A new study found the most worthwhile strategies for increasing concentration, energy, motivation, and mood at work
If you've been taking your Facebook, Gchat, or coffee breaks willy-nilly, chances are you aren’t getting the most out of your mid-day downtime. Yes, science says there's a right way to take a work break—right down to the when, where, and how—in order to boost your energy, concentration, and motivation. (On that note, find out The Best Time to Do Everything At Work.)
The study, out of Baylor University and published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, analyzed the work breaks of 95 employees in their 20s to 60s over the course of one workweek. Researchers asked the employees to document every time they took a break, which they defined as "any period of time, formal or informal, during the workday in which work-relevant tasks are not required or expected, including but not limited to a break for lunch, coffee, personal email ,or socializing with coworkers, not including bathroom breaks." (Find out why we should really ditch the five-day workweek already.)
The study authors report that their findings actually contradicted their initial predictions about the most helpful break—which means they'll probably shatter your relaxing reality as well. Here, some of the surprising characteristics of the "best break."
1. The best time of day is mid-morning. Rather than hunkering down all a.m. in order to take a mid-afternoon hiatus, researchers found a break earlier in the day actually replenishes energy, concentration, and motivation more than at any other time. They also found the more hours people let pass between starting the day and taking a recess, the more symptoms of poor health they had. Bottom line: You won't get as much bang for your buck the later you wait.
2. There isn't a single best activity. Despite conventional wisdom, the researchers found no evidence that non-work-related activities are necessarily more beneficial. What did matter? That the break consisted of something the employee chose to do and liked to do. (Personally, we're big fans of the lunch break workout.) "Finding something on your break that you prefer to do—something that's not given to you or assigned to you—are the kinds of activities that are going to make your breaks much more restful, provide better recovery and help you come back to work stronger," said study author Emily Hunter, Ph.D. in the press release.
3. Breaking often is best. Well, the study didn’t determine the ideal length for a workday pause. But the study authors did find that it's beneficial to take frequent short breaks. (No word on whether checking Instagram every five minutes counts!) "Unlike your cellphone, which popular wisdom tells us should be depleted to zero percent before you charge it fully to 100 percent, people instead need to charge more frequently throughout the day," Hunter said.
Not surprisingly, those who took recesses that fit these three ideals experienced better job satisfaction and less burnout, according to the employee surveys. (And burnout is definitely something to be taken seriously.)
These kinds of daily escapes from the grind led to some pretty awesome health perks too. The boost in energy, concentration, and motivation after these "better breaks" led workers to experience less physical ailments, including headache, eyestrain, and lower back pain—yet another reminder of how much healthier and more productive employees we'd all be with some me time away from our desks.