It’s a widely regarded sentiment in America that you’re supposed to work hard, and that the best way to work hard is to never stop working. A workaholic culture is not only common, but is often times placed on a pedestal. Students in college — and even in high school now — brag about pulling all nighters to study for a test or work on a project, often trying to one-up one another with how long they went without sleep. In the workplace, adults often pull work weeks well over 40 hours a week, with minimal breaks. Perhaps we could blame this on the current state of our economy, where many people have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet; according to CNN Money, more than 44 million people have a side hustle. Regardless of where our culture’s awe of workaholics came from, it’s detrimental. Working in an office, especially at a computer all day is bad for our health, we need to learn to take a break.
Breaks Are Good for Creativity
Sitting still and staring at a computer all day is not exactly the best way to get those creative juices flowing. Freeing your mind from a task can increase creativity. Seeing problems from a new perspective is an important step in solving that problem creatively. Additionally, physical movement is important in keeping us from being mentally stagnant. Research has shown that a moderate level of cardio activity can boost creativity and productivity for about two hours afterward.
Breaks Are Good for Mental Health & Productivity
During more tedious tasks, the average person’s ability to focus and persist gets harder by the minute, resulting in decreased attention, and an increased likelihood to make a mistake. However, breaks can replenish the psychological costs associated with working hard. Breaks also improve work performance, attention, and boost energy. It’s important to note that a true break is not just stepping away from the computer, but mentally detaching from work. For a break to have a full effect, we need to think of things other than work. Additionally, research has shown that looking at nature, even for less than one minute, improves employee performance after they return to the work task.
Breaks Are Good for Physical Health
Sitting all day, whether you’re at the office, or at home binge watching your favorite show, is bad for your health. Research has linked sitting for long periods of time with a number of health concerns including obesity and high blood pressure. Those who sit for at least eight hours a day with no physical activity are at serious risk for health problems. The good news is that its reversible. Analysis of data from more than 1 million people found that 60-75 minutes of moderately intense physical activity a day countered the effects of too much sitting.
For those of us staring at a computer all day, there are additional health risks. Research has shown that 59% of people who routinely use computers and digital devices experience symptoms of digital eye strain — which include headaches, eye fatigue, dry eyes, blurred vision, neck and shoulder pain and more. In order to help prevent this, it is recommended that we look away from the computer every 20 minutes for at least 20 seconds.
Take a Hike
Granted, these things can be hard to remember in the moment. I’m even reporting these facts to you as I sit here, staring at my computer. All of us here work in web development and design, our jobs require us to focus on a computer screen. And we love what we do, so it can be difficult to peel ourselves away from the task at hand. But we also love getting a chance to be outside, especially if it helps us be more creative and perform our jobs to an even higher standard. We recently took a morning away from the office to go on a couple mile long hike in nearby George Washington National Forest. We hiked to the top of High Knob Tower to a beautiful view overlooking most of the Shenandoah Valley — where this article’s header image was taken. Not only was it refreshing to engage in physical activity on a lovely day, but it also increased team bonding and morale. We came back to work feeling revived and ready to take on the rest of the day.
How to Take a Break
Struggling to come up with ideas to step away from your desk? Here are some helpful ideas.
- Take an actual lunch break. Don’t just eat your sandwich while you read emails, because let’s be real, you’re not completely focused on either task. Eat your lunch in the break room, or better yet, eat outside.
- Instead of holding all meetings in a conference room, have a walking meeting. Discuss the facts and figures while you take a leisurely stroll around the block. While this is not a true break, it’s still a good way to get active and away from a computer screen. This could be a good alternative for people who “simply don’t have time to take a break.”
- Take the time to make a cup of tea, and drink it while not focusing on much else. Tea has a variety of health benefits, plus the time it takes to make and drink it at a slower pace, is a good time to recharge, and the boost of caffeine can’t hurt.
- If you work in a bustling location near other businesses, perhaps in a downtown area, you could walk to your meeting with a nearby business. Or you could at least walk to the nearest cafe for a coffee or a snack.
- Don’t underestimate the power of simply taking a five minute walk around your building. Look at the sky, and whatever you do: don’t think about work.