Is Taking a Break beneficial for Productivity?

Is Taking a Break beneficial for Productivity?

Is taking a break beneficial for creativity and productivity? OptiMe recently explored the impact of breaks on individual performance and wellbeing, and what it means for the workplace.

Many people feel uncomfortable about taking a break at work. They worry that it sends out a signal that they’re not fully engaged with their task or their job. This issue has become progressively worse for some people during COVID-19. Working from home has made some feel as though they need to be in reach of their laptop at all times of the day. A recent study found more than a quarter of office workers didn’t take any breaks from work other than to have lunch. The commonest reason given, unsurprisingly, was guilt.

A common misconception.

There’s a common misconception among employees that if you take breaks you’ll get less done. Breaking from tasks can be seen as ‘lost time’ and it’s assumed that productivity will suffer. For some employees, there is a notion that for their career to progress, they must appear to be working all of the time.

But this is a mistake and a damaging notion at that, both for employees and for businesses. In fact, science tells us that there is no loss in productivity when people take a break – in fact, it’s quite the opposite.

Stopping what you’re doing and taking a break isn’t being self-indulgent or lazy. New York Times writer, Tim Kreider, suggests that if we’re deprived of breaks, we suffer a mental affliction that’s as disfiguring as rickets, and that taking a break is as vital to the brain as vitamin D is to the body. Periodic rests, it turns out, are critical to achieving anything of high quality, whatever field of work we’re engaged in.

The impact of rest breaks.

Much of what we know about the importance of breaks comes from research carried out by neuroscience. Scientists have discovered that the part of the brain responsible for complex thought is the pre-frontal cortex. When we’re involved in work that requires our concentration, the pre-frontal cortex keeps us focused. It’s the part of the brain responsible for logical thinking, decision-making, and giving us willpower to resist distractions. That’s a lot of activity and, like any other organ, the brain, needs a break from time to time!

The pre-frontal cortex.

The pre-frontal cortex is also the area of the brain that ensures we remain focused on tasks. This is difficult for humans as our brains aren’t designed for extended periods of focus. For most of our evolution, our brains were constantly scanning the landscape around us, which was vital, as we lived in a complex environment full of risks and threats. Concentrating on a single task wasn’t what enabled us to survive. So, for modern humans, focusing for a long period of time, doesn’t come naturally and our brains can struggle. What the research tells us is, taking regular breaks helps us to regain focus.

The research.

Another important recent development has caused us to re-evaluate how the brain works when we engage with tasks. It was discovered that neuroscientists’ historic view of energy use in the brain was misplaced. Rather than being economic with its use of energy, the brain is very hungry indeed. In fact, it requires 20% of all the energy the body produces and it needs 5 -10% more energy than usual when we’re dealing with a difficult task like solving a complex mathematical problem.

It was also found that a specific set of brain regions that were quiet when a person focused on a mental challenge, burst into life when they were lying in an MRI scanner – just letting their thoughts wander. This complex brain circuit that came to life when people were daydreaming became known as the default mode network (DMN).

Default mode network.

This alternative mode of brain activity works very differently to the focused mode we utilise when we’re concentrating. With all of the complex demands life places on us, you’d expect that the focused mode would need to be on maximum most of the time, but actually the default mode has a really important role to play, especially in relation to creative thinking.

A number of studies have shown that the brain resolves some of our trickiest problems whilst in default mode, when people are daydreaming, driving or in a dozy state during the night. Most of us have experienced this at some point – where the answer to some thorny problem unexpectedly pops into our brain and we suddenly have the answer to a question that has troubled us for weeks.

So this default mode of the brain actually improves creativity and focus. If you have thought long and hard about a problem, the act of doing something completely different, like going for a walk or taking a shower can turn into a kind of incubation process for your ideas. Essentially, the subconscious mind will have been chewing away at the problem, and when the mind wanders, it can bring those solutions to the surface and into consciousness. This sounds a bit like what has been called the ‘eureka moment’; Archimedes solving a problem in his bath or Newton getting his gravity insight from watching an apple fall.

In conclusion: breaks are essential.

And that is why taking a break is so important. It gives the brain what it needs to be more creative. Breaks prevent a tired, pre-frontal cortex from becoming jaded. It explains why relentlessly ploughing on with a task ultimately produces a deterioration in work quality, and hinders productivity.

A short break, at the right time, refreshes the brain; enables it to slip into a different mode, and allows us to return to work in a truly productive way.

