SCIENCE

Here's How To Maximize Your Workday Breaks

It's OK to step away from the screen and go get yourself a cup of coffee.
A new study finds that efficient workday breaks can include simply doing something enjoyable.
A new study finds that efficient workday breaks can include simply doing something enjoyable.

Do you count walking to the office bathroom as taking a break? What about keeping one eye on your email while checking the News feed on your cell phone with the other? Or eating a sad-looking salad at your desk for lunch? 

If you answered yes to any of those questions, your workday needs a serious upgrade. 

Many of us don't take any breaks at work -- roughly 80 percent of U.S. employees don't even take a lunch break -- and when we do, we're often going about them the wrong way.

In a new study, researchers from Baylor University found, our health, productivity and job satisfaction can suffer when we don't make good use of the time we take to step away from work-related activities. 

For the study, researchers asked 95 employees to record all the breaks they took over the course of a workweek, which added up to a total of 959 breaks, or an average of two breaks per person each day.

These breaks consisted of any period of time during which employees disengaged from work-related tasks, from an hour-long lunch with coworkers to a few minutes spent checking personal email -- they did not, however, include bathroom breaks. Afterwards, the employees were asked questions about their productivity and well-being. 

"We took some of our layperson hypotheses about what we believed were helpful in a break and tested those empirically in the best way possible," Dr. Emily Hunter, one of the study's authors, said in a statement. "What we found was that a better workday break was not composed of many of the things we believed. "

Contrary to popular belief, you don't necessarily need to go outside or even leave your desk Hunter said.

Using the responses from the employees the researchers were able to identify which types of breaks tend to leave people feeling the most refreshed -- and it's not necessarily what you might think (or what you're already doing). 

Here are the three best ways to maximize your workday break:

Take your first one in the morning. While most employees who were part of the study worked through the morning, pausing for breaks at lunch and maybe once again in the afternoon, the researchers found that the later in the day that people took breaks, the more likely they were to report poor focus, fatigue and headaches. 

The best time to take a break is actually mid-morningbefore feelings of depletion set in. These early breaks were more effective in replenishing cognitive resources like energy, focus and motivation.

"You should pace yourself, similar to how plants should be watered early in the day before getting distressed from a long day in the sun," Hunter told The Huffington Post in an email. 

Keep them relatively short, and take them often. Taking more frequent, shorter breaks seemed to be more effective in boosting productivity and warding off fatigue than taking fewer, longer breaks. 

While the researchers weren't able to determine the optimum length of time for a work break, other research has suggested that as little as five minutes can increase energy levels and productivity. 

The idea here is that you're preventing yourself from getting too exhausted, instead of taking time to recover after you've already worn yourself out. 

"Popular wisdom dictates that you should let your cell phone battery deplete to 0% before charging it, but you are not your phone," Hunter said. "Instead, our research finds you should charge yourself more frequently, taking a break from work before your energy depletes to 0%."

Do something that makes you happy. It doesn't really matter what you do as long as it's something that you truly enjoy doing -- even if it's a work-related passion project. What does that mean? No running errands or paying bills.

"Preferred activities are more refreshing because they provide a feeling of autonomy and control, they are enjoyable, and they don’t require additional resource expenditure," Hunter said. 

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