We've all heard the same advice about taking small breaks during the day – you will be more productive if, instead of working on one task for hours and hours on end, you take small breaks throughout the day. This advice can be applied differently depending on the type of work you're doing. Many jobs that take a lot of creative energy also require “the zone,” so you may stop to breathe every few hours.
Regardless of what kind of work you do, you're probably taking this advice to some extent. Perhaps you're on a “break” right now, this very second. Did you find this post when you were taking a quick Twitter break?
These little productivity “boosts” aren't working.
When you work on a computer, your short computer breaks don't really constitute a break. Sure, you're looking at something different, but there's nothing to really note that break. How long are you going to read that blog? How are you going to refocus your attention when you come back? Jonathan Milligan wrote a great post about how he doubled his productivity, in part by taking real breaks.
A real break is not reading blog posts, checking emil, or watching an educational video online. A “real” break for me is anything that is away from the computer.
Your brain reacts differently to a screen than to the rest of the world, that's why looking at TV, computer and phone screens before you go to sleep results in sleep deprivation. The same goes for breaks. If you want to give your brain a rest, let it do something different.
Step 1: Move one foot, Step 2: Move other foot
If you want a break that will actually help you focus on the task at hand, do something that requires you to stand up and move your body away from your desk. Go get a coffee. Walk around the block. Do some stretches.
Sometimes this can be a bit awkward in the middle of the day, so if you want to be more subtle, try just walking around the office. You can even pop by someone else's desk and get a few questions answered while you're at it.
The point is, a lot of productivity tips, like taking a break, end up being a distraction when they're not done properly. They leave you less productive than before. Why do more harm than good? Just take a moment to stop, get up, breathe, and take a real break.