3 tips for taking better breaks from work

Research sheds light on how to be effective at taking breaks throughout the work day.

It’s a good habit to take breaks from work, especially if our jobs involve sitting at a desk or staring at a screen. Past research has shown that mental down time is actually essential for a number of important cognitive processes.

But what is the best way to take that break? Researchers Emily Hunter and Cindy Wu at Baylor University surveyed 95 employees over a five day workweek. They collected data from over 900 breaks—including coffee breaks, lunch breaks, shorter breaks to socialize or take care of a non-work related task. The following suggestions come from their findings, which were published in the Journal of Applied Psychology last month. These better break techniques are associated with higher job satisfaction and better health.

1. Do something you like

The researchers found that taking a break to do an activity that workers enjoy is more beneficial. Your break doesn’t necessarily have to be entirely non-work related, but it should be an activity that you prefer. So, taking a break to run a personal errand that you don’t enjoy might not make for an effective break.

If you happen to work near a park or another green space and like nature (you’re reading TreeHugger, so I think it’s a good bet that you do), consider going for a short stroll. A 2013 study found that a nature walk can help clear a fuzzy brain.

2. Take shorter, more frequent breaks

Long breaks can be good too, but Hunter and Wu found that shorter more frequent breaks are more effective than infrequent ones. However, their research doesn’t tell us what the optimal length break might be—whether it’s 10 minutes or 15 minutes. “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," said Hunter.

3. Take a break in the morning

"We found that when more hours had elapsed since the beginning of the work shift, fewer resources and more symptoms of poor health were reported after a break," the researchers write. So, in other words, you might get more bang for your buck if you go for a mid-morning coffee run than an afternoon snack.

Tags: Health | Work

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