Give yourself a break: the key to productivity

I have been in a Master’s program at Fresno State and I graduate in May. The last big hurdle was taking comprehensive exams. Comps, for short, are like a final exam for all the classes I’ve taken over the past 3 years. Regular finals are tough but to dig through three years of notes and find the most salient details was sending the stress-meter into the red zone. Once the information was compiled, I had to reintroduce all that material to my brain.

Even though I know sitting isn’t good for me, I can sit on the sofa for hours at a time to write or read or study without noticing that the day has turned to night. Until, that is, I try to stand and my stiff body refuses to straighten. In an attempt to put into practice the advice I share in my columns and with my clients, I decided to take a different approach with this marathon studying session, one that I hoped would allow my body to survive this experience.

There is a lot of information in the business world around productivity, specifically how to get more of it. The approach I took was setting a timer and studying for 30 minutes, followed by a 5 minute break (I set a timer for that as well).

It was annoying at first to be ‘interrupted’ every half-hour and spending 5-minutes pacing and puttering before getting back to the books (eventually my 5-minute breaks became three laps around the yard). What I discovered was my body was much happier with this approach and my mind was sharper and more efficient at studying for those 30 minutes.

Those 5-minute breaks were enough to revive the body and mind but not so long that I lost my studying momentum. After two weeks of using the approach, I felt very prepared for the exams and, just as importantly, my body wasn’t objecting to the unusual amount of sedentary studying time.

The research is pretty clear about productivity. Working for a set amount of time, 25-45 minutes for example, followed by a 3-5 minute break creates a highly productive atmosphere, especially when those breaks include some kind of movement. The brain is clearer, absorbs more information and is better at finding solutions. The body benefits as well. The frequent movement keeps the metabolism and blood moving while preventing the muscles and joints from becoming stiff.

Even though it may seem counter-intuitive when you’re working on a project or have long days at work, you will be more productive, creative and accurate if you take frequent short breaks. If you decide to give this a try, feel free to share this article with your boss.

NOTE: Oakhurst resident Virginia Eaton has been a life-long health and fitness advocate, holds a Masters of Kinesiology, is a certified personal trainer, and behavior change specialist.