Work-from-home life has become the norm for so many…
While it has its benefits, it’s easy for your day to get derailed from the get-go. Emails, early meetings, and back-to-back Zoom calls easily suck you in. Before you know it, you’ve sat at your desk for hours!
Today we’re diving into the science behind taking breaks and uncovering how the world’s most successful people take breaks for maximum productivity and performance benefits.
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Break It Up: The Science-Backed Importance of Taking Breaks
Carving time out of your busy schedule for a break can seem impossible. But research shows that chaining yourself to your desk can take a serious toll on your well-being.
Microsoft conducted a study on how working from home affected employees’ stress levels and engagement by monitoring their brain activity with EEGs. On Day 1, team members underwent four back-to-back 30-minute meetings, and on Day 2 they underwent the same meeting schedule but with 10-minute breaks between.
What did they find?
Back-to-back meetings without breaks resulted in higher beta-wave activity (a sign of stress) compared to those who took regular breaks.
Here’s a strong visual from the article about the study that really drives the message home.
Breaks Also Helped Lower Cumulative Stress
In non-break takers, beta activity was higher after each meeting, which led to an accumulation of stress throughout the day. For the team members who took breaks in between meetings, on the other hand, beta activity returned to baseline after each meeting.
This graph shows the gradual increase in stress levels over a two-hour period of 30-minute meetings for non-break versus break takers.
The Verdict Is In: Give Me a Break!
As you can see, there was a trend that employees who took breaks were more relaxed, engaged, and focused during their workday.
This was one small study, but the evidence behind taking breaks is growing. Studies also show that breaks can improve job satisfaction, boost productivity, and prevent burnout (1-3).
- Take a five-minute break every 50 minutes to recharge. In the world’s largest study on productivity, with over two million data points, the most productive people took breaks every 50 minutes. Brendon Burchard, an influential leader and high-performance coach, swears by this to recharge for more energy throughout the day.
- For shorter breaks, make sure you’re actively defocusing. It sounds trivial, but in this clip, Dr. Andrew Huberman says defocusing is key to a successful reset. When you actively defocus, you’re shifting from a narrow focus on your computer or phone to a broad, panoramic view. Walking outside, looking around your office, or relaxing your gaze are some ways you can help your brain decompress and reset before returning to work.
- For longer breaks, engage in active relaxation. Sometimes, we might need more than a few minutes for a break. If you have the chance for real downtime during your day, active relaxation can help you hit the reset button. Active relaxation is the act of silencing external noise and distractions and allowing your mind to wander freely.This could be going for a walk, listening to music, or yoga nidra or meditation practice—whatever gives you a deep inner feeling of calmness and zen. Yoga nidra is one of my favorite ways to practice active relaxation. If my schedule allows for it, I’ll close my office door, lie on the floor, and listen to a guided meditation video like this one.
As a CEO with 60+ employees across the country, my days can begin as early as 6:00 a.m. When I don’t make time for breaks, I can feel it take a serious toll on my focus, productivity, and enthusiasm for projects.
To combat this, I block off 5–10 minutes between meetings to step away from my computer, stretch, or go for a quick walk. It doesn’t always happen, but I’ve found that taking breaks is essential for helping me perform at my best.
Here’s to your health,
P.S.: For all my growth-minded people, Sahil Bloom puts out a weekly newsletter called The Curiosity Chronicles that covers everything from growth and decision-making to finance, start-ups, and tech. If that’s your jam, I recommend subscribing!