How To Get The Most Out Of Your Workday Breaks

Illustrated by Tania Li.
Getting to take a break during the workday is often a rare, lovely little treat that, in reality, should probably be neither rare nor just a treat. But because we live in this universe, researchers have found a few ways to maximize those breaks to help us make the most of them.

For their study, published last month in the Journal of Applied Psychology (and presented at the Academy of Management's annual meeting in 2013), researchers kept track of 95 employees over the course of five days. All of them mainly worked with computers for their jobs and were between the ages of 22 and 67. They had to complete a short survey after every break about what they did and how they felt.

Results showed that the participants who reported feeling more recharged — meaning they had increased levels of concentration, energy, and motivation — after their downtime were more likely to have certain things in common. For instance, they tended to take their breaks earlier in the day and took more short breaks, rather than working all morning to take just one long lunch. Oh, and they were doing stuff they actually liked doing (a.k.a. things totally unrelated to work). People who took these "better breaks" reported fewer headaches, less lower back pain, and milder eye strain.

This isn't exactly surprising. Obviously, people will feel better when they're doing something that's enjoyable. And plenty of other research suggests that the short-but-often breaks help keep us productive. But we also tend to be at our most productive in those mid-morning hours, which can make it seem like we should just keep typing away rather than get up and take a lap around the office. But, this study suggests it might be worth it to keep that momentum going throughout the day, rather than working up a storm in the morning only to burn out after lunch. Your eyes will thank you.