Struggling to Get Your Work Done? New Research Says Taking "Micro-Breaks" May Improve Productivity

Researchers found that pausing a task for 10 minutes or less resulted in higher levels of vigor and decreased fatigue in participants.

Businesswoman working and typing on laptop
Photo: Marko Geber / Getty

If you've found you can't get through the workday without taking a quick walk or briefly stepping away from a task, you're not alone. According to new research published in the journal, PLOS One, taking micro-breaks—or discontinuing a task for periods of 10 minutes or less—enhances your overall wellbeing and productivity.

There are currently a handful of studies that focus on recovery after the workday has ended, but there's a limited amount of information about the process of recovery that happens during the workday or in between tasks. To help bridge this gap, researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 22 studies from 19 manuscripts published within the last 30 years. Each study examined the benefits of taking micro-breaks during work hours.

While employees have several opportunities to take longer breaks—think weekends, after-work hours, vacations, and sabbaticals—recovery also happens at shorter intervals. "Energy, as well as effort, is required in achieving work-related tasks and objectives. Work demands can deplete psychological resources, having a strong correlation with exhaustion and fatigue," the study states. "After expending energy over a while, a process of recovery or replenishment is needed."

Of the studies included in the meta-analysis, work tasks included work simulations, real work-related tasks, and non-work-related cognitive tests. There were also various types of breaks included in the studies, including physical breaks, relaxing activities, and engaging activities, such as watching videos or listening to music.

The researchers analyzed the study results and found that micro-breaks preserved high levels of vigor and alleviated fatigue in participants. When it comes to increased performance, the researchers note that the longer the break taken, the better the performance among the study subjects. Additionally, the type of task you're taking a break from also matters. Micro-breaks significantly increased performance for clerical work and creative exercises—but not for a cognitively demanding task.

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