CLOSE
iStock
iStock

4 Ways to Take Better Breaks at Work

iStock
iStock

Your aching back or burning eyes may tell you that taking a break from your work is a good idea, but there’s very little research to suggest when, how often, or how long you should break for maximum benefit. To fill this gap in knowledge, two associate professors of management at Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business set out to investigate what exactly constituted a “good” work break.  Emily Hunter and Cindy Wu surveyed 95 employees (ages 22 to 67) over a five-day week, and analyzed 959 break surveys. Their results were published in the Journal of Applied Psychology. “Everyone knows breaks are helpful, but there’s surprisingly little research on what makes the best break,” Hunter says.

Hunter and Wu defined breaks as “any period of time, formal or informal, during the workday in which work-relevant tasks are not required or expected, including but not limited to a break for lunch, coffee, personal email or socializing with co-workers, not including bathroom breaks.”

1. THE BEST TIME FOR A BREAK IS MID-MORNING. 

Hunter and Wu were surprised by the counterintuitive finding that afternoon is not the ideal time for a break. “We found that workers should take a break mid-morning, before lunch," Hunter tells mental_floss. "Morning breaks were the most effective at restoring resources of all breaks across the day.”

The research says that mental resources like energy, concentration, and motivation are highest in the first half of the day. Rather than waiting until lunch, when you’ve already burned through most of your brain fuel, take a short break mid-morning. Hunter and Wu found that this break brought employees back to their desks refreshed and energized, and with greater ability to endure the rest of the day.

“Your mental resources decline throughout the day,” Hunter says. “So when taking a mid-morning break you’re replenishing a small amount of lost resources better as opposed to afternoon, when it’s harder to get back to your pre-break state.”

2. EMPLOYEE AUTONOMY MAKES FOR BETTER BREAKS. 

Hunter and Wu’s results also turned up an important finding for managers. Structured breaks, or prescribed breaks—in which employees must follow someone else’s rules or expectations—are not as effective as breaks initiated by the employees themselves.

“We tested a number of assumptions, including going outside or doing something of low effort, not using a lot of physical effort, or doing something not work-related,” Hunter says. “None of those things mattered. The only two characteristics of break to replenish energy and reduce symptoms were taking break earlier in the day and doing something you prefer.” They found that the content of the break didn’t matter—whether it was exercise, eating, or simply walking away from one’s desk; what mattered was that it was “something you enjoy and choose to do.” They concluded that managers might see greater productivity and morale if they allowed their employees to take their own breaks. 

3. MORE BREAKS LEAD TO BETTER HEALTH AND INCREASED JOB SATISFACTION. 

The one finding that did not surprise either researcher was the confirmation that breaks are helpful. “They did replenish energy, concentration, and motivation. They decreased symptoms of headaches, eye strain, lower back pain and so on,” Hunter says. They determined that people who took these smaller breaks had higher job satisfaction, more citizenship behavior (helping others, going above and beyond in the workplace), and lower burnout—all important criteria for employers. Hunter feels this is crucial information for managers: “There hasn’t been a lot of research about the effects of breaks besides ergonomics that confirms the notion that they are effective.”

4. FREQUENT SHORT BREAKS ARE IDEAL. 

While a lunch break is always a good idea, and there is no magic rule for the perfect number of minutes, Hunter says they did find that “what matters is how many you’re taking.” The study pointed to more frequent short breaks as being most effective at reducing negative effects and boosting mental resources. They also found that those people who take an earlier mid-morning break are more likely to take more breaks in general.

Ultimately, the study suggests that managers institute more flexibility in scheduling breaks, and allow more autonomy to employees to listen to their own cues and break when they need to. For the employee, it might just mean that at the first sign of weariness in the morning, instead of reaching for that second cup of coffee, you just need to step away from your work. 

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Kohske Takahashi, i-Perception (2017)
arrow
fun
Can You Figure Out This Newly Discovered Optical Illusion?
Kohske Takahashi, i-Perception (2017)
Kohske Takahashi, i-Perception (2017)

Ready to have your mind boggled? Take a look at the image above. What shape are the lines? Do they look like curves, or zigzags?

The image, spotted by Digg, is a new type of optical illusion published in the aptly named journal i-Perception. Discovered by Japanese psychologist Kohske Takahashi, it’s called the “curvature blindness illusion,” because—spoiler—the contrast of the lines against the gray background makes our eye see some of the lines as zigzags when, in fact, they’re all smooth curves.

The illusion relies on a few different factors, according to the three experiments Takahashi conducted. For it to work, the lines have to change contrast just at or after the peak of the curve, reversing the contrast against the background. You’ll notice that the zigzags only appear against the gray section of the background, and even against that gray background, not every line looks angled. The lines that look curvy change contrast midway between the peaks and the valleys of the line, whereas the lines that look like they contain sharp angles change contrast right at the peak and valley. The curve has to be relatively gentle, too.

Go ahead, stare at it for a while.

[h/t Digg]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
literature
Vivid Imagery Makes Poetry More Pleasurable, According to Psychologists
iStock
iStock

Contrary to what English teachers led us to believe, most readers don’t judge poetry based on factors like alliteration and rhyme. In fact, a new study published in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts suggests that vivid imagery (i.e. sense-evoking description) is what makes a poem compelling, according to Smithsonian.

To determine why some poetic works are aesthetically pleasing while others are less so, researchers from New York University and the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics in Frankfurt, Germany, had more than 400 online volunteers read and rate 111 haikus and 16 sonnets. Participants answered questions about each one, including how vivid its imagery was, whether it was relaxing or stimulating, how aesthetically pleasing they found it, and whether its content was positive or negative.

Not surprisingly, taste varied among subjects. But researchers did find, overall, that poems containing colorful imagery were typically perceived as more pleasurable. (For example, one favorite work among subjects described flowers as blooming and spreading like fire.) Emotional valence—a poem's emotional impact—also played a smaller role, with readers ranking positive poems as more appealing than negative ones. Poems that received low rankings were typically negative, and lacked vivid imagery.

Researchers think that vivid poems might also be more interesting ones, which could explain their popularity in this particular study. In the future, they hope to use similar methodology to investigate factors that might influence our enjoyment of music, literature, and movies.

[h/t Smithsonian]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios