It’s official: despite what your whip-cracking boss might think, breaks actually correlate with productivity. At least that’s what a recent survey by productivity software company DeskTime found among the top ten percent of performers. To be absolutely specific, the study found that the optimal work and break intervals were fifty-two and seventeen minutes, respectively.
We all inherently realize that almost nobody works an entire eight-plus hour day without any deviation, it’s just not possible. Even if you think you’re working non-stop, your mind inevitably drifts off from time to time – you may be thinking about an upcoming appointment, or tired from a late night out and just a little fuzzy-headed.
A realization that humans can’t work double-digit hours seven days a week was the reason behind the push toward a five day work week and eight hour days. Henry Ford realized that he actually got more out of his employees by working them less back during the Industrial Revolution, hence the change in work intervals.
But before you stretch out, kick back in your ergonomic office chair and pop your loafers onto your cubicle desk, realize that taking a bunch of breaks is only one component of this productivity boost. The other half is the way that work is treated during that fifty-two minute period: like a sprint. You get in the zone and crank things out for a solid fifty-two minutes, avoiding distractions as well as you can. Then you can take your well deserved break.
Here’s the kicker though, you can’t just take a pseudo-break. No, casual checking of work email, or pondering of big picture agenda items. Take a real break. Go for a walk, as we love to do here at the office. Get your mind onto something else. I personally like to listen to books on tape as I walk, or educational podcasts. Then, when your seventeen minutes are up, you’ll have a fresh mind for the task at hand.
While the above is a recommendation based on behavior, there is a productivity strategy called the Pomodoro Technique which recommends twenty-five minutes of intensive work, followed by a five minute break (pomodoro – “tomato” in Italian – is the shape of a popular kitchen timer used in this technique). After four pomodori, you take a longer break of fifteen-to-thirty minutes.
Due to the popularity of this method, a number of apps for both desktop and mobile have been created to be virtual timers. PomodoroOne is my choice for Macs and here is a list of free Pomodoro timers from GigaOm, including options for PCs. Since these timers often have customizable settings, try downloading one of these apps to test out what work and break intervals produce the best results for you!
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