Philip Masterson is a market specialist, researcher and writer. He runs the blog Alarm Defense, which discusses home security and technology.
For 25% of employees, taking more breaks other than lunch makes them feel guilty, like they don’t deserve to breathe and take it easy once in a while. At face value, it may seem like these employees are doing their companies and employers a favor. But not really. The primary reason why you should take your break is because you owe it to your company to do so. No company wants a tired, worn out, and unproductive employee.
The next time you think a break from work makes you less of a dedicated employee, think again. The effects of not taking your break can make you even less productive and effective. Here are the 10 things you need to know about the dangers of not taking a breather.
Your brain won’t be able to handle it
In very simple terms, your brain is not built for the extended focus that you are demanding from it every day. It has to process a lot of things for survival, and focusing on one task for a long time is just something that it can’t do. But there's a solution: take a break. University of Illinois Professor Alejandro Lleras explains that a brief interruption is all your brain needs to get back on track and that “deactivating and reactivating your goals will allow you to stay focused.” Brief mental breaks keep us from getting bored and thus more focused.
You won’t be having a lot of mental breakthroughs
Have you ever had that moment when you figured out the solution to your problems while taking a shower? Or did a great idea ever occur to you while driving? That’s the diffuse mode of your brain working. It’s that part of the brain that functions when you relax or daydream. It turns on when you don’t think so hard. Activate it once in a while by spending your break in the cafeteria, in your cubicle, or whatever corner you find in your office. You will be surprised by the valuable insights you can get from daydreaming.
You lose sight of your goals
You need to step back and evaluate your goals. Where do you stand? Are you on the right track? Will you accomplish your goal on time? It is during a coffee break when you can re-assess your objectives—like a quota or presentation—for the rest of the day. Taking a quick break from work is an effective way to keep your momentum and reactivate your goal. If you work on a task continuously, it’s easier to lose focus and get lost in the weeds.
You burn out
Harvard Business Review published an article saying workers need to take at least a 15-minute intermission or they will burn out. It’s hard to slow down once you get on the job and start tearing through your to-do list. But your mind and your body can’t just keep going. Your energy level is going to dip at one point during the day and you need to find ways to spend your break for you to feel invigorated again.
You become vulnerable to distractions
Social media company Virtue found that the biggest spike in Facebook posts happens at 3:00 pm. Now, think of yourself at 3:00 pm. What are you usually doing at this time? How do you usually feel a few hours before the end of office hours? You can deny that you are tired and sleepy, but you probably agree that you are distracted at this time. Thus, the spike in social media posts. No matter how engaged you are in an activity, our brains and bodies eventually tire. And while you don’t recognize signs of fatigue easily, you will notice that you are easily distracted. You find yourself watching viral videos, browsing Facebook, and clicking on sale items.
You will likely gain weight
Several medical studies tell us to get up and move around for five minutes every hour. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, leaving your desks once in a while helps keep your weight and waistline in check. So think of fun and creative ways to spend your break like listening to music, exploring the great outdoors or going people watching. These will inspire you to regularly get up and move.
You are likely to hurt your eyes
Are you in front of a computer screen for the whole eight hours you are in the office? Remember that there’s such a thing as a computer vision syndrome (CVS). This can result in blurred vision, headaches, and eye strain. What you can do is take your eyes away from the computer every two hours for at least 15 minutes. Look into the distance, walk away from your desk, chat with the fellow next to you, and focus on something else.
You will shorten your attention span
The average attention span for adults is anywhere between 15 and 40 minutes. You risk making it even shorter by not taking a break at work. You need to reboot at several points throughout the day to get your brain back on track. Among the effects of not taking a break at work is finding yourself running on empty because of a shorter attention span and weaker cognitive resources in your brain.
You will feel more stressed out
A 2013 study by the American Psychological Association found that 65% of Americans say their job is the top source of stress in their lives. One way to beat stress is by taking a break at work and recharging. The brain never stops and just continues to pile up information. Taking quick breaks can lower levels of stress. Focus your energy on something else like a Rubik’s cube, colorful illustrations on the wall, or get up and walk to the nearest coffee shop and smell the aroma.
Do not underestimate the power of taking breaks at work. They will revolutionize your mood, make you happier, and keep you focused. You are not doing anyone a favor by working non-stop. Step back from the computer, stretch your hands and feet, leave your desk, and breathe.
You will lessen your ability to retain information
Among the reasons why you need to take your break at work is for improvement of memory. In the afternoon, find a quiet place or go to your car and take a nap. Power naps for as short as 10 minutes can make someone more alert according to a study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information. Napping for 25 to 30 minutes aids in memory and learning ability. This is why more and more companies are building nap rooms for their employees. Resting the brains and eyes make people more productive.
Philip Masterson is a market specialist, researcher and writer. He runs the blog Alarm Defense, which discusses home security and technology. He also writes about market and businesses. Follow him on @philmasterson15.