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Take Five

What if more breaks meant more productivity?  In a recent article by the Idaho Business Review, there was mention of a study by Dr. Naomi Swanson, who is a researcher at NIOSH, which also advises the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.  Along with a group of colleagues, she studied data entry workers at the Internal Revenue Service, and released reports in both 2000 and 2007.  

 

Dr. Swanson divided the workers into two groups:  one group’s workday included two 15 minute breaks, plus a half hour for lunch.  The other group had four additional 5 minute breaks per day.

 

The added breaks meant 20 extra minutes of time spent not working per day, but Swanson said those workers were less stressed, had less musculoskeletal pain and were more productive than their counterparts who took fewer breaks.

 

I knew I loved breaks, but I didn’t realize how much they could foster productivity.  You will want to be smart about how you take your breaks and test what does and does not work for you personally. It is important to choose a break that won’t last more than a few minutes.  If you’re a person who can’t sit still, get up and walk around at least once an hour.  If you’re someone who works best by getting lost in a task for hours, you can do that, but take a break whenever you surface.  You could even set up an automatic reminder on your computer or phone to distract for a second or two every 15 – 20 minutes.

 

Here are a few ideas from Workawesome.com for short breaks at your cubicle or desk.

  • Stretch.  If you feel yourself getting squirmy at your task or even just pausing to think for a minute, do a stretch or two.

 

  • Think about something else.  This could be as simple as what to have for dinner tonight or as significant as a loved one.

 

 

  • If you have access to a window, look outside.  If you stare out at the horizon, you’ll give your eyes a break as well as your mind.

 

  • If you’re going to use the internet, choose sites that don’t offer endless diversion.  Stay away from the blogs with in-depth, interesting content and links to other thought-provoking articles.  Instead, choose something small and light.  Bad: The New York Times.  Better: Flickr’s explore feature, which displays a different photo each time.

Beyond breaks, make time to just sort of space out.  How many times have you had your best ideas of flashes of insight while driving, on a walk, or even in the shower?  For many people, those times are when they get their best thinking done.  Our minds need the freedom to wander and space out in order to give us the really good stuff.  Breaks are a great start, but to get the most out of your creativity, make sure to stay rested and allow yourself unscheduled time to just be.