Have you ever found yourself to be deep in focus, only to be nudged by the urge to take a break?
If you’re like most office workers, you probably brushed off that urge and pressed onward, knowing you might feel a little guilty later if you took that break. After all, that to-do list isn’t going to finish itself. Right?
When we press onward, however, a peculiar event usually takes place. We end up losing focus altogether, making us stop to collect ourselves anyway. Amazing how that works.
Well, there’s actually a scientific reason why this cognitive haze happens and you should have listened to yourself and taken that break.
A recent study conducted by the University of Illinois found that when people do the same task for extended periods of time (such as staring at Excel spreadsheets for hours), they begin to lose focus and their performance on the task declines. Sound familiar?
How this effect comes about is very similar to how the feeling of your clothes on your skin disappears after a while or the objects in your peripheral vision seem to vanish over time. According to Dr. Lleras, a psychology professor at the University of Illinois, “constant stimulation is registered by our brains as unimportant, to the point that the brain erases it from our awareness.”
Dr. Lleras then wondered, “[i]f sustained attention to a sensation makes that sensation vanish from our awareness, sustained attention to a thought should also lead to that thought’s disappearance from our mind!” Dr. Lleras and the rest of the University of Illinois team went and completed a study to test this hypothesis.
The study found that between two groups, one that took breaks and one that didn't, the group that took 2 minor breaks during the 50-minute study exercise did not see a drop in their performance. Based on the results of the study, the team concluded that prolonged attention to a single task actually hinders performance.
“We propose that deactivating and reactivating your goals allows you to stay focused,” Dr. Lleras said. “From a practical standpoint, our research suggests that, when faced with long tasks (such as studying before a final exam or doing your taxes), it is best to impose brief breaks on yourself. Brief mental breaks will actually help you stay focused on your task!”
9 Productivity-Boosting Ideas to Do During Your Break
Now that you have scientific proof backing your need for breaks throughout the day, here are several ideas for things to do during your break:
1. Take a Walk
Walking is a great way to increase blood flow, which means more oxygen gets pumped to the brain. More oxygen to the brain allows you to think clearer and re-focus. The good thing about walking is that your walk doesn’t even need to be lengthy. Just 10-20 minutes a day can help improve your cognitive thinking and memory.
2. Read Something
Sure, you could read something related to work, but where’s the fun in that? Take a moment and enjoy a guilty pleasure book or blog. I know you have one. Feel free to share your guilty pleasure read in the comments below!
3. Grab a Snack
You’ll have to be careful here, because some foods can make you sluggish. The last thing you want to be at work is unfocused and low on energy. You’re no help to anyone in that shape. Click here for some helpful snacking tips.
4. Get a Coffee
The coffee run is a great way to combine a few break ideas into one. You can take a walk, get a snack, and catch up with a co-worker. If you’re sensitive to caffeine, however, you’ll want to watch the clock on when you consume your coffee. Too late in the day, and you might find yourself getting to bed a little later than normal. Missing sleep for extended periods of time can create other work-related issues.
5. Color a Picture
Coloring has long been a therapeutic practice. Coloring helps you destress, make use of the creative side of you brain, reduce anxiety, and give your brain a much-needed timeout. No coloring book? Try doodling. Doodling is a great form of expression in the office and can help you come up with ideas and improve your memory.
6. Listen to Music
Listening to music provides a wide array of health benefits. As you already know, it improves mood, reduces stress and anxiety, helps with memory, offers comfort, motivates and more. As an idea, keeping a set of earbuds at your desk might be worthwhile for those inevitable moments when you need a boost or a chill at work.
Similar to walking, cardio exercises and weightlifting will get your blood pumping. In as little as 15 minutes of strenuous aerobic activity or 50 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, you can improve your sleep, boost your energy, improve your mood, and combat all sorts of diseases and health conditions. Before you get started, be sure to check with your doctor, especially if you haven’t exercised in a while or you have a chronic medical condition.
8. Play with kneadpeace™ Aromatherapy Dough
Of course the kneadpeace™ blog would suggest this. It’s a solid option! Kneadpeace™ is a great way to redirect nervous and stressful energy. As a bonus, you also get to enjoy the aromatherapeutic benefits from the infused essential oil blends. Get one for your desk here!
9. Catch Up with a Coworker
Taking a break to talk to a co-worker has multiple benefits. You get to take time to clear your mind while also doing a little team building on your own. Plus, it helps to build trust in a place where having people you trust is so critical for your own career development.
Now that you have science backing you and a list of break ideas, you’re ready to say yes to yourself when that urge to break arises.
Are you an avid break taker already? How frequently do you take them, and what break activities do you enjoy?