How Many Breaks Should You Be Taking?

Breaks are an essential part of work culture. From day one on the job, you’re armed with the breaktime information you need: how many breaks; how often you break; lunch breaks, and so on. Legally speaking, the department of labor states every employee is entitled to one 15- minute break for every four hours of consecutive work. 

Those four hours grow to a 30-minute break if you clocked more than six consecutive hours that day. If your workday consists of eight or more consecutive hours (the standard for full-time work), you are entitled to one 30-minute break and an additional 15-minute break for every additional four consecutive hours worked. As a result, the traditional “one hour” lunch break has emerged. 

However, just because an hour lunch has become the standard doesn’t mean it’s the most productive way to work. In fact, most employees report only getting about three hours of “productive time” in an eight-hour day. We had a hunch that it’s a result of the human brain being unable to concentrate for eight hours straight, especially with just one extended break in the middle of the day. 

So, the Guide to Graduate team got to researching, and it turns out there are more productive, and strategic, ways to set up your breaks to optimize your overall productivity and performance at work.

Curious how? Keep reading. 

What Happens if You Skip Breaks?

An ongoing to-do-list, tight deadlines, a last-minute meeting you need to prep for – one could argue there just aren’t enough minutes in the day to even take a break if you wanted to. Afterall, shouldn’t you be working through those breaks to remain productive and meet your goals?

While it may be tempting to try and power through to keep your productivity train rolling, studies show it can have the opposite effect. As the amount of time spent focusing on a specific task increases, your performance actually decreases.  

But not all breaks are created equal 

From how to reply to an email, to what to order for lunch, the average working professional makes roughly 35,000 decisions every single day. When you have more on your plate, your brain will eventually become fatigued, and enter a sort of “auto-pilot” mode. This not only hinders your decision making abilities, but also leads to exhaustion and eventual burnout. 

Whatsmore, if you’re spending your “breaks” scrolling through social media, checking emails, or simply sitting in silence running through your to-dos in your head, you’re only contributing to decision making fatigue.  

To avoid that, you need to break productively. While this will look different for every individual, the main goal of a productive break should be to detach yourself from work and your tasks. 

How to Set Up the Optimal Break Routine

While it’s true that different break types and durations differ for each individual, the general rule to maintain productivity and fight brain fatigue is to break every 90 or so minutes. However, if your thoughts start to wander more frequently, a short break every 20 minutes can be helpful.

Next, determine how you’ll spend that time, with the main goal being to detach from work and rest your brain so you can return to your work refreshed and ready to continue tackling your goals. Examples include clearing your mind with a quick, ten-minute guided meditation; taking a brisk walk around the block; grabbing a cup of coffee from the cafe down the street. 

Finally, schedule those breaks and block them off in your calendar. Hold yourself accountable to those breaks to maintain productivity and peak professional performance – your brain will thank you! 

Have a favorite way to detach during break-time? Share with the Guide to Graduate community in the comments below!

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