How Do Work Breaks Help Your Brain? 5 Surprising Answers
When you’ve got a busy week, the vast majority of people will try to cram as many work hours as possible without ever considering a break. It’s almost become a badge of honour, your ability to continuously work non-stop. The fear of thinking that you’re slacking off and that by taking a break you’ll fall behind. Evidence tells us something quite the contrary. Taking a well-timed break can help you boost productivity and performance. It will give the prefrontal cortex of the brain a well-deserved rest and allow you to get back to work almost fully recharged. We’re not talking about taking a 3-hour lunch in the middle of the workday, but rather about a few well-deserved minutes of rest. What sports sleep coach Nick Littlehales refers to as Controlled Recovery Periods. Let’s take a look at what you can gain from stepping away from your work for a little while when you’re feeling overwhelmed or just when you acknowledge fatigue is kicking in.
1. Avoiding Decision FatigueWe’ve all found ourselves in situations where we’re under pressure to make crucial decisions that eventually we give up on? We stop caring about a specific issue or outcome and just do whatever we can to remove the decision-making process. You just decide not to decide and ‘make do’. What’s known as decision fatigue. It happens when we’ve drained our mental energy and don’t have the capacity of willpower or reasoning ability. We cannot concentrate, we can’t think things through, and simply, can’t be bothered to go through the entire decision-making process. In situations like these, you’ll approach decision-making in the most simplistic way possible, or you’ll start procrastinating. Either way, you’ll notice a significant drop in performance and outcomes. You make bad or irrational decisions. If you give yourself calculated breaks and step away from the issues you’re facing, you’ll find it much easier to get back on track and avoid decision fatigue. Just a few minutes of not thinking about something can give you an entirely new perspective on an issue. Time block periods, 60-90 mins and for a few minutes step away from what you’re doing, clear your mind or focus on something else for a few moments.
2. Motivation RestartsMotivation is a tricky thing. It rarely comes at the exact time you need it, and yet we all depend on it pretty much every single day. Some of us need the motivation to get up in the morning, others to get themselves to walk their dog, others still to cook a healthy meal. Without motivation, we wouldn’t get very far. But as we’re working and trying our hardest to concentrate on the task at hand, motivation starts to slip. The longer we’re at it, the more difficult it becomes to stay motivated. We start losing our interest, and our mind begins to wander. That’s usually a telltale sign that we need a break. But, this is when we ‘battle on’. So, take a break, have yourself a moment away from a task. You’ll find that once you’ve come back to your office, your motivation has spiked, and you’re ready to continue working.
3. Improve Learning and Memory ConsolidationYour brain is always learning and processing new information, even when it doesn’t seem like it. It’s still highly active when you’re watching your favourite show on Netflix or scrolling through your social media feed. When you’re performing mental tasks, your brain is trying its hardest to process as much information as possible, form memories, and help you achieve your goals. In order to consolidate those memories and help you learn the new information you’ve received, your brain needs rest. Just like we wouldn’t push the physique without recovery periods, we can’t do the same with the mind. Although sleep is crucial for memory retention and information processing, a short rest is beneficial as well. During any type of rest, your brain works behind the scenes to review what’s been learned and make sense of it all.
4. Even If You Are Sitting Down You Need RestOver the past few years, we’ve heard a lot about how sitting is the new smoking, and that’s not far from the truth. It’s estimated that physical inactivity is responsible for about one in six UK deaths. Since the CV-19 pandemic, this number has scaled again. Those who spend the vast majority of their time at their desks are at a higher risk of cardiovascular problems, obesity, depression, diabetes, and more. If you don’t do any physical activity, you’ll feel more stressed, you’ll face mental exhaustion, and you’ll get tired more easily. Even if you have a standing desk and a balance ball chair in your office, you still need to get away from your desk every once in a while and move about. A few minutes of stretching, yoga, or simply walking can work wonders for both your physical and mental wellbeing.
5. Creativity BoosterWhen you’ve been focusing on a topic for too long, you feel more stressed, and you become exhausted – you cannot expect to get your creative juices going in a state like that. If you want to replenish your mental energy, enhance your concentration, and boost your cognitive capacity, you need a break. Your brain can make better and faster creative connections when it’s well-rested. You’ll find it easier to stay engaged in your work and perform creative tasks after a short break. You’ll improve your performance and productivity, and be more satisfied with your job.
Good Practices for Taking a BreakThere are different kinds of breaks. Some are great for getting you to work better, while others will only be disruptive to your workflow. If you’re in the “mode,” wholly absorbed in the task at hand, and feel unbreakable focus, then you shouldn’t be taking a break at this time. It will only break your flow and make it more difficult for you to reactivate and continue working/learning. The best time for taking a break is when you’re starting to lose your focus. If you’re becoming distracted by the slightest noise, or if you’ve hit a creative block – step away from your work and go back to it in a few minutes. When taking a break, it’s best to do an activity that doesn’t require a lot of mental energy. Don’t stare at your screen or get preoccupied with another task. Some of the most helpful break activities include:
- Taking a walk
- Doing yoga
- Spending time in a park
- Taking a 10-minute nap
- If you have no direct light exposure, get some light in.