Work breaks that improve productivity

Not all work breaks are equal. Harvard Business Review (‘Coffee breaks don’t boost productivity after all’, May 2012) reported some fascinating research conducted by Charlotte Fritz into the sort of work breaks that improve productivity (and the sort that reduce productivity).

In order for productivity to improve, breaks need to be work-related. No phoning home, ET; no computer games; no checking Facebook. Sorry.

The sort of breaks that score a big tick are work-related. Spend a few extra minutes treading the stairs or corridor to give a colleague the information she’s requested; phone a customer to quickly check their order arrived as promised; spend a few minutes learning something new on your computer (put ‘tips’ in your Help window and pick one); praise or help a colleague; write tomorrow’s To Do list. Then get back to work.

Short breaks like these work because, while they give your brain a rest from what you’re working on, they also help you stay mindful and connected and boost your energy, which increases your engagement and job satisfaction.

Lunch hours are fine, although to return to work feeling energised, keep your lunch hour work-related or learn something useful (work-related or not), or just relax. Holidays are fine, too, but after about two weeks off work, you’re back to feeling the way you did at the beginning of the holiday. That suggests several shorter holidays might be more beneficial than one long holiday.  

Question for discussion

Do the breaks you and your team take add to or detract from your productivity?