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21 Counter-Intuitive Break Ideas to Boost Your Productivity at Work

21 Counter-Intuitive Break Ideas to Boost Your Productivity at Work


    Every self-help program talks about the importance of taking a 10-15 minute break to boost your productivity.

    Breaks give us much needed time to rest our eyes, move around, stretch our stiff muscles, get more blood and oxygen flowing to our brain, to unwind and obtain a fresh outlook on complex work problems.

    There is just one problem – we often forget to take them. (Note: Going to the bathroom, grabbing a cup of coffee or checking Facebook updates does not count, as these activities hardly give us enough time to energize our body and restore our concentration and productivity.)

    As strange as it may sound, taking regular breaks throughout the work day requires discipline and a little bit of planning. Actually, the reason why so many people push themselves to the limit of exhaustion is simple – they just can not think of any interesting activities they can do, during their break time. So they end up working for 4-5 hours straight until their body offers them a painful reminder.

    If this sounds like you, here are 21 Counter-Intuitive Break ideas that help to restore your energy, sharpen your focus, boost productivity and avoid burnout at work.

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    1. Listen to a guided meditation. There are plenty of 10-15 minute meditations that allow you to trigger your creativity, let go of muscles tension and take your mind of the work at hand.

    All you have to do is put on a headset, close your eyes and enjoy peace and relaxation even in the midst of work chaos.

    2. Share your break with a co-worker. Alone, you might not always have the strength to pull yourself away from the computer, but if you have a friend taking breaks with you, it is much easier to stick with your break routine. In addition, it offers a great opportunity to bond with your colleagues and get to know them better.

    3. Step outside for a fresh perspective. Leaving a stuffy office and letting yourself enjoy the warmth of the sunlight, the coolness of a breeze and the freshness of the spring air can do miracles to your mind and body. You will come back feeling rejuvenated and ready to approach your work with new energy and a fresh perspective.

    4. Close your eyes and take 10 deep breaths. Stand up and walk away from your desk. Find a quiet place, where you can sit down, close your eyes, smile to yourself and take a few deep breaths. Imagine tension, stress and anxiety leaving your body as you breathe out, and peacefulness, positivity and relaxation filling your mind with every breath that you take.

    5. Say NO to tension headaches. Slowly roll your neck to the right noticing a slight tension in your neck muscles. Hold this position for a count of 120 (2 minutes), then turn your head to the opposite side and repeat. Enjoy the feeling of warmth and flexibility return to your neck and shoulders.

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    6. Try people-gazing. Watching people walking down the street, chatting in a nearby café, and driving by, is meditation in itself. In addition looking outside the window helps to take the strain off the eyes.

    7. Rock out to some great music. Music is a great mood changer, especially if you allow yourself to get up and move with it. Just a few minutes of humming and dancing can put a smile on your face and get your blood moving.

    8. Take a Thumb and Pinkie Brain Break. This is a great break idea if you need a quick distraction from the problem at hand to get your creative juices flowing:

    • Take your left hand and have your fingers in and your thumb up.
    • Then take your right hand and put all the fingers in except the pinkie. So in other words, your left thumb up and right pinkie out.
    • Now switch the roles of your hands. And now try doing it faster.

    Not as simple as it looked, right?

    9. Delete some tasks from your to-do list. What can be more satisfying than taking a long hard look at your do-to list and crossing off a few unimportant tasks?

    10. Eat an apple. S-L-O-W-L-Y. In the middle of a busy day, when you feel rushed, take a 2-3 minute break to eat an apple (or another fruit that you like). Just do it very slowly. Notice the flavor, the texture, the freshness. Doing something at a slow pace might feel weird, even annoying at first. But after a few minutes you feel much calmer and less stressed.

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    11. Say Thank you. Grab a notecard and your favorite pen and write a quick thank you to someone you appreciate. Then attach a stamp and go downstairs to put it in a mailbox. This simple act of gratitude will take your focus away from any pressing work problems and will put you in a good mood.

    12. Take a “No Cell-phone Walk”. Leave your cell-phone in the office and head outside for a brisk walk. Shake off apathy and fatigue. Walk even faster, raising your heartbeat and letting the excitement and the sense of freedom re-charge your mind and body.

    13. Read a magazine or a book. Pick a read that has nothing to do with your area of work or the latest news. Give your brain the pleasure of not to thinking, being stressed or making decisions.

    14. Re-waterize yourself. First drink a full glass of water. Second splash some water on your face: warm to relax, cold – to wake up and energize yourself.

    15. Make animals of the clouds. This is a great exercise to entertain your children, but it is also a great game you can play alone as it helps to tap into your creative potential and distract your mind from upcoming deadlines or customer complaints.

    16. Pick up the pace. If you feel yourself tired and sleepy, deliberately pick up the pace, and try to move a little faster than usual. Type faster. Speak faster. Read faster. Make decisions faster. And, of course, go home sooner.

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    17. Laugh off the tension. You can start by simply saying, “Ha, ha, ha.” and keep repeating it, until you are really laughing. A few minutes of a good belly laugh help to get rid of tension, relax a lot of involuntary muscles and increase blood circulation.

    18. Stretch out stiffness. Getting up from your desk to do a set of sun salutations or this might not be an option if you work in a room full of people. But it does not mean that you should deprive yourself of the pleasure of stretching your body and getting some exercise. Try a simple stretching exercise.

    • Plant your feet firmly on the ground, lift your arms and look at your palms.
    • Stretch your spine for about 30-60 seconds, gradually increasing pressure, as if you were trying to touch the ceiling with your fingers.
    • Relax, lower your arms and feel the energy moving up your spine.

