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What Kind of During-the-Day Break Is Most Energizing and Helpful?
From the Marshall Memo #435
In this Harvard Business Review interview, Portland State University professor Charlotte Fritz talks about her surprising research finding that although longer breaks from work (vacations, weekends, overnight, lunch breaks) are helpful to job performance, “micro-breaks” in the heart of the work day boost vitality and productivity only if they’re work-related. Here are some activities that Fritz says are helpful during the work day (she studied people in a software company and a consulting firm):
And these did not contribute to productivity or make people feel less fatigued:
“The idea seems to be that when you’re in the middle of work, you’ll do better and feel better if you focus just on work,” says Fritz. Lunch breaks are different; a variety of activities in the middle of the day helps boost energy and focus in the afternoon.
What about vacations? Fritz says the research is clear that genuine detachment from work improves health, sleep, and life satisfaction and combats burnout, especially if people gain a sense of mastery, like learning a new hobby or climbing a mountain. But there are two caveats. First, the vacation effect fades after a couple of weeks back at work, even if the vacation was long – probably because work piles up while you’re away and it’s stressful to have to deal with the backlog. “This suggests one big vacation a year is not the right model,” says Fritz. “You’ll get the same beneficial effect more often if you take three short vacations.”
Second, too much detachment has a negative effect on performance. “So you can’t totally check out,” she says. “That just means that you don’t thrown the phone out the window. You just shut it off at night.”
The interviewer closes by saying, “I’m totally worn out by this interview and still have two hours of work left. I would get a cup of coffee or go to the gym, but you’ve ruined all that.” Fritz replies, “Don’t be silly. Go praise a colleague, finish your work, and then at the end of the day, go to the gym, detach, and relax.”
“Idea Watch: Coffee Breaks Don’t Boost Productivity After All”, an interview with Charlotte Fritz in Harvard Business Review, May 2012 (Vol. 90, #5, p. 34-35),