Doing Less Work Increases Productivity
According to a new study micro-breaks, such as brewing a cup of tea or nipping to the toilet, could be costing the average business upwards of £11,000 a year. But whilst this may seem like lost profit, some experts are now arguing that by taking more breaks you actually increase productivity.
The study, which was undertaken by Viking, looked at how much the average employee spends on activities that aren’t considered work such as being on social media, making a cup of tea, surfing the internet, having a smoke and going to the toilet. Although these activities seem counterproductive, University of Illinois psychology professor Alejandro Lleras explains how they could actually increase quality and quantity of the work you produce:
“Deactivating and reactivating your goals allows you to stay focused… From a practical standpoint, our research suggests that when faced with long tasks it is best to impose brief breaks on yourself. Brief mental breaks will actually help you stay focused on your task!”
To understand why micro-breaks can actually increase productivity you have to look at the science which provides three clear arguments as to why you should prioritize your breaks at work:
- Our brains are not built for long-term focus
Although the majority of modern jobs require us to focus on one particular activity or task for a long time, the human brain wasn’t built for the level of focus we demand of it these days. According to a University of Illinois study, this is because the brain gradually stops registering a sight, sound or feeling if it remains constant over time.
The best way to explain this is that most people are not aware of the sensation of clothing touching their skin, as it’s a constant stimulus. Therefore, if your productivity starts to drop throughout the day, you may be in need of a brief interruption (micro-break) to get back on track.
- Breaks help us retain, process and analyse information
Our brains have two different modes. The first is “focused mode” which we use when we are learning, working or writing. The second is “diffuse mode” which kicks in when we are relaxing, daydreaming and not thinking too hard.
Focused mode would be the most effective whilst doing work, however, diffuse plays a big role too. In fact, this study found that the mind solves some of its stickiest problems when daydreaming.
- Breaks help you evaluate your situation
When you work on a task continuously it’s very easy to lose track of what your overall aim is, but having a brief intermission allows you to step back and evaluate what you are doing. Staying mindful of what you are working towards allows you to take advantage of opportunities, avoid wasting time and ensure you’re always going in the right direction. In fact, the Harvard Business Review examines how effective this can be in this article.
To make the most of the “less is more” approach there are many methods that researchers have developed such as the Pomodoro Cycle, The 90 Minute Work Blog or The 52-17 Method. The most commonly adopted method is to have two 15 minute breaks per day, as an addition to your lunch break. In this time you could take a walk, have a nap, brew a cup of tea or even look at adorable animal photos on the internet (which was proven to increase productivity and focus in a recent study).