Here’s Why You Should Stop Feeling Guilty for Taking Breaks at Work
Jul 13, 2020   •   Ina Louise Manto
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Jul 13, 2020   •   Ina Louise Manto
When beating deadlines at work or studying for a major exam in school, we often push ourselves to work for hours on end without taking a break. But breaks are actually necessary to get things done and stay productive. Here are some reasons why you should stop feeling guilty for taking them.
“What are breaks? I don’t have time for them.” When you catch yourself saying this way too much recently, you obviously need to take a break. That’s your sign to go and take it easy. Pushing yourself too hard can lead to fatigue, stress, and eventually, burnout. When avoiding breaks, it can harm not just your mental and emotional health, but your physical wellbeing as well. You might feel eye strain, exhaustion, and you’ll catch yourself feeling more irritable and anxious than usual.
If you’re trying to get things done, taking breaks may seem counterintuitive. After all, if you focus on one thing for hours, you’re guaranteed to finish what needs to be done successfully. However, a study from the University of Illinois found that the brain’s attentional resources decrease after focusing on a single task for a long period of time. According to the researchers, brief mental breaks help you stay focused on a task.
Our brain basically functions in two ways: focused and diffused. “Focused” is obviously when you’re doing only one task at a time and minimizing attention on anything else. On the other hand, “diffused” mode is when your brain is more relaxed, like when you’re listening to your favorite playlist or watching your favorite TV show. Studies suggest that we are able to solve problems better when in a diffused state. Ever notice that you get ideas in the most random times, most often when you’re relaxed? It can happen when you’re on your ride home or even taking a shower. The next time you’re too focused on solving a problem, take a break and stop forcing your brain to find an answer.
Notice how you easily fall into bad habits when you’re busy and stressed? You tend to eat more junk food; you sleep less or even forget to exercise completely. Instead of just zoning out in front of your phone, start utilizing your breaks and get the most out of them! You can do something as simple as preparing your meal, going out for a walk, or even taking a quick nap. Researchers have found that people get more out of their breaks when they do something they genuinely enjoy during the downtime. They also found that employees who take “better breaks” experience job satisfaction and better health.
According to a professor at the University of California, Davis who studies the psychology of a workplace, you reduce your ability to be creative when you don’t take breaks. She says, “It sort of exhausts your cognitive capacity and you’re not able to make the creative connections you can if your brain is more rested. If you’re skipping lunch to continue to push forward in a very intense cognitive capacity, then you’re probably not doing yourself any favors.” So go take that lunch break and give yourself time to recharge.
Of all the reasons we have shared on this list, this is the ultimate benefit: increased productivity. An IT firm in Latvia conducted a study and found that their top 10 percent most productive employees all have one trait in common: they take breaks! It’s easier to get things done when you give yourself mini-deadlines rather than focusing on one big task. Schedule your breaks and use the “focus” time to achieve mini-tasks as they actually help you accomplish more quickly.
While there isn’t any consensus on the frequency of breaks, research shows that you should take one every 50-90 minutes. This is based on a study that discovered ultradian rhythms have 90-minute cycles; these rhythms are oftentimes observed in REM sleep. If focusing for 90 minutes straight becomes difficult, you can begin with 50 minutes!
How long should your breaks be? Well, it actually depends on the time you need to recharge. But ideal short breaks are between 15-20 minutes. That’s why you’re given 20-minute breaks at work other than lunchtime! To get you started, try doing the Pomodoro technique where you focus on a task for 25 minutes straight and rest for the next five minutes. After doing four cycles this, you get to enjoy a 15-minute break. Remember, it’s easier to get a task done quickly when you divide it into smaller tasks.
You deserve that break! Get it.
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