Do you feel guilty whenever you take a break from work? Do you feel like you’re wasting time whenever you’re not working? Well, research shows that working long hours won’t make you any more productive.
Taking a Break During the Week
There have been hundreds of studies showing that working more than 40 makes you no more productive (or even less productive over time). One study found that you can become temporarily more productive by working a 60, 70, or 80 hour weeks, for a week or two, but your productivity falls precipitously over time. In fact, those who worked an 80 weeks, were back at the same total output level as the 40 hour a week workers in just 3 weeks. Another study (perhaps explaining why) found that those who work 55 hours a week versus 40 hours had suffered declines in intelligence, reading and vocabulary.
Taking a Break During the Day
What researchers are beginning to understand is that your ability to focus is limited and weakens over time. Taking breaks, however, allows you to recharge and remain at a high level of focus (similar to how a bodybuilder needs rest between sets). One study, found that participants who took short breaks were more focused and productive at a task. Another study out of Cornell found that employees who were reminded to take short breaks were 13% more accurate on their tasks. How long should your breaks be? Here are the main three schools of thought:
- Every 25 minutes: The Pomodoro technique advises that you work for 25 minutes straight, then take a 3 to 5 minute break. After every fourth block you take a longer, 15 to 30 minute break. To keep on track, you can either buy a timer or just keep reloading this YouTube video.
- Every 53 minutes: A productivity app called DeskTime that tracks it’s users’ computer use, analyzed their data to see how their most productive users operated. The highest performing 10% tended to work 53 minutes then take a 17 minute break. Importantly, those breaks were spent away from any task talking with friends or taking a short walk, for example.
- Every 90 minutes: Another study found that the most successful violinist worked for 90 minutes with 15 to 20 minute breaks.
It probably doesn’t make sense to rigidly time the breaks, but experiment with the different options and see what works for you.
What these studies show is that if you “work” long hours you’re really not getting any more total work done than if you took more breaks. Obviously taking more time off work will allow you to live a more balanced life, reduce stress and become happier. So, give it a shot. Vacations of a week or more can be a great way to recharge as well!