Contrary to popular belief, taking short breaks during the working day may not improve focus or stave off fatigue, according to a recent study. Researchers from Lithuanian Sports University conducted an in-depth analysis of the impact of 10-minute breaks on work performance in a simulated office environment.
The study, which involved 18 male participants between the ages of 23 and 29, required the subjects to complete nine cognitive tasks over a seven-hour period, with 10-minute breaks provided every 50 minutes. To evaluate the effects of these breaks on cognitive function, motivation, mood, and central nervous system activity, the researchers employed blood tests and brain scans.
Published in the International Journal of Psychophysiology, the study’s findings indicate that regular short breaks can actually lead to mental exhaustion, which adversely affects the ability to focus and impacts cognitive functions such as attention, learning, and visual recognition.
“Contrary to popular belief, our findings show that taking short breaks during the workday does not improve cognitive function or prevent fatigue,” said study lead author Marius Brazaitis.
“Tasks that require high levels of mental effort deteriorated during the seven-hour period, which may be due to the brain’s high energy needs and its reliance on a steady supply of glucose and oxygen to maintain optimal cognitive performance.”
Additionally, the study revealed that participants struggled to fully recover even after a four-and-a-half-hour rest. This suggests that the traditional approach to structuring breaks during work may not be the most effective.
Dr. Colin Rigby, who was not involved in the study, commented on the research: “The idea that tasks can be broken down to fit within a pattern of breaks becomes a work-related task in itself, thus compounding the work pressure.” He added that the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that formal patterns of work may not always be the most effective, efficient, or healthiest option.
Dr. Rigby pointed out that many workers don’t take breaks that are already scheduled, eat lunch at their desks, and don’t take their full quota of holidays. He explained that chopping and changing tasks with breaks can lead to task anxiety. “By leaving a task when it is not complete, or at a natural stopping point to fulfil a break obligation, you are doing neither wholeheartedly but watching the clock.”
Interrupted flow can also detract from task time, as workers need to remember where they were and pick up on the thought processes when they return from the break, making them less efficient.
This study raises important questions about traditional work patterns and the effectiveness of short breaks during the workday. As the world continues to adapt to new forms of work activity and remote working becomes more common, further research in this area may be crucial for developing better work habits that enhance productivity and overall well-being.
Besides taking a 10-minute break, there is still little doubt that clearing your mind during the workday can help improve focus and productivity. Here are some effective strategies to achieve mental clarity and increase productivity:
Experiment with different techniques to find what works best for you. Implementing even one or two of these strategies can help clear your mind, improve focus, and ultimately, enhance productivity during the workday.
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