Why you need to take breaks

We all know that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Interestingly, it also makes Jack generally bad at his work – or studies if he is a student. A number of articles have been written about how the pandemic and Work-from-home has made many of us into 24/7 employees. But what if taking regular breaks from our work made us generally better at our work? Here are a couple of reasons you may want to consider taking regular breaks.

Productivity reduces without breaks

John Pencavel of Stanford University published a paper in 2014 where he showed studies to prove that work output reduced in employees if they worked beyond 50 hours in a week. After 55 hours, the output reduced drastically. In many of our educational institutes in India (insert my University’s name), we tend to have 6 day work weeks (with Saturdays as half-days). This means that if we worked 11 hours each day from Monday to Friday, reducing that to 10, or even 9 hours each day and not at all working on Sundays would not ensure our work suffers in any way!

Taking a break increases performance

As we saw in the previous point, taking a weekly break might not reduce performance. However, that is not all! In experiments conducted by Stephen Kaplan and others, it was found that people who took a walk through nature performed up to 20% better than people who took a walk through a bustling city centre. The reason according to the authors is that our minds have a finite amount of directed attention resources. Walking through a crowded street requires our mind to use directed attention. This is in contrast to a walk through nature which provides inherently fascinating stimuli which is enough to keep our brains interested enough but without needing to consciously direct attention. During that time, our minds can recover its store of directed attention.(Deep Work p145)

Of course, it is not just a walk through nature that can have such an effect. Other activities such as having relaxed conversations, laughing at silly things with friends, playing sports or even listening to music while cooking (or baking) can all have the same effect.

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