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Let’s Examine: Does Taking Breaks Make You More Productive?


by Hannah Freeman, December 6, 2021

Taking breaks at work increases productivity. Think about it like this: even machines and computers are idle for a few minutes. The short time to break from work gives employees the chance to:

  • Stretch tired muscles,
  • Find relief from sustained positions and postures,
  • Relax their eyes from screens,
  • Retain and process any information they might have learned in the last hour or so.

Let’s dive in before the break starts…

The Importance of Taking Work Breaks

Studying the habits of the most productive employees, scientists have been able to pinpoint the reason for productive working flow that leads to the incredible ability to get things done faster than usual.

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The research has shown that the most productive 10% of workers tend to take effective breaks. Specifically, the most productive people work for 52 minutes and then break for 17 minutes.

The secret to retaining the highest level of productivity throughout a workday is not working seven or eight hours  – but working smarter, and knowing when to take smart (frequent) breaks to rethink and refreshen.

There are many other surprising benefits to work breaks and productivity. First and foremost it influences your levels of productivity. Working for long hours can be damaging to your level of engagement with a certain task. 

And on the other hand, repeating tasks eventually leads to cognitive boredom. The human brain is just not built to focus for eight continuous hours – the best way to refresh attention span is to take at least a 15-minute break at work.

15 Minute Break Times At Work – Ease Your Body & Reboot Your Brain

If you don’t have time for an hour-long break in your workday, a series of ‘microbreaks’ can also have a powerful effect on your body and your mind.

Any brief activity that helps to break up the monotony of physically or mentally draining tasks can be complimenting your work efficiency, and it can involve anything – from making a cup of tea to stretching, or watching a music video.

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What Is the 52:17 Rule?

There’s no consensus on how long the ideal break times at work should last or how often employees should have them, that it’s up to workers to experiment and find out what works best for them, but sociologists can provide valuable pieces of information to guide us through.

They say that the most productive workers can get the most job done during comparatively short periods of working time if their working times are treated as sprints. 

It has been noted that they get most of the tasks done in 52 minutes, working with intense purpose. Then they rest up to be ready for the next burst. 

In other words, they work with purpose.

Working with purpose can also be explained through dedication theory: whatever you do, you do it full-on. Therefore, during those 52 minutes of work, we’re dedicated to accomplishing assignments, getting things done, and making progress. 

Whereas during the 17 minutes of work breaks, we’re completely removed from the work, entirely resting, not peeking at emails or social media.

How To Be Productive While On a Work Break?

Can you train for productivity while resting? The answer is – Yes!

In reality, our only official break times at work are the ones we take to have lunch, and some companies provide a tea-time work break or half-time break, which last about 10 or 15 minutes.

There is now loads of evidence to suggest that work breaks can be beneficial to our productivity – reducing stress, keeping workers engaged and making work more enjoyable.

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Why Stretching Matters?

Work breaks are invented to help us to cope with long periods at our desks by taking the strain off certain body structures such as the neck and our back – that we’re using all day.

The evidence of microbreaks at work is helpful, but the only area in which we have entered mainstream is a way of reducing the risk of developing injuries in the workplace, mainly by sitting all day. 

Between 2017 and 2018 there were 469,000 workers in the USA suffering from musculoskeletal injuries acquired because of their jobs. Most people don’t notice that they’re damaging themselves until they’re in pain – and by this point, it’s already too late. 

Doctors strongly advocate the use of microbreaks at work, and using them to slightly stretch back and neck muscles, as well as walking for a minute or two.

Commit to taking some serious breaks this week. If 17 minutes every hour feels like too much (to you, or your boss) consider just taking five minutes every hour and seeing what effect it has. The results could surprise you.

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