Productivity problems are natural in the world of business, but how we deal with them might actually be making the problem worse. In a 2012 article from the New York Times, a number of researchers endorsed the idea of taking frequent breaks to recharge one’s mental batteries.
“A growing body of evidence shows that taking regular breaks from mental tasks improves productivity and creativity — and that skipping breaks can lead to stress and exhaustion,” writes Phyllis Korkki.
To prove her point, Korkki spoke to several researchers in the field, starting with John P. Trougakos, an assistant management professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough and the Rotman School of Management.
Trougakos equated mental concentration to muscle. “It becomes fatigued after sustained use and needs a rest period before it can recover,” he explain, adding that it was not unlike a weight lifter needing rest before doing a second round of repetitions at the gym.
Breaks And Guilt
Trougakos acknowledges that breaks bring on guilt because they’re “this little oasis of personal time that we get while we’re selling ourselves to someone else,” but points out that employees “generally need to detach from their work and their work space to recharge their internal resources.”
He suggests walking, reading a book in a room separate from where you’re doing your work, and “taking the all-important lunch break, which provides both nutritional and cognitive recharging.”
Still, Trougakos notes, it’s important to take the break “before reaching the absolute bottom of your mental barrel.”
In other words, if you start to drift or daydream, shake things up. But be careful not to overdo it. “Anything at an extreme level,” he says, “is not going to be good.”
Professor James A. Levine of the Mayo Clinic agrees with all of Trougakis’ points, and doesn’t think that too many breaks is a problem of the typical worker. In fact, he notes, workers are not taking enough breaks.
“The design of the human being is to be a mobile entity,” said Levine, who encourages standing and walking while at work or in a meeting.
Levine also believes in the effectiveness of nap breaks, “but only if they are allowed by management.” Furthermore, management “should encourage employees to devise individually effective break routines,” adding that workers should consider intense 15-minute bursts of productivity followed by a brief break, repeated in cycles throughout the day. As Levine notes, “the thought process is not designed to be continuous.”
“Long hours don’t mean good work — highly efficient, productive work is more valuable,” he said, adding that “frequent breaks promote that.”
So if you’re having productivity problems and you notice that a co-worker or an employee is in the break room catching up on their summer reading or challenging a fellow colleague to a game of air hockey, don’t be so quick to judge. They may be doing your business more good than you realize.[Image via Flickr Creative Commons]