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3 Proven Strategies on Taking Breaks That Will Help You Become More Productive

Working for long, uninterrupted hours, day after day, may make you feel productive, but, in reality, it's likely hurting your performance.

This story appears in the October 2017 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Every busy entrepreneur knows you have to take breaks. And yet breaks often take a backseat to, you know, attending to the vast amount of work we have to do on a daily basis. But therein lies the paradox of breaks. Working for long, uninterrupted hours, day after day, may make you feel productive, but, in reality, it’s likely hurting your performance.

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Related: Why You Should Start Taking a Proper Lunch Break

The fact is: Breaks work. Studies show that people who take a breather approximately every hour perform better than those who work for several hours straight. Others have found that our brain activity actually increases when we let our minds wander. There are cognitive benefits to be had from taking breaks, and productivity gains to be seized. You just have to do it right. Here are three proven strategies for taking productive breaks.

1. Structure your breaks.

Your creativity diminishes when you force yourself to work for long periods. So try the pomodoro technique. It’s simple: Every 25 minutes, take a five-minute break. If you fear the short blocks will prevent you from completing work in one sitting, you can use them as motivation to work faster. The creators of the method say you can use it to become more productive by learning how much work you can complete in 25 minutes and then arranging your schedule based on how many of those periods tasks require. 

Related: The Best Ways to Use Breaks to Be More Productive (Infographic)

Depending on your business, and the type of responsibilities you have, you may not be able to take frequent, timed breaks. If that is the case, plan to have breaks after routine tasks. Good break times include right before or after meetings, after finishing a daily assignment, and when preparing to transition between locations or projects. The timing is not only convenient but also gives your brain a few moments to process what you’ve just completed before diving into something new.

2. A wandering mind is a productive mind.

One of the most effective ways to spend your breaks is to do nothing. I know, I know -- for fellow workaholics, that is a tall order. But ignore the temptation to utilize your time away from work by doing quick errands, scrolling on social media or doing anything else that directly engages your brain. Although just sitting, standing or strolling without a sense of purpose during breaks may seem unproductive, this idle time is critical to optimizing cognitive function. Research shows that giving your brain time to rest is essential to its ability to carry out key mental processes, such as processing memories, identifying solutions and maintaining one’s sense of ethics. Think of your brain as a computer; when it is acting glitchy and slow, sometimes it needs a restart. Your brain is the same way. Let it completely shut down to reset.

3. Synchronize your social breaks. 

If your job primarily involves individual work, breaks provide the perfect opportunity to bond with your coworkers. If possible, schedule your daily breaks at the same times as your coworkers’ so you can strike up conversations, grab a meal or watch a funny video. This strengthens your relationships -- and as a result, your well-being and job satisfaction and makes everyone involved more productive. One study found that call-center employees who talked to their coworkers throughout the day completed calls faster and performed better. 

Related: Can Creative Breaks Boost Your Employees' Productivity?

When planning your breaks, remember to utilize the three S’s: short, simple and social. Taking a combination of independent and social breaks throughout the day is the key to staying invigorated and capable of performing at your peak level all day long.

Vanessa Van Edwards

Written By

Vanessa Van Edwards is a national best selling author and lead investigator at her human behavior research lab, Her book, Captivate: Use Science to Succeed with People, was chosen by Apple as one of the most anticipated books of 2017, and she leads soft skills trainings for Fortune 500 companies including Google, Dove, Facebook, Intel, MillerCoors and American Express.