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Office Culture

Will Break for Health

September 24, 2012

If you’ve been reading along, then you know when the best times are to make calls and do your heavy thinking, but the most important question is still unanswered...

When do I take my break???

It’s not a question of whether you take a break. There is more than enough research out there on the health and productivity benefits of taking a break, that the idea of skipping one should never cross your mind.

Give you Attention Span a Break

There are many explanations why. Some, such as John P. Trougakos, an assistant management professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough and the Rotman School of Management claim that the attention span is like a muscle that can become tired.

Whereas others, such as University of Illinois psychology professor Dr. Alejandro Lleras, argue that we are always paying attention to something, so attention isn’t the problem. Instead he believes that the mind becomes “habituated” to the task and over time registers it as less meaningful than it initially was (like how the body becomes habituated to receiving continual sensory information, e.g., the fact that you aren’t continuously feeling the sensation of wearing socks.)


James A. Levine, a professor at the Mayo Clinic, is a bit of a progressive. He argues for 15 minute spurts of highly concentrated work broken up by short breaks (unfortunately he does not recommend how long those should be).

On the more reasonable side is Jack Groppel, a co-founder of a division of Johnson & Johnson called the Human Performance Institute. He highly recommends that every 30 minutes you take a short stroll around the office. This stimulates the blood flow and gets tons more oxygen to the brain, making you more alert and energetic.


Some workplaces offer places to do yoga, meditate or enjoy massages, and if your office is among those, take advantage! However, for the more down to earth places of work, don’t forget that you can always take a little stroll around the office. If your manager argues about it, some him/her this infographic.

Become serious about your lunch break. Make it a time to get away from the screen and really focus on the present, rather than to-do lists and so on. Try out eating meditation! Lunch becomes much more interesting once you actually pay attention to it.

Take some time to chat with your colleagues (just not too much). A team of MIT researchers led by Professor Alexander “Sandy” Pentland has found that it can reduce tension and help you to get through your work even faster.

Do something out of the ordinary. Novel experiences deliver a big hit of dopamine according to David Zald, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at Vanderbilt. And dopamine, among other things, increases alertness.

Sources: Eight Ways Goofing Off Can Make You More Productive, To Stay on Schedule, Take a Break, Taking Breaks Found to Improve Attention

Photo: Flickr/jenny downing

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