By Jeff Stibel for LinkedIn
Hip Silicon Valley tech companies started the growing trend of offering their employees unique perks that seem to encourage stepping away from the desk. Google’s free massages, Twitter’s rock climbing wall, and Dropbox’s gaming tournaments come to mind. Some may dismiss these initiatives as ploys for PR or to impress new recruits, but there is solid evidence that fun creativity breaks actually improve employee productivity.
I was recently interviewed for an Entrepreneur article about how pursuing varied interests can make you a better entrepreneur, but the same basic principle applies to all employees. Human brains are not meant to focus on the same task for hours at a time, yet most Americans work at least 8 to 9 hours per day on the same thing.
The eight hour workday became the norm after the Ford Motor Company found that number resulted in maximum productivity at its factories. But there is a major problem with this: the idea of an eight-hour day with a short lunch break is based on the most effective formula for physical labor, not mental work and certainly not creative mental work. The brain is much more active – and therefore much more likely to drain – than any other muscle or organ in our bodies. Evidence shows that the brain cycles from highest attention to lowest attention approximately every 90 minutes. This suggests that you should hit the reset button about that often.
One of the best ways to recharge is to engage in something different. If you’ve been reviewing a document for 90 minutes, don’t take a break by reading news articles. Get up and do something completely different. The brain is an efficient task-switcher; it has no problem going from java programming to power yoga to basket weaving. And doing so may make you a better java programmer, since you’ve allowed your brain’s java programming circuit to rest. If you are a slave to work, then switch tasks productively, from programming to checking email to thinking about a new problem.
Here are five other ways to give your brain a break during your workday:
1. Take a moment to do something you love. This is the idea behind all the games available at those Silicon Valley campuses. Take advantage of what’s at or near your office. Being fully engaged in an activity lifts the mood and contributes to feelings of overall well-being. At Dun & Bradstreet Credibility, we encourage team members to pursue personal interests, and our employees have created clubs including whiskey club, Russian club, and running club.
2. Get in touch with nature. Being outside activates different brain regions than sitting inside, as most of us do for the majority of our workday. Simple ways to incorporate nature include taking a walk in a nearby park or regularly having lunch outside. At my office, we took it up a notch by bringing in a wildlife expert and her exotic animals during a particularly challenging week for our developers. Nothing like petting a sugar glider or a hedgehog to activate less-used parts of the brain!
3. Be physically active. Company-sponsored yoga classes and in-office gyms are becoming increasingly common, with good reason. Exercise is good for our brains. If you can’t get in a full workout, don’t fret: stretching for five minutes or even using a standing desk makes small changes that can spur creativity and recharge your batteries.
4. Nap. I’ll admit that this is the hardest to do in a typical office environment, but if you can find a way, the benefits are huge. Some offices actually have sleeping pods, but for those that don’t, slip out into your car for a power nap. Much of what happens in the brain while we sleep is still unknown, but what is certain is that people perform better in terms of memory and concentration after a nap.
5. Do nothing. If a snooze isn’t possible, then simply sit in a quiet place and allow yourself to relax for ten minutes. Just as when sleeping, important mental processes occur when we daydream.
Brain breaks can make a big difference in your ability to be productive, creative, and innovative. The paradox is that doing less often allows you to do more.
What do you do to give your brain a break, and how does your company help you do it?