How to take effective breaks to improve productivity

Staying productive has been a challenge to remote workers the world over, and that’s not surprising. Between a pandemic in full swing, the worldwide economy in a steep contraction, and a workforce adjusting to remote work, stress levels will inevitably increase. And while North Carolina ranks among the best states for working remotely, it doesn’t mean that remote workers do not face productivity dips.

There are several ways to improve productivity, including one that may sound counterintuitive: taking breaks. All work and no play only exhausts the body and the mind, resulting in lower productivity levels and higher human error rates. Here’s how to take breaks strategically to optimize work efficiency.

1. Take short but frequent breaks

The body is not meant to sit for eight or more hours a day, so it’s important that you do some physical activity at regular intervals to keep your mental gears going.

A study suggests that up to 12% of the workday should be dedicated to breaks, while another advises workers to be productive for 52 minutes straight, then rest for 17 minutes. Even though there’s no general consensus on how short a quick break should be, one thing is apparent: scheduling breaks at the top of the hour gives workers something to look forward to. It also drives them to stay focused and work with purpose.

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2. Distract to focus

Working for extended periods can cause cognitive boredom. This is the point where your brain no longer registers new sights, sounds, and other sensations because you’ve been in the same environment for a long time.

If you’re trying to fix a problem that you can’t solve or writing a report that you can’t finish, stop for a bit and do other things. Distractions may seem counterproductive but they can actually be useful, as they allow the mind to refocus and absorb new ideas.

So go ahead and take a step back: listen to a song, sketch a scenery, or stretch your muscles before throwing yourself back into your work. A refreshed mind can concentrate better and see more clearly.

3. Grab a snack to fuel the mind

To keep working at optimal performance, the brain needs glucose, a form of sugar that gives energy to every cell in the body. Low glucose levels can cause fatigue, lethargy, concentration difficulties, and other symptoms that negatively impact productivity. When you take a break, grab a snack like an apple or a granola bar to keep your glucose levels up.

Studies also show that protein-rich foods not only give a quick glucose boost but also enhance cognitive abilities. So instead of something sweet, opt for foods with high protein levels, such as nuts, chicken, beef, or fish. Remember to keep your servings small to prevent post-snack sugar crashes.

4. Do the 20-20-20

Most remote workers spend eight or more hours a day locking eyes with their work devices, and another hour or two with their personal devices. These gadgets emit blue light, which can cause eye strain.

Keep your eyes healthy by following the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. Doing this simple trick not only maintains eye health, but it also gives your mind a visual break.

5. Exercise at least 10 minutes a day

Exercising boosts energy and reduces fatigue, increasing productivity throughout the day. So keep your blood pumping by devoting one of your short breaks to exercise: do squats, run in place, or do jumping jacks. Stretching your muscles is also a great way to relieve tension and break the monotony.

The good news is that you don’t need to engage in long and sweaty workout routines to reap the benefits of exercise. Studies show that being physically active for at least 10 minutes per day is enough to enhance memory and improve breathing. Exercising consistently for short periods can also push you to try longer workout sessions.

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