Does Taking Breaks Increase Productivity?
What You Will Find In This Blog
Does taking breaks, increase productivity? That is the question at hand. In this post, I will try to show that there are very strong indicators that rest not only improves productivity but that it is one of the most important factors in becoming productive.
Something that will undoubtedly scale your available time is to make sure that your productivity is at the highest possible level. It turns out that taking breaks on time and getting sufficient rest is one of the essential ingredients to becoming the most productive person you can be. Talk about perfect time management!
- I will explain some of the reasoning behind why rest and taking breaks are so important to give your productivity a boost.
- I will also give some techniques that can be used to plan your breaks and how to rest effectively with productivity in mind.
The Bad Reputation Of The Break
Taking a break and rest, in general, has been, and often still is, a big taboo. In a world that is driven by performance, prestige and ambition, rest is considered the opposite of work. Therefore one might conclude that rest is the opposite of productivity.
Work and our accomplishments are often seen as the traits that define us. Feats that define our success in life and profile us in society. When anything stands in the way of our definition of success we will evade it.
Alex Soojung-Kim Pang expresses it nicely in his book ‘Rest: Why you get more done when you work less‘.
If you consider work as a definition of yourself…
When you cease to work, you cease to exist.
Rest, therefore, becomes something to avoid rather than to embrace.
A Symbiosis Made In Heaven
We need to embrace rest as an integral part of work and vice versa. Rest and work exist as a symbiosis. One can not exist without the other. Rest will make your work better, and work will make your rest better.
There is more than ample proof that rest indeed improves productivity. For a long time, scientists believed that rest mostly affects the parts of the brain that are responsible for creativity, but we have become aware of late that it affects the brain in more ways than we ever thought was possible.
Allowing the brain to shift focus on other things or to let go of focus altogether, stimulates the creation of new connections between neurons in various parts of the brain. I will elaborate on that subject later.
Great scientists like Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein were very aware of the need to rest. Charles Darwin would take daily walks in nature that lasted for hours. And it is believed that Albert Einstein came up with the Theory of Relativity during a bike ride.
But wait. Do you mean walking and riding a bike is considered resting?
Physical Activities Are Rest
To your brain, those kinds of activities are considered resting just as much as a power nap is. Those are activities that stem from muscle memory more than from active brain activity. Anything that you do so often that it becomes an automated reflex rather than a conscious reflection can be considered a break for your brain.
For example, when you first learnt to drive a car. You needed to consciously think about every action. You had to remind yourself to look in your rearview mirrors. When to shift your gears or how to lift your foot from the clutch without stalling your engine.
Over the years, those actions became second nature. Most steps required to drive a car now use muscle memory rather than active brain exercise. Your brain still knows when to take over during heavy traffic or other situations where you need to focus. But on the whole, your mind is mostly resting. Or should I say: doing things of which we are unaware.
Rest Is Active
In reverse, the same is true, resting or even sleeping, does not mean your brain stops working. On the contrary, fMRI and PET scans show that our mind is just as active during moments of rest than it is during moments of focus. The big difference lies in which areas of the brain are doing the work.
In rest or sleep mode, our brain does not limit its attention to just one subject or field. That is very different from the focus during actual work or research. It means that our mind is free to roam over any topic and discipline it has available.
During those moments, some very cool things start to happen. It cross-references and connects neurons that can link various topics and ideas. The brain is capable of completely rewiring its Nervous System that way. That is precisely the reason why people will often come up with a solution to a problem, during moments of rest.
That means locations like the shower, the bath and even the toilet are popular meeting places for ‘eureka’ ideas.
Not Only Productivity but also Health Improvements
Not only does taking breaks increase productivity, but it will also benefit your health. It can prevent Lower back pain and carpal tunnel syndrome as some of the commonly known pains around the office.
Along with exercise, it is also an excellent idea to have a stand-up desk so you can switch from sitting to standing. It is excellent for the blood circulation that moves oxygen to your brain for even more productivity and creativity.
Planning Rest Into Your Daily Routine
It is not possible to give one clear cut plan, just because of the differences in each of your businesses. Each type of job has its requirements and quirks, and no single routine would be a fit for all.
But for all types of businesses, I do think that it is important to select a time-management technique that includes planned breaks. And more often than just a coffee break and lunchtime.
The Pomodoro Technique
I discussed one very helpful technique in my article: Tips on creating time when consumed by your business.
The Pomodoro Technique or some variation thereof is quite versatile for most jobs that require focus. It is by far my preferred technique and it is very easy to learn.
The basics are very easy:
- Work in time intervals of 25 minutes during which you remain in distraction-free hyperfocus on the task at hand.
- After the 25-minute interval, have a 5-minute break.
- Once you did four of those 25-minute intervals, have a 20-minute break instead of the usual 5-minute one.
A unit of 25 minutes of focus and the 5-minute break is called a Pomodoro.
Often when people start with this technique, they try to divide their entire day into Pomodoros. That is a mistake, in my opinion. It is better to work out how to arrange specific tasks in Pomodoros. Then you can see how those tasks fit in your week planning.
Because the 25-minute intervals require you to be hyper-focused, the Pomodoro is mostly useful during distraction-free moments. So if you know you will be interrupted by phone calls or coworkers, it is not a good time to start a Pomodoro.
If you work in a team, you could agree with team members that you need to work on something during four Pomodoros on a specific task. That way, they can answer calls while you can work without interruptions.
At some point, your team will have a good understanding of all their tasks. There will be an understanding of the amount of Pomodoros each task will take, more or less. And then it becomes possible to schedule distraction-free periods and rotate those among your team.
If at any point you find that tasks take too many Pomodoros to fit into any schedule, you will need to think about subdividing the task into smaller parts.
One of the downsides of the Pomodoro Technique is that it does not promote flow or being in the zone. For that reason, a lot of people prefer the Flowtime Technique
The Flowtime Technique is a time management principle that was derived from the Pomodoro Technique. I do not personally have much experience with this technique but the basics are also pretty easy.
When you start with a task, you write down the current time. Work until you feel you need a break and note the time at that moment. Then depending on how long you worked, look at a table to see how long you have earned to take a break.
Here is a suggested table compiled by Read-Bivens:
|work <= 25 minutes||5-minute break|
|25 < work <= 50 minutes||8-minute break|
|50 < work <= 90 minutes||10-minute break|
|90 minutes < work||15-minute break|
My personal feeling about this technique is that since it does not require you to plan your breaks, nothing is enforcing you to rest. I think that defeats the purpose. But that is a personal feeling and for a lot of people, it works wonders.
The Rule Of 52 And 17
The rule of 52 and 17 is practically the same as the Pomodoro Technique except that a unit is 69 minutes. For every 52 minutes of work, you get to rest for 17 minutes.
I think it works great. But for me the smaller chunks of 30 minutes that the Pomodoro handles are easier to work into my daily routine than a 69-minute interval.
On the whole, the difference in break time between 52/17 rule and Pomodoro is negligible.
- 2 intervals of 52/17 = 138 minutes of which 34 minutes rest (17 + 17).
- 4 intervals of Pomodoro = 135 of which 35 minutes rest (5 + 5 + 5 + 20).
The question ‘Does Taking Breaks Increase Productivity?’ has been answered pretty clearly I would say. Yes, it does increase productivity and it even increases health for both employees and employer.
How will you incorporate taking breaks in your daily schedule?
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