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Jul 10, 2012

How Taking Breaks Can Improve Your Productivity

Do you realise that taking a break periodically can actually help increase your productivity by allowing you to recharge and refocus your energy? If you are focused on and committed to a project, there is a good chance that taking frequent breaks will help increase the quantity and quality of your work. 

Physical Health

It is not uncommon for people who sit for long periods of time (at their desk) to suffer from muscular fatigue or varicose veins or experience back pain, stiff necks and numbness in their legs. When you sit, you are using your muscles to hold you in place. Typically, you hold your head in one position to focus on your computer screen and you hold your arms in a confined space defined by your keyboard and the mouse. All other muscles, in particular those of your torso, work to keep you upright in your chair. 

If you are working intently, your muscles may stiffen. Sitting for long periods puts pressure on your blood vessels and exacerbates the problem by limiting the blood supply to your muscles. Fatigue will set in. If you spend most of your time working under these conditions, your productivity will drop because you will tire faster. The Occupational Safety Health Administration (OSHA) recommends taking breaks and moving around to combat the problem. Standing up, stretching and engaging your muscles in different tasks will improve blood circulation and reduce fatigue.

Jumpstart Your Thought Process

Breaks can help you to jump start your thought process when you are at an impasse. There are times when you cannot find the right 'link' to reach the next step of your project. For example, you may not be able to see the relationship between two parts of a formula or find the right words to express your thoughts about a product that you are reviewing. Under these circumstances, taking a break certainly helps. One way to look at the situation is this - since you know that you are not being productive, you have nothing to lose by putting the project aside for ten minutes and clearing your mind. When you return to the project, you will be a little more relaxed and you may be able to see what you had missed earlier. 

Manageable Segments

Scheduling breaks into your day gives you an opportunity to divide your projects into manageable segments. Many projects may seem daunting when you consider them as a whole. However, if you tease out individual tasks, you can divide the project into smaller, more manageable parts. Look for logical divisions where you can pool your resources to increase your efficiency. For example, you can research specific elements in one session before taking a break and use other sessions for writing. Similarly, you can devote one session to the task of creating a flow chart for the menu system of a webpage and another session for coding and testing.

Minimize Non-Work Life Distractions

It is important to acknowledge the 'non-work related commitments' that may intrude upon your thought process. You may intend to fully devote your time to work. To do this, you must block out all other thoughts and distractions. The act of trying to block out other thoughts requires energy. In effect, the effort you put into keeping out distractions is 'effort' that you are not putting into your projects. Often, it is more efficient, then, to take a break and tend to your personal issues. This is more true, in particular, in situations where a telephone call or an email is all it takes to resolve the issue. If you know that you have done all that you could do on your personal front, it would be a lot easier for you to concentrate and devote your full attention to work.

Balancing Breaks

Including voluntary breaks into your schedule reduces the chance that you will take involuntary breaks. Working continuously for long hours can tire out your body. Your mind will wander, your body will ache and your productivity will suffer. Taking breaks does not mean that you lack discipline. On the contrary, people who are able to incorporate breaks into their schedule successfully are actually more productive than the rest. However, any one wanting to incorporate frequent breaks into their work schedule, must have the resolve to keep their breaks short. Increasing your productivity should always be the focus of your breaks. If you find that you are not accomplishing your goals, reassess the frequency and duration of your breaks.

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