Blake Snow

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Power breaks: How stopping helps you work faster (and smarter!)

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Do you know what happens when world-class athletes stop taking time-outs? Their body slows down and they start making bad decisions. Anyone who’s every played competitive sports or even performance art already understands this truth.

And yet when it comes to office work, many of us overlook the importance of regular breaks. We mistakenly assume that just because we’re not exerting our bodies, we don’t need rest. But breaking isn’t just for people who tax their bodies for work, it’s for anyone who thinks and makes lots of decisions—you very much included.

To that end, here are 5 ways regular breaks can help you work smarter, faster, and even longer:

  1. Breaks prevent boredom, which leads to unfocus. Getting “stuck in a rut” is exactly that. Whenever the task at hand becomes monotonous, we get bored and lose focus, which slows our productivity and worsens decision-making. Regular breaks, then, keep things interesting and our focus on task.
  2. Breaks reduce “decision fatigue” and increase opportunities. Something interesting happens when you’re forced to making hundreds or thousands of tiny decisions—your brain starts defaulting to the easier answer, which is “no.” According to one famous study, when we get tired, we say “no” more often, even to things or opportunities that would actually be good for us. So breaks actually help us say “yes” more often.
  3. Breaks help us retain information. If your brain is always running, you’ll never give it a chance to remember, retain, and file away for later use all the things you’ve been putting into it. Period. So give it a rest—literally, and your memory will be better for it.
  4. Breaks increase “aha” moments.” When we give our minds a rest, we actually increase the number of “Eureka!” moments throughout the day, according to one study. When are minds get regular rest, our subconscious often kicks in to helps us see the bigger picture, reevaluate, or reprioritize our current and long-term goals. When that happens, we can make connections to other important thoughts and ideas, which leads to more strategic and meaningful decisions.
  5. Breaks help us cultivate healthier habits. Not only does uninterrupted work increase the chance of spinning wheels, but it reinforces the idea that work is the most important thing and where we should be channeling all of our time and energy. When we break, however, we get better perspective on the other important things in live, include non-professional relationships, personal health, and the good things in life that increase work-life balance, and ultimately our productive when we come back to work with more refreshed and hungry minds.

How to get the most from work breaks:

For the best break routine, you need a regular physical change to help facilitate a mental one. That usually means leaving the room or workstation, taking a short “power” walk, resting outside, eating a snack, and drinking a big glass of water. If you can’t leave your desk, try daydreaming, meditating, doing something creative, or even taking several deep breaths before you get back to the task at hand.

In fact, one study found that the most elite performers such as violinists, athletes, actors and chess players often work in 90 minute blocks, followed by a 15-30 minute period of rest. Even just a five minute break every hour can greatly improve your productivity, according to research. Either way, you should plan for regular breaks to get the most out of your work. At minimum schedule at least two 15 minute breaks per day—one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

Protip: Unless you’re in the middle of an amazing work flow, don’t skip lunch. That’s not only an important break, it’s fuel for the rest of the day. Skip it at your own peril.