For more employee wellbeing support and guidance visit OptiMe.

Volunteering and its Amazing Benefits

Volunteering and its Amazing Benefits

With busy lives, it can be hard to find time to volunteer. However, the impact of Volunteering and its amazing benefits are enormous to you and your community.

The right role can help you to:
-Reduce stress
-Find friends
-Connect with the community
-Learn new skills
-Advance your career.

Volunteering offers vital help to worthwhile causes, but the benefits can be even greater for you. Even simple ways to help others can improve your health and happiness.

Volunteering connects you to others

While some people are naturally outgoing, others may have a hard time meeting new people. Volunteering gives the opportunity to develop your social skills as you meet other people with similar interests. Once you start, it’s easier to branch out and make friends.

Volunteering is good for your mind and body

Volunteering reduces stress, anger and anxiety. Nothing relieves stress better than a meaningful connection to another person. Working with animals has also been shown to improve mood and reduce stress and anxiety.

Volunteering helps you stay physically healthy. Studies have found that those who volunteer have a lower mortality rate than those who do not. Volunteering can also lessen symptoms of chronic pain and reduce the risk of heart disease.

Volunteering increases self-confidence. Doing good for others provides a natural sense of accomplishment. The better you feel about yourself, the more likely you are to have a positive view of your life.

Volunteering can advance your career

If you’re considering a new career, volunteering can help you get experience in your area of interest and meet people in the field. Volunteering gives you the opportunity to practice skills such as teamwork, communication, problem solving and project planning.

Just because volunteer work is unpaid, it does not mean that the skills you learn are basic. Many volunteering opportunities provide extensive training. For example, you may become an experienced counselor volunteering in a health centre or gain extensive knowledge of history while volunteering in a museum.

Volunteering brings fun and fulfillment to your life

Volunteering is a fun and easy way to explore your interests and passions. It can be meaningful and interesting and an energising escape from your routine.

Many people volunteer in fields which overlap with their hobbies. For example, if you have a desk job but wish to spend more time outdoors, you may volunteer and help plant a community garden or walk dogs for an animal shelter.

5 Ways Employers can Encourage a Healthy Work-Life Balance

5 Ways Employers can Encourage a Healthy Work-Life Balance

Striking a balance between work and home-life is a challenge that many of us have faced at some point in our lives. Often, the right balance will vary depending on circumstances. This can include having children, starting a new career or business, or simply going through a busy period either at work or at home.

A healthy work-life balance isn’t necessarily achieved by splitting your time between work and home life equally, as this can often be unrealistic. Instead, your work-life split should balance, in order for it to be easily maintainable. Achieving the optimal work-life balance differs across individuals, based on their priorities and lifestyles. However, incorporating an effective work-life structure can bring about a more enjoyable life and encourage a greater sense of overall achievement.

Employers can also reap the benefits of encouraging a healthy work-life balance amongst employees. For example, employees will feel a greater sense of control, with the ability to manage stresses at home more effectively by separating them from the workplace. Employers will also appear more attractive to candidates, by showing that it values the wellbeing of its workforce. In turn, employers can see higher retention rates, reduced absenteeism and increased productivity as a result.

Five ways that employers can encourage a health work-life balance:

Promote exercise

A healthy exercise regime can boost employee health, whilst also helping to break up the day and improve concentration for employees after exercise. This in turn can benefit the company through increased productivity rates.

Ensure breaks are taken

It is important to encourage employees to take breaks from work as and when they feel necessary. Studies have shown that those employees that take breaks after working for a period of time become more productive afterwards, than those who do not take any breaks at all.

Create a designated quiet space

Sometimes a quiet area can help employees to get away from the background noise which is often experienced in the busy workplace. By designating a specific area in the office, this can be encouraged and offer an option to employees that are looking for some quiet time.

Allow for flexibility

Flexible working can help employees manage the balance between a productive daily routine along with the stresses and challenges that can be experienced at home. Those employees that have the ability to work flexibly can do so knowing that their employer encourages a healthy work-life balance, and in turn become more productive as a result.

Promote health initiatives

Health initiatives can be encouraged to increase overall awareness towards important issues experienced by employees in the workplace. These can be topics such as stress and mental health conditions, which can be seen in employees without them sometimes realising they are experiencing the symptoms. An increased awareness of these issues can only help both the employers and employees to identify issues before they develop into more serious ones.