Break Points -- Productivity Boosters or Waste of Time?

I imagine that most of us think that taking a break from work isn't a good thing. We've been conditioned to think that hard work is what pays off, and hard work is measured by how long we work -- right? 

Have you ever been praised for your ability to take frequent breaks from your tasks? No, most of us get reinforcement for "keeping our nose to the grindstone" -- a rather outdated phrase, but I bet you've heard it sometime in your working life!

Well, it appears that working long hours with no breaks doesn't make us more productive and, in fact, actually has a negative impact on productivity and certainly on creativity. And then there are the physical health benefits of taking breaks. 

You've probably heard that "sitting is the new smoking" adage -- sitting for long periods of time is not good for us. Recently, my internist told me to get up from my chair every 30 minutes, and I laughed at this suggestion until I started researching this article.

Since much of my time is spent writing books, blogs, and articles, the idea that I can get anything done in short periods of time didn't make sense to me. But I tried it, and yes, I can make real progress in 25 minutes. As a self-confessed procrastinator, I find that I'm able to get started on projects or assignments sooner when I think I only have to focus on them for 25 minutes -- it forces me to sit and write. I actually set the timer to remind me to get up -- and I set it in another room so I have to get up to turn it off!

Here's the hard part -- a break is not stopping to check email or just sneaking a look at Facebook or Instagram. A break is stepping away from your work for a short time to maybe take a walk around the office or the block. This kind of break allows you to clear your head so that when you return to your work, you're focused.

An article in The Atlantic.com on September 17, 2014, shares research that says the most productive schedule is to work for 52 minutes and then take a 17-minute break! They suggest that "rather than set your stop-watch for 17:00 when you get up from your desk, the more important reminder might be to get up at all."

There are other changes we can make that have both health and productivity payoffs -- try standing-up meetings. They tend to be shorter than sit-down meetings, so that's a productivity boost right there. Or how about walking meetings? Of course, the weather has to be good, and it can't be a large group of people or a meeting where you need a whiteboard or PowerPoint presentation. But how about a time when it's just you and a couple of colleagues discussing next steps on a project? 

We'd love to hear how you incorporate some of these ideas into your day and what works for you. And, right now, step away from your desk and take a break! You'll be more productive for it!

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