How to Take (Better) Breaks

Posted on November 1, 2017

Taking a break, whether for lunch or an afternoon cup of coffee, is an essential part of most people’s workdays. Research has shown that building breaks into our day helps keep us sharp and productive on the job. However, Emily Hunter and Cindy Wu from Baylor University discovered that when it comes to when, where, and how we take breaks, many of our habits are not as beneficial as they could be.

The psychological scientists examined several factors that influence how restful and restoring a break can be, such as whether it matters if you take a walk or stay in the office, or whether there is an ideal length of time. Their research revealed two key characteristics that defined breaks that best aided recovery: taking a break earlier in the day and engaging in enjoyable activities during a break.

It is a common misconception that we get the most out of taking a break once we have already been hard at work for most of the day, and in many offices it is custom to work throughout the morning and save breaks for lunch or the late afternoon. However, Hunter and Wu found that “when more hours had elapsed since the beginning of the work shift, fewer resources and more symptoms of poor health were reported after a break,” they explain. Simply put, there appear to be distinct benefits to spending some time early in the day doing something enjoyable, while breaks later in the day seem to be less effective.

Additionally, Hunter and Wu’s study found evidence that a late-morning coffee run may hold benefits beyond improved productivity, and participants who took “better breaks” during the study also reported fewer physical symptoms, like back pain, as well as increased job satisfaction.

Overall, the findings are especially important for people spending most of their day sitting at their desk, looking at their screen: “Our results suggest that computer workers can reap the most benefits from their workday breaks if they engage in break activities that they prefer and if they pay attention to the timing of their breaks.”

Category(s):Other, Stress Management, Workplace Issues

Source material from Psychological Science