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The importance of breaks to your productivity

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Use of social media in the workplace is becoming something of a tired debate, but a post I made recently highlights how it is one that still needs to be had.  It highlighted how executives still regarded social media usage at work as something of a time waster, although they themselves tended to use it far more than their employees.

Suffice to say, the research that the post was based upon looked purely at public social networking, and didn’t mention enterprise social networks at all, but recent data suggests that executives are not exactly over the moon with the return on many of their digital investments in an enterprise context either.

Anyway, one of the more frequently used arguments for allowing employees to access social media at work is that it provides them with an easy means of taking a mental break from their work.  A recent study published by Kansas State University emphasizes this point.

The research saw participants, taken from a variety of industries, asked to spend 22 minutes spread across their work day playing a game on their smartphone.  The aim was to test both their productivity and levels of engagement at the end of each work day.

Each participant downloaded an application to their phone that was developed specifically for the research.  The app measured their smartphone usage throughout the day, and categorized usage according to things such as entertainment or social media.  Each participant was then asked to record their perceived well-being at the end of the day.

The research suggested that taking regular small breaks throughout the day enabled employees to significantly improve their stress beating capabilities, thus making them happier at the end of the day, and of course more productive during it.

“A smartphone microbreak can be beneficial for both the employee and the organization,” the researchers said. “For example, if I would play a game for an hour during my working hours, it would definitely hurt my work performance. But if I take short breaks of one or two minutes throughout the day, it could provide me with refreshment to do my job.”

“By interacting with friends or family members through a smartphone or by playing a short game, we found that employees can recover from some of their stress to refresh their minds and take a break,” they concluded.

Of course, using a smartphone, or indeed just browsing Facebook on your computer are one of many ways of taking a mental break at work.  There has been a number of studies highlighting the valuable role allowing our mind to wander has on our creative output.  Whether the hyper-stimulus of yet more digital activity is the ideal way of achieving that is something I’m far from convinced about however.

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