Turns out, taking breaks makes you more productive—but there’s a catch

It’s no secret that taking breaks throughout the workday keeps our minds mellow and our ideas fresh. A recent Columbia University study backs that theory up with science. And now that taking breaks are proven to make us more productive, we’ll take 15 and be back soon.

Oh wait, hold up.

There’s a catch to taking breaks if you want them to be truly effective. The Columbia University study actually found out that taking scheduled breaks is the key to productivity—not just willy-nilly five minute breaks here and there. The idea that scheduled breaks are better for your brain revolves around “cognitive fixation,” which is the idea that our thoughts go stale after working for long spans without breaks.

Researchers gathered a group of participants and gave them each a series of problem-solving and idea-generating tasks. One portion of the group had their tasks switched on them without warning, whereas the other group followed a schedule. The researchers found that those who had scheduled switches did better at completing their tasks than the willy-nilly group.

The authors of the study wrote a summation of their findings for Harvard Business Review. They said that participants who did not take scheduled breaks from their tasks often wrote “new” ideas that were extremely similar to those they had already written. These participants revolved around the same ineffective ideas until giving up and moving onto the next task on their own volition, only to come back to the same stale ideas later.

Taking breaks that were intentionally scheduled, on the other hand, proved to enhance idea generation and originality. The researchers recommend that you build breaks into your daily schedule by setting a timer. When the timer goes off, move onto another task for a few minutes and then return to the original task at hand. But if you think taking a break will ruin your streak of great ideas, the researchers would assure you this is “a false impression.”

"We tend to generate redundant ideas when we don’t take regular breaks," they said. "Ask yourself whether your latest ideas are qualitatively different."

Looks like our timer is going off right now. For real this time—see you in 15.

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