What do all these successful people have in common?
Einstein came up with the theory of relativity while riding his bicycle.
Salvador Dali believed that his daily siesta boosted his creativity.
Thomas Edison said he got extra energy to invent electrical devices from taking short naps.
What they (and many other famous people from Leonardo da Vinci to John F. Kennedy) have in common is that they used work breaks to get more done, with better quality, in less time. And a plethora of scientific studies prove them right.
A DeskTime time-tracking experiment showed that the top 10% employees in productivity actually worked less than eight hours a day. They alternated 52 minutes of work with 17-minute breaks.
A Mayo Clinic study found that workers who stay glued to their desks all day without a break have more health problems, including cardiovascular disease, gastro-intestinal damage, impaired memory, poor decision making, sleep disturbances, depression and anxiety.
Airplane pilots who took a 30 minute nap during a long flight achieved a 16% improvement in their reaction time. Non-napping pilots had a 34% decrease.
A University of Illinois study discovered that even brief diversions from a task improve the brain’s ability to focus on that task for long periods. Researchers concluded that “deactivating and reactivating goals” relieves mental fatigue and resets your mind to peak performance.
OK, now that you’re on board with the idea of the break, there’s still the problem of how to fit it into your busy day. Check out these tried-and-true strategies:
Put it on the calendar. Your break should be just as firm a commitment as a management meeting (because it could have just as much impact on your bottom line).
Set a timer to remind you if you want to take regular breaks throughout the day, such as the 52-minutes-on-17-minutes-off protocol mentioned above.
Be realistic about how much time you can spend. Schools of thought on the optimum break length range from 1 minute to 1 hour. Experiment to find what works for you.
When you go on break, make sure you truly break away from the work at hand. Walking to the restroom while thinking about the problem you were trying to solve when you left your desk won’t do you any good. Following are some suggested activities according to how much time your schedule can accommodate.
1 to 10 minutes
Stand up and do some stretching exercises.
Take a walk to the coffee machine, vending machine or water cooler.
Go outside for a few breaths of fresh air.
Stop by a colleague’s office for a brief conversation.
Put on noise-cancelling headphones and listen to music.
20 to 30 minutes
Hang a “do not disturb” sign on your office door and:
Read a book or magazine.
Surf the Internet, play online games.
Plan your next vacation, or other fun activity.
Take a power nap.
Call a friend or loved one for a good talk.
Go to a health club near the office for a swim or a workout.
Bicycle around the neighborhood.
Get out and enjoy nature, i.e. a walk in the park.
In the city, go window shopping.
Visit a museum, art gallery or other cultural opportunity.