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Breaking Is the Secret Behind the Most Productive People

There’s been much controversy about what strategies are the most effective in encouraging motivation and productivity in the workplace. 

Some say it all comes down to competitive salaries, perks, and bonuses. Others point out that it might have something to do with hiring people who really believe in the products or ideas of your company. 

While intrinsic and extrinsic motivators can work, we discovered that productivity is something that can be noticeably improved using a very simple approach. What you need to do is encourage employees to take effective breaks.

17-minute-long breaks, to be precise. 

The 52 vs. 17 approach

Using DeskTime employee productivity tracking software, we conducted research studying the computer-using behavior of the top 10 percent most productive employees. 

Surprisingly, we found that the employees with the highest productivity ratings don’t actually work full eight-hour workdays. Instead, they worked for 52 minutes, then had a 17-minute break. 

So, their secret to staying productive was not working longer hours, but working smarter with frequent breaks. 

And science confirms the 52:17 ratio. First off, researchers have found that people can only spend 20 minutes concentrating on a single subject. This means that to refresh your attention span, you have to make every work session purposeful, and then take a proper rest.

Another experiment conducted at the Svartedalen retirement home in Sweden found that people don’t actually need to work full eight-hour days to stay productive. By reducing the shift time to six hours, the nurses working in Svartedalen were 20 percent happier and reported having more energy and efficiency both at work and home. 

And finally, the human body isn’t even built to sit the whole day. In fact, many studies conclude that sitting is as dangerous to your health as smoking. Breaking up the all-day sit-a-thon can boost your productivity — even if you simply switch your office chair to a standing desk.

How to encourage breaks 

Employers and managers need to keep in mind that as much as we’d like to, we can’t be 100 percent productive for 100 percent of the day. Concentration is like a muscle: it needs to rest to be able to function, and it shouldn’t be overworked. Otherwise, it’ll simply burn out and take longer to get back into the swing of things.

The thing is, if employees are not used to taking frequent breaks, it should be encouraged from the management by introducing a break policy in the workplace. Here’s how to do that:

  • Use time-tracking software – Time-tracking tools, like DeskTime, can help your employees improve their time management skills and stay organized and in control of their time. In addition, they also have built-in reminders for taking breaks. That way, your team will know that every once in a while they need to leave their desks and stretch their legs.
  • Introduce mandatory breaks – Most workplaces have a mandatory 30- or 60-minute lunch break. You can supplement that with encouraging your team members to take two to three mandatory smaller breaks a day.
  • Show an example – No employee will want to take a break if they don’t see their supervisors, managers, or even coworkers doing the exact same thing. If you’re in a management position, be the first one to show to your coworkers that it’s time for a break. 

How to take effective breaks

You’ve got 17 minutes to take yourself out of the working zone. What do you do to make that time count? Here are several ideas: 

  • Exercise – There are plenty of small workouts you can do in the confines of an office. Fitness wrist watches or apps like Fitster can remind you when you’ve been at the computer for a while and urge you to exercise.
  • Take a walk – Better yet, go outside. Not only will it clear your mind, but it will also give you a dose of oxygen to make your brain work better, as well as catch some rays. Vitamin D makes for a better mood, which will only further stimulate your ability to concentrate.
  • Grab something to eat – Replenish those energy levels. The best foods to eat to boost concentration and productivity are nuts, avocados, blueberries, fish meat, and dark chocolate.
  • Talk to your colleagues – Research shows that employees who socialize are happier at work and are able to do as much as their non-socializing coworkers.
  • Reality check – Because this is your time to do what you want, make sure to take a moment to look away from the computer or smartphone and gaze into the distance to relieve your near-focused eyes.
  • Watch funny cat videos – It’s proven that by looking at cute pictures of cats and dogs, you can actually become more productive.

Artis Rozentals, CEO of DeskTime, [email protected]

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