starting another work session. This technique can be effective for breaking up long work sessions and preventing burnout.

It’s also important to take breaks regularly throughout the day, rather than just relying on a single long break. Taking short breaks every hour or two can help maintain focus and productivity over the course of the day.

What can happen if you don’t take breaks?

While we’ve talked about the benefits of taking breaks, it’s also important to discuss the downside of not taking breaks.

One major consequence of not taking breaks is burnout. When we work for long periods of time without a break, we can become mentally and physically exhausted, which can lead to decreased motivation and productivity. In severe cases, burnout can lead to serious health issues, like depression and anxiety.

In addition to burnout, not taking breaks can also lead to physical health issues. Sitting for long periods of time without breaks has been linked to a number of health problems, including obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Taking breaks to move around and stretch can help prevent these issues.

Not taking breaks can also have a negative impact on our creativity and problem-solving abilities. When we don’t give our minds a chance to rest and recharge, we may find ourselves stuck on a problem or lacking in creativity.

Finally, not taking breaks can have a negative impact on our relationships and social lives. When we’re constantly working, we may have less time and energy to devote to our loved ones and social activities. This can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Real-world examples 

There are many companies and individuals who prioritize taking breaks and have seen positive results. Here are a few examples:

Patagonia – This outdoor apparel company is known for its commitment to sustainability and work-life balance. They encourage their employees to take regular breaks, including a mandatory two-week vacation for all employees each year. This policy has been shown to increase employee productivity job satisfaction and motivation while reducing turnover rates.

Arianna Huffington – The founder of The Huffington Post is a vocal advocate for the importance of sleep and taking breaks. After collapsing from exhaustion in 2007, she began prioritizing sleep and taking breaks throughout her workday. This change allowed her to be more productive and successful in her work, while also improving her overall well-being.

Google – The tech giant is known for its emphasis on employee well-being, including providing on-site gyms, healthy food options, and opportunities for breaks throughout the workday. They also encourage employees to take time off, including a policy that allows employees to take up to 30 days off each year for personal pursuits. This focus on well-being has been shown to increase employee satisfaction and productivity.

Salvador Dali – The famous artist was known for taking naps as a way to boost his creativity. He would hold a key in his hand and sit in a chair, allowing himself to doze off without fully falling asleep. This technique, known as “slumber with a key,” allowed Dali to enter a dream-like state and come up with creative ideas.

These examples demonstrate that prioritizing breaks and well-being can lead to positive results, both for individuals and companies. By taking breaks and allowing ourselves to rest and recharge, we can be more productive, creative, and successful in our work and personal lives.

What if your company doesn’t support small breaks?

If your company doesn’t support regular and healthy breaks, there are a few steps you can take:

Talk to your supervisor or HR representative: If you’re not getting the breaks you need, it’s worth talking to your supervisor or HR representative to see if they can help. Explain the importance of taking breaks, and ask if there’s any way you can work together to create a more supportive break policy.

Create your own breaks: If your company doesn’t offer regular breaks, it’s up to you to make sure you’re taking them. Try to schedule breaks into your day, even if it’s just 5-10 minutes to stretch or take a walk around the office.

Advocate for change: If you feel strongly about the need for regular breaks at work, consider advocating for change. Talk to your coworkers and see if they feel the same way. Then, work together to approach your supervisor or HR representative and request a change in policy.

Take care of yourself outside of work: If your company is unwilling to change its break policy, it’s important to prioritize your own health and well-being outside of work. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, eating healthy, and taking time to relax and recharge. This will help you stay focused and productive at work, even if you’re not getting the breaks you need.

Or…Quit the job and go work for a company that thinks about the long run and takes responsibility for their employee’s health.

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