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4 Scientific Reasons You Should Take More Breaks at Work

ByDr. Joseph Cilona, writer
Nov 21, 2018
Image credit: fizkes/Shutterstock
> Career

Want to take more breaks at work? Science is on your side.

What does it take for you to get mentally prepared to dive into that multi-hour Excel spreadsheet session? Before you instinctively reach for another cup of coffee we’ve got great news – just start taking more breaks. Not only could you make far fewer mistakes, you might blast through your work quicker and even enjoy it much, much more.

Here are four scientifically proven reasons why you should go ahead and take that break.

1. You'll Maintain Optimal Stress Levels

FACT: Taking regular breaks of 1.5 minutes increased worker productivity by almost 7 percent.

Interestingly enough, our optimal stress level is not a completely stress-free environment – at least in terms of work productivity. In fact, the optimal stress level for people to reach peak productivity is when they’re under some stress but not overloaded. If stress levels are beginning to feel like they’re entering the red-zone, taking breaks has been found to be an incredible regulator in maintaining, or in this case potentially reducing, stress levels.

2. You'll Quit Overthinking and Move On

FACT: Taking regular breaks of two minutes increased productivity about twice as much (11.15 percent).

Have you ever had a eureka moment on a project that seemed completely out of the blue? Or how about when you just can’t name that song or artist, only to suddenly remember after you’ve consciously stopped thinking about it?

One way to think of this is when you stop fully concentrating on one thing and take a break from the problematic task, your subconscious mind is still working away in the background finding a solution. Higher levels of stress often correlate with overthinking a particular subject, so if you want to make concrete logical connections without even trying – simply move on and it’ll likely come to you.

3. You Can Better Regulate Your Emotions

FACT: Taking breaks before they are needed is the most effective for your health.

A relentless focus on “work” can also mean a neglect of “play.” A work habit such as this, if left unchecked, can lead to reduced productivity, boredom and burnout. Human beings are naturally emotional and must stay self-critical in order to feel a full range of emotions to be healthy and productive. To stay emotionally well, it has been found that pre-emptively taking breaks before they are needed can be an effective method to strike the perfect balance at work. Be proactive and never forget how important “play” is in regulating your mental well-being. 

4. You'll Be Able to Exercise Stronger 'Focus Muscles'

FACT: Taking a short break every couple of hours from a tough work schedule helps us keep in good shape physically, mentally and emotionally, which considerably improves our productivity.

Physically, after strenuous exercise, our bodies need ample rest and balanced nutrition for our muscles to recover and grow stronger and bigger. This rule is no different for us psychologically. After hours of intense concentration on a particular subject, puzzle or problem, we need to give our “focus muscles” enough time to rest and re-cooperate. Think of break-taking as a big scoop of protein for the mind. After taking a break, you might just be giving your mind all the “nutritional” support it needs to stay focused and productive at work.  

Wondering what you can do for a break?

Taking walks, having a chat with a colleague and coffee breaks are the obvious ones – and they’re great. But, if you’re not able to get away from your desk, another great option for a mental break is to switch your focus to a soothing or funny video on your computer screen. Using products like YouTube’s Picture-In-Picture, which is currently in beta testing, or the recently released PowerDVD 18, which includes a mini view feature to play locally sorced videos or stream YouTube videos over those daunting Excel sheets, could help you refocus and take a much needed mental rest at your desk.

So next time you want to take a break, go for it and don’t feel guilty. Know that you are engaging in a healthy habit that can make your productivity at work soar. 

Dr. Joseph Cilona
Dr. Joseph Cilona
See Dr. Joseph Cilona's Profile
Dr. Cilona is a licensed clinical psychologist, personal coach, author and psychology expert for media and television. Dr. Cilona’s expert advice and commentary on psychology, pop culture, current events, and the latest research appears regularly in over 200 national and international print and online publications including: Newsweek, Associated Press, CNN, ABC News, CBS News, New York Times, Wall St. Journal, New York Magazine, and MSNBC. In addition to his work with private clients, Dr. Cilona works as a consultant for businesses around relationship and other psychology-related issues, as well as in mental health program development serving the underprivileged and chronically mentally ill. You can find out more about him on his website
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