The average workday is 8 hours, but you certainly shouldn’t be working that entire time. There is no end of research showing that our brains aren’t designed to stay focused for long periods of time. The best recipe for efficiency and producing quality work is taking breaks. Much like any solution, one size never suits all.
The following are three schools-of-thought on how long and how often you should take breaks:
1. Pomodoro method
This method involves working/breaking in short bursts. After 25 minutes, take 5 minutes to get up, move around, drink some water etc. After four sessions, take a longer break of 30 mins.
2. 90 Minute work block
This method is based on sleep research and the ultradian rhythm – what’s believed to be the body’s ‘natural rhythm’. With this method, stay focused on a task for 90 minute before taking a short break.
3. 52-17 Method
A relatively new theory based on the results of a productivity app, this method suggests working for 52 minutes followed by a 17 minute break.
With breaks spanning from 5 minutes up to 30 minutes, there are a number of activities you can do to ensure you’re getting the most out of your ‘time-out’. The most important thing to note is that this down time shouldn’t be spent doing anything work related.
- Exercise: It’s positive effects have long been documented. Even a few minutes spent stretching or walking can do wonders for your day.
- Eat: Try snacking on something nutritious to take some time out and replenish.
- Drink: Obviously water is the best option to keep hydrated but taking 5 minutes to go get a coffee gives your brain some downtime + caffeine.
- Read: Better yet, read something that doesn’t involve looking at a screen.
- Listen to Music: Tailor this to your mood. Whether you need to get motivated, stay focused or just chill out, music can be an easy way to achieve this.
- Meditate: There are so many apps and websites that will assist you with guided meditations from anywhere between 5 minutes to and hour and a half, you don’t need to be a yogi to reach a relaxed state.
- Talk: Being social and making meaningful connections does wonders for our own and other’s well being. Chat to a colleague or call a friend – just remember to try not talking about work!
- Go Outside: Fresh air and a change of location will help your brain get some down time.
- Nap: Depending on how liberal your work place is, try taking a nap. If your office isn’t exactly equipped with an appropriate sleeping area, check out the local gym, as some are equipped with sleep pods. There’s a whole body of research on ‘optimal sleep time’, perhaps give that a read too.
- Plan Something Fun: Having something to look forward to is a fantastic way to change your psyche and can instantly lift your mood.
- Doodle or Colour: One of the latest ‘free therapies’ to hit the market are adult colouring books. Reconnect with your inner child and take five to colour-in-between the lines.
Incorporate these activities into your workday and you might just find you’re more efficient and more alert. Small breaks help put boredom at bay, enable you to retain more information and allow time to reevaluate goals, ensuring you remain on-task. Don’t forget the greatest resource is you, not time. Look after yourself.
About the author:
This article was written by Jo Scard, Managing Director, Fifty Acres Communications Agency. With over 20 years’ experience in communications, political advisory roles and journalism, Jo Scard is Australia’s foremost strategic adviser to Not-For-Profits, entrepreneurs and government.