There was once a time when smoking breaks were just par for the course. It must have been frustrating for non-smokers to see colleagues take numerous breaks throughout the day while they slaved away.
But perhaps they were on to something. Microbreaks are something more companies are beginning to embrace and for good reasons.
The human body is a complex machine, just one not made out of chips and circuits. The thing we have in common with computers, though, is we eventually burn out. That’s where sleep comes in—it resets our body and restores our energy.
But what about microbreaks? How do they fit in and how do they help us?
In recent years, all sorts of strides have been made into health and neurochemistry and how they affect productivity.
Table of Contents
The 4 Benefits of Microbreaks
Microbreaks serve as a way of rebooting your brain and refreshing your body. Just a few minutes can have a disproportionately powerful impact on your productivity.
Here are the four main benefits of microbreaks according to research.
1. It Improves Your Concentration
As Winston Churchhill once said, on the subject of long speeches,
“The head cannot take in more than the seat can endure.”
Our ability to concentrate drops precipitously without rest or breaks. Research has shown that allowing people to get microbreaks while viewing a city scene with a flowering meadow green roof helps boost their sustained attention.
People who take microbreaks also made significantly lower omission errors and are more consistent in responding to the tasks assigned to them.
2. It Reduces Stress
Stress is the number one productivity killer. It hampers everything we do. It interrupts focused work and makes us more prone to error.
Moreover, stress can have a serious impact on work morale and negatively affect business relationships. Research shows that stress is detrimental to an employee’s morale, motivation, and performance. It also negatively affects their satisfaction with their job.
3. It Increases Happiness
On the flip side, happiness is the number one productivity booster. Everything seems easier when we’re happy.
It’s not hard to see that people’s productivity goes up on Friday afternoon. Why? Because they’re looking forward to the weekend and are suddenly able to get jobs done faster than the rest of the week.
Happy workers argue less, are more efficient, are more independent, and are a joy to be around. Research shows that microbreaks have a direct positive effect on employee performance.
4. It Helps You to Avoid Injuries
Lower back pain is extremely common especially as we age. More than 80 percent of people will experience back pain in their lifetime. Moreover, a significant number of these people will experience back pain due to their work conditions.
Our muscles suffer greatly as we age due to a lack of movement. People in their teens or twenties hardly complain about back problems unless they are elite athletes. Fast forward twenty years, and it’s remarkable how many people have thrown out their backs or had sciatica.
How to Use Your Microbreaks at Work
It isn’t enough to just have microbreaks. You should know how to make use of these breaks to maximize their benefits.
Here are four things you can do during your microbreaks at work.
1. Stand-Sit-Stretch Pattern
According to research done by Alan Hedge, a professor of design and environmental analysis in the College of Human Ecology at Cornell University and director of Cornell’s Human Factors and Ergonomics Laboratory, the best way to organize work is to follow the sit-stand-stretch pattern.
It breaks down the work day into 30-minute cycles where 20 minutes are spent sitting, followed by eight minutes of standing, and then two minutes of standing and moving, which includes stretching and walking.
As for what stretching entails, it can be as simple as a short walk or some yoga poses that focus on your lower back. Hedge also emphasizes that both sitting and standing need to be done with proper posture.
2. The 20/20/20 Eye Microbreak
In a clubhouse room about productivity, I heard someone refer to what his optometrist called the 20/20/20 exercise. The goal is to get us from our screens.
Every 20 minutes, we must look at least 20 meters away for roughly 20 seconds. That simple practice drastically reduces eyestrain, which has become all too common in our digital world.
People jump from their laptops to their iPads to their iPhones and maybe even their TVs, never giving their eyes a chance to relax. Having added this technique to my daily routine, I can say it is indeed effective at reducing eyestrain.
Yoga is a godsend. It releases all sorts of chemicals and hormones into the bloodstream, so it’s recommended to do it before you start your work day.
A 20-minute yoga session can do wonders for your body and your mind. However, it’s still recommended to complement it with some simple stretches to keep our bodies limber and energized.
Here are some microstretches you might want to add to your daily routine.
After a long day at work in uncomfortable shoes, your toes may need some stretching. One method is to spread your toes apart as far as possible and hold them for at least five seconds. Another stretching method is curling it in a ball and also holding it for five to ten seconds before releasing it.
Simply place one leg over the other, keeping it at a 90-degree angle, and rotate your ankles five to ten times, then reverse the direction. After doing it two or three times, switch legs.
Lift one arm into the air and bend it down behind your head. Use your other arm to reach behind your back from below and try to link your fingers.
Neck Stretch (Requires Slow Movements)
Start by turning your head to the right until you feel the tension in your neck muscles. Hold that position for ten seconds, then turn to the left and do the same.
Then, put your head back and look up for ten seconds. Lastly, put your head forward, tucking your chin in, and look down for ten seconds. Repeat two to three times.
Foam Rollers Stretch
If you’re one of those lucky enough to work from home, a foam roller is a must-have. It’s incredibly effective in releasing all the tension that builds up in our backs throughout the day.
For those with sensitive muscles, I’d recommend going for the basic versions. But for those who need an extra kick, I’d go for ones with bumps.
I’m no yoga expert but have dabbled in it and vouch for its effectiveness to improve flexibility and focus. There’s no need to do 20- or 30-minute sessions. Simply find one or two yoga poses that work best for your body and circumstances.
You wouldn’t think standing is a microbreak, but as much of the workforce is glued to their chairs for much of the workday, it is.
Even companies such as Apple and Google have started to understand the adverse effects our sedentary lifestyle has on our productivity. As a result, they have recently implemented more standing desks in their offices.
4. Brain Breaks
Our brain can only hold onto so much information in one sitting. Research shows that our performance and ability to do tasks have diminishing returns over time.
According to productivity expert Darren Hardy, there are diminishing returns after 90 minutes of concentrated work. In his program, Insane Productivity, he talks about how Steve Jobs dedicated three 90-minute sessions to building each of his biggest successes—the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad. Breaks allow us to refresh our minds and prevent brain fog.
Bestselling author and founder of High-Performance Academy Brendon Burchard says hourly breaks are the secret to his almost boundless energy.
According to Burchard,
“Because the world’s largest study of productivity that has ever been done with over 2,000,000 data points, 2,000,000 people participating, found that the most productive people tended to take a break at 52 minutes. At every 52 minutes, they took a break. And it almost didn’t matter how long the break was.”
So, rather than going with the 90-minute sessions recommended by Hardy, Burchard prefers blocking his time into 35-minute and 55-minute blocks of time using a timer to keep track of time.
The moment it goes off, he gets up, drinks some water, and possibly a little light yoga. Then, he proceeds to bounce in place with his eyes closed and takes ten deep breaths.
This is another way to reset his eyes as screens can be “so fatiguing on the mind and the eyes.” He refers to it as a “pit stop.”
Work stress exists both in the physical and mental realms. We need to find ways of releasing the tension that builds up throughout the day if we are to unleash our productivity.
Microbreaks are an easy way to do that without having to create an exercise regimen that requires a sizeable chunk of time. As you’ve seen, you can go with 20-minute, 30-minute, 52-minute, or 90-minute breaks. But bear in mind that the longer the session, the longer the break needs to be.
Whenever you feel that drop in energy or tightness in your back, take a microbreak and you’ll notice a big difference in concentration, energy, and productivity.
Featured photo credit: Andrea Piacquadio via pexels.com