How long does a work break need to be to make you feel better?
Not very long at all, according to a new research review on “micro-breaks,” which the authors defined as a break of 10 minutes or less. People who took breaks experienced statistically significant boosts in their wellbeing—making them feel more vigorous and less fatigued. The results, based on a review of 22 previously published studies that included 2,335 participants, indicate that those who took micro-breaks had about 60% better odds of feeling energetic, according to Patricia Albulescu and Coralia Sulea, co-authors of the study and researchers at the West University of Timisoara in Romania.
The research was less conclusive on whether micro-breaks improve work performance, however. The benefits varied from study to study and across different kinds of tasks, and ultimately the effect wasn’t statistically significant, although the researchers found that there was improvement as the breaks got longer.
Here’s what to know about micro-breaks, and how they can improve your work day.
Why micro-breaks are important
“Short breaks, whether it’s a 10-minute break, a 5-minute break, standing up and stretching, you’re kind of giving the person a chance to stop the depletion cycle, but also re-energize themselves a little bit.” That includes studies with an ergonomics angle, which have found that resting your eyes and stretching is necessary to avoid eye strain and skeletal fatigue—discomforts that can distract and drain workers.
Studies suggest highly productive employees tend to work in relatively short spurts, with long breaks—according to one study published by a productivity tracker company, spending 52 minutes working for every 17 minutes of break. . Not taking sufficient breaks can also negatively affect workers’ sleep quality and life outside of work, and gradually lead them to feel burned out.
The ideal breaks
The breaks you need might depend on what you’re doing; for instance, activities you enjoy might drain you less than a task you hate or that causes you a lot of stress. However, in many cases, Trougakos argues that the shift to hybrid schedules and working from home has given organizations and workers a novel opportunity: to branch out and find new ways to work to maximize productivity. As a general rule, however, Trougakos recommends spending about 90 minutes working, followed by a 15- or 20-minute break. Over the course of that working period, you’d also be taking micro-breaks. Trougakos suggests a short stretch break every 20 or 30 minutes, as well as a break to “get away from the task” somewhere in the middle of those 90 minutes.
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