Believe It or Not, There's a 'Right' Way to Take a Break

Become a master of the work break in two simple steps.

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Breakfast at Tiffanys sipping coffee

Let's face it — breaks are a must during the workday. Whether it's a classic watercooler chat with co-workers or a quick walk around the block, everyone needs a time-out from the daily grind once in a while. But now, according to a small September 2015 study, some workday breaks are actually better for you than others.

With hopes of uncovering the easiest and best ways to boost energy, concentration and motivation at work, researchers from Baylor University asked 95 employees between the ages of 22 and 67 to record the breaks they took over the course of a five-day workweek. A break was defined as "any period of time, formal or informal, during the workday in which work-relevant tasks are not required or expected, including but not limited to a break for lunch, coffee, personal email or socializing with coworkers, not including bathroom breaks."

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The volunteers took a combined total of 959 breaks over the workweek, which averaged out to about two breaks per person per day.

"The biggest surprise was finding out about how many things were not effective," says study coauthor Emily M. Hunter, PhD, associate professor of management in Baylor University's Hankamer School of Business. "I expected many of these assumptions we had about workday breaks — like going outside, doing things that are less effortful, putting aside work and not thinking about it — to be really effective. But it only came down to two things."

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Don't worry, we won't keep you guessing. Here are those two special ways to get the most bang for your break:

1. Take smaller breaks more frequently throughout the day.

"If you think about your cell phone, the popular wisdom is that you should let it deplete to zero percent before you charge it back up," Dr. Hunter explains. "Well, we are not like cell phones. We have to charge more frequently before we get so depleted that we're at zero percent energy."

As for when to sneak away, Hunter says giving your brain a moment of rest mid-morning is best because it provides benefits — such as feeling more enthusiastic and experiencing fewer aches and pains — that will last until quitting time.

"I have one more metaphor: If you think about plants, the wisdom is to water plants early in the day before they get so depleted from the sun," she says. "The morning watering is more effective, just like the morning break."

2. Do something that makes you smile.

The study participants enjoyed a few common activities during their daily breaks, including eating (41 percent), socializing (37 percent) and texting (10 percent).

"But it doesn't really matter so much what you're doing. What matters is your perception of it, how you feel about it," Hunter says. "As long as it's an activity you prefer, take the time to enjoy it and do it."

In other words, leave those bill payments for when you get home.

In the end, one of Hunter's original predictions was correct: Everyone needs a break.

"Not only do they give us more energy, motivation and concentration, but breaks help us feel less headaches, eye strain, lower back pain and other symptoms of ill-health," she says. "Breaks were also found to increase people's job satisfaction, their citizenship behaviors where they're helping each other at work and decrease feelings of burnout."

Sooo… latte, anyone?

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