4 Reasons Taking Breaks is Beneficial to Your Productivity

By Deanna deBara | Published March 30, 2021

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You might think that the secret to productivity is buckling down and pushing yourself to work until you’ve checked off every item on your to-do list.

But the truth is, working for eight to 10 hours straight just isn’t realistic. And so, if you really want to get more done throughout the day? You need to schedule time throughout the day to step away from work and take a break.

It may sound counterintuitive (the key to getting more work done is to take breaks from work?), but taking breaks is an essential part of being productive. But why is scheduling time for regular breaks so beneficial to your productivity—and how can you leverage breaks throughout the day to get more done?

Taking breaks can help you focus

Have you ever found yourself losing focus the longer you worked on a task? You’re not alone. A 2011 study from researchers at the University of Illinois found that attentional resources decline when you perform a single task for an extended period of time—and as your attentional resources drop, so does your ability to focus. But that study also found that taking short breaks from a task allows you to better sustain focus and concentration over time. 

For example, let’s say you have a two-hour meeting scheduled with your co-workers. If you try to push through that entire two hours without a break, it’s going to get increasingly harder to focus on the meeting. But scheduling a few breaks throughout the meeting (for example, taking a five-minute breather every 30 minutes) will allow you to sustain better focus and attention throughout the two hours—and your meeting will be more productive as a result.

Bottom line? When you work on a single task, sustaining focus only gets harder the longer you work on that task. So, if you have a task that’s going to take up a good chunk of your time, make sure to schedule regular breaks—and give yourself the space you need to stay focused.

Taking breaks improves performance

Productivity isn’t just about getting things done; it’s about getting things done well. 

And if you want to get things done well, you need to take breaks.

Taking breaks is linked to better performance at work—and you don’t have to step away from your to-do list for hours at a time to improve performance; all it takes is a few minutes.

2018 study found that taking “microbreaks” (for example, getting up from your desk to stretch or taking a quick break to grab a cup of coffee) increased positive effect at work—which, in turn, improved performance. 

So, you want to not only get more done, but perform at a higher level too? Make sure to take regular, short breaks throughout the day. 

Taking breaks can help you find creative solutions to problems

When faced with a difficult task, you might be tempted to keep pushing yourself to work on that task until you figure it out and find a solution. But complex problems require creative solutions—and the best way to tap into your creativity to find those solutions? Giving yourself a break from that difficult task.

2017 study found that switching between tasks (so, taking a break from the task at hand to focus on something else) reduces cognitive fixation and enhances divergent and convergent thinking—critical elements in creativity. Essentially, when you take a break from a task, your brain stops fixating on that task and starts thinking more creatively. So, when you return to that task, it’s easier to look at it in a new, creative way—and easier to find a new, innovative solution.

Taking breaks lowers stress

It’s hard to get things done when you’re feeling completely stressed and overwhelmed. So, if you want to increase productivity, you need to find ways to reduce stress.

And a great way to reduce stress at work? Taking breaks.

Research shows that breaks can help to reduce stress in the workplace—and the less stressed you are at work, the easier it is to get things done. So, by taking breaks throughout the day, you can better manage your stress—and deliver a boost to your productivity in the process.

How to leverage breaks to boost productivity

Ready to leverage breaks to be more productive at work? Here are a few ways to make the most out of your break time:

  • Get outside. If you want to get the most productivity bang for your buck, use your break to get outside. A recent study of over 3,000 employees and managers found that spending 29 minutes outdoors translated to an impressive 45 percent increase in productivity. 
  • Take a mindfulness break... Want to return to work feeling refreshed, rejuvenated, and ready to get things done? Spend your break meditating. Meditation has been linked to everything from improved focus to decreased stress to increased creativity, all of which will provide a major boost to productivity. 
  • ...but also make space for a bit of mindless internet time. Most people consider browsing the internet to be an unproductive activity. But, as it turns out, taking breaks to surf the internet may actually make you more productive. One study found that “workplace internet leisure browsing” actually restores mental capacity—making it easier to get things done. (Just make sure to keep your leisure browsing under control; browsing the internet for a few minutes can restore mental capacity and help you return to your task feeling refreshed—but spending hours every day mindlessly scrolling social media isn’t going to do your productivity any favors.)

Give yourself the break time you need to be your most productive self

You don’t need to work all day, every day to be productive—and, in fact, taking breaks is actually an essential part of productivity. And now that you know how breaks contribute to productivity—and how to use your breaks to be more productive—all that’s left to do? Make sure to schedule breaks throughout the day—and watch your productivity skyrocket as a result.

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Deanna deBara

Deanna deBara is an entrepreneur, speaker, and freelance writer who specializes in business and productivity topics. When she's not busy writing, she enjoys hiking and exploring the Pacific Northwest with her husband and dog. See more of her work and learn more about her services at deannadebara.com.