Article image

Short work breaks can lead to more fatigue, less focus

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:

  1. Mindful meditation: Spend a few minutes practicing mindfulness meditation. Focus on your breath, observe your thoughts without judgment, and gently bring your attention back to your breath whenever your mind wanders.
  2. Take a short walk: A brief walk outside can help clear your mind, reduce stress, and improve overall mood. Exposure to natural light and fresh air can have a positive impact on your mental well-being.
  3. Exercise: Engaging in physical activity, such as stretching or doing a quick workout, can help reduce stress, boost your energy levels, and improve mental clarity.
  4. Deep breathing exercises: Practice deep breathing techniques, like diaphragmatic or 4-7-8 breathing, to help calm your mind, reduce stress, and increase focus.
  5. Breaks away from screens: Taking regular breaks from staring at screens can help reduce eye strain and mental fatigue. Use this time to rest your eyes, stand up, stretch, or engage in a non-screen activity.
  6. Listen to calming music: Playing soothing music or nature sounds can help create a relaxing atmosphere and clear your mind, allowing you to refocus on your tasks.
  7. Prioritize tasks: Organize your tasks by priority, breaking them down into smaller, manageable steps. This will help you avoid feeling overwhelmed and enable you to focus on one task at a time.
  8. Declutter your workspace: Maintaining a clean and organized workspace can help minimize distractions and improve mental clarity.
  9. Practice gratitude: Take a moment to reflect on the things you’re grateful for. Gratitude can help improve your mood, reduce stress, and enhance your overall mental well-being.
  10. Set boundaries: Establish boundaries between work and personal life, like designated work hours or specific areas for work-related tasks. This can help you maintain mental balance and prevent burnout.

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.


Check us out on EarthSnap, a free app brought to you by Eric Ralls and

News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day