A 2012 study by Right Management showed that 2/5 North American workers eat lunch at their desk. Whether we choose to power through lunch, or whether we feel pressured to by our cultures, more and more of us are sacrificing breaks for productivity. In fact, only 1/5 of us take actual lunch breaks (read: time off, completely removed from our emails and phones).
The result? Increased stress, diminished productivity, and lower motivation.
Our attempts to be more productive have backfired.
In a world of full inboxes, endless notifications, and ever-increasing demands on our expertise and skill sets, why is it not effective to simply power through and not take breaks? Because the human brain is simply not designed to focus for eight hours at a stretch. In fact, even trying to maximize how long you work before taking a break can be counterproductive. A Baylor University study suggests that taking morning breaks is linked to higher energy, more motivation, and better concentration throughout the work day; as well as fewer occurrences of physical symptoms such as back pain, eye strain and headaches. And a study by the time-tracking App, DeskTime, found that the most productive 10% of its users worked for an average of 52 minutes of work, before taking a 17 minute break — away from their computers.
Indeed, stepping away from your workstation seems to be key to how effectiveness your break really is. While a funny cat video could actually increase productivity in the short-term, in the long-run a change of environment is the best way to stimulate creative thinking. That means that a break away from your computer has a significant advantage over staying at your desk. According to Kimberly Elsbach, professor of management at the Graduate School of Management at the University of California at Davis, a natural environment is one of the best stimulants for creative thinking, which means that a walk outside is the optimal way to recharge your batteries.
In response to these findings, some companies have actively encouraged their workers to take more breaks, such as Toronto-Based Real Estate company, CBRE, which has recently implemented a new policy whereby employees can no longer eat lunch at their desks. Since most of us don’t work in such actively structured environments, we need to be proactive about implementing breaks in our own work days. And for those of us in leadership, we are all the more responsible to guide our teams by example.
While it can be tempting to congratulate ourselves for our stamina, focus and commitment when we work eight hours straight, the truth is that we’re literally sabotaging our own performance. So next time you’re about to eat at your desk, think again. And go for a walk.
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