    19. Do something artistic. Write a short, funny poem and dedicate it to your co-worker. Draw a picture for your kids. Take a few photos of your surroundings. Let your creative side shine!

    20. Unclutter your desk. A great way to take a much needed break, while looking “busy” is to unclutter your desk. Not only is it relaxing, it also helps to activate productive energy flow.

    21. Juggle. Learning to juggle isn’t particularly difficult and it could be a great exercise to take during a break (maybe not in the office itself, but in a place, where balls flying left and right will not bother anyone). Juggling requires fine muscle control, timing and concentration. But most importantly, it is fun!

    (Photo credit: Office Worker Holding Clock in Front of Face via Shutterstock)

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    The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

    The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

    It’s a depressing adage we’ve all heard time and time again: An increase in technology does not necessarily translate to an increase in productivity.

    Put another way by Robert Solow, a Nobel laureate in economics,

    “You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

    In other words, just because our computers are getting faster, that doesn’t mean that that we will have an equivalent leap in productivity. In fact, the opposite may be true!

    New York Times writer Matt Richel wrote in an article for the paper back in 2008 that stated, “Statistical and anecdotal evidence mounts that the same technology tools that have led to improvements in productivity can be counterproductive if overused.”

    There’s a strange paradox when it comes to productivity. Rather than an exponential curve, our productivity will eventually reach a plateau, even with advances in technology.

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    So what does that mean for our personal levels of productivity? And what does this mean for our economy as a whole? Here’s what you should know about the productivity paradox, its causes, and what possible solutions we may have to combat it.

    What is the productivity paradox?

    There is a discrepancy between the investment in IT growth and the national level of productivity and productive output. The term “productivity paradox” became popularized after being used in the title of a 1993 paper by MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson, a Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the Director of the MIT Center for Digital Business.

    In his paper, Brynjolfsson argued that while there doesn’t seem to be a direct, measurable correlation between improvements in IT and improvements in output, this might be more of a reflection on how productive output is measured and tracked.[1]

    He wrote in his conclusion:

    “Intangibles such as better responsiveness to customers and increased coordination with suppliers do not always increase the amount or even intrinsic quality of output, but they do help make sure it arrives at the right time, at the right place, with the right attributes for each customer.

    Just as managers look beyond “productivity” for some of the benefits of IT, so must researchers be prepared to look beyond conventional productivity measurement techniques.”

    How do we measure productivity anyway?

    And this brings up a good point. How exactly is productivity measured?

    In the case of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity gain is measured as the percentage change in gross domestic product per hour of labor.

    But other publications such as US Today, argue that this is not the best way to track productivity, and instead use something called Total Factor Productivity (TFP). According to US Today, TFP “examines revenue per employee after subtracting productivity improvements that result from increases in capital assets, under the assumption that an investment in modern plants, equipment and technology automatically improves productivity.”[2]

    In other words, this method weighs productivity changes by how much improvement there is since the last time productivity stats were gathered.

    But if we can’t even agree on the best way to track productivity, then how can we know for certain if we’ve entered the productivity paradox?

    Possible causes of the productivity paradox

    Brynjolfsson argued that there are four probable causes for the paradox:

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    • Mis-measurement – The gains are real but our current measures miss them.
    • Redistribution – There are private gains, but they come at the expense of other firms and individuals, leaving little net gain.
    • Time lags – The gains take a long time to show up.
    • Mismanagement – There are no gains because of the unusual difficulties in managing IT or information itself.

    There seems to be some evidence to support the mis-measurement theory as shown above. Another promising candidate is the time lag, which is supported by the work of Paul David, an economist at Oxford University.

    According to an article in The Economist, his research has shown that productivity growth did not accelerate until 40 years after the introduction of electric power in the early 1880s.[3] This was partly because it took until 1920 for at least half of American industrial machinery to be powered by electricity.”

    Therefore, he argues, we won’t see major leaps in productivity until both the US and major global powers have all reached at least a 50% penetration rate for computer use. The US only hit that mark a decade ago, and many other countries are far behind that level of growth.

    The paradox and the recession

    The productivity paradox has another effect on the recession economy. According to Neil Irwin,[4]

    “Sky-high productivity has meant that business output has barely declined, making it less necessary to hire back laid-off workers…businesses are producing only 3 percent fewer goods and services than they were at the end of 2007, yet Americans are working nearly 10 percent fewer hours because of a mix of layoffs and cutbacks in the workweek.”

    This means that more and more companies are trying to do less with more, and that means squeezing two or three people’s worth of work from a single employee in some cases.

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    According to Irwin, “workers, frightened for their job security, squeezed more productivity out of every hour [in 2010].”

    Looking forward

    A recent article on Slate puts it all into perspective with one succinct observation:

    “Perhaps the Internet is just not as revolutionary as we think it is. Sure, people might derive endless pleasure from it—its tendency to improve people’s quality of life is undeniable. And sure, it might have revolutionized how we find, buy, and sell goods and services. But that still does not necessarily mean it is as transformative of an economy as, say, railroads were.”

    Still, Brynjolfsson argues that mismeasurement of productivity can really skew the results of people studying the paradox, perhaps more than any other factor.

    “Because you and I stopped buying CDs, the music industry has shrunk, according to revenues and GDP. But we’re not listening to less music. There’s more music consumed than before.

    On paper, the way GDP is calculated, the music industry is disappearing, but in reality it’s not disappearing. It is disappearing in revenue. It is not disappearing in terms of what you should care about, which is music.”

    Perhaps the paradox isn’t a death sentence for our productivity after all. Only time (and perhaps improved measuring techniques) will tell.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

    Reference

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