While no one can make more time, energy is a different matter. Ever wonder why it takes twice as long to write a report at 2:30 p.m. as it does at 10:30 a.m.? You haven’t gotten dumber — it’s just that your energy levels change during the workday. One study found that people were most likely to report high energy levels at 8 a.m., probably when that first cup of coffee kicked in. Energy levels then drifted steadily downward into the afternoon.
That same study, however, found that a single five-minute session of stair climbing could raise energy levels for over an hour. More energy translates into better work, which makes breaks incredibly productive — if they’re done well.
The key is proactively scheduling them. Your tired brain will take a break either way, but will probably choose something non-refreshing like doomscrolling for an hour before you know what you’re doing. So take charge and schedule in these three crucial breaks.
Borrow from the retail sector
When I worked in a fast-food restaurant many years ago, we got three breaks in an eight-hour shift: two 15-minute “smoke breaks” (actual smoking not required) and a 30-minute meal. This rhythm works for computer work too: A short break in mid-morning, a slightly longer lunchtime, and then a mid-afternoon pick-me-up can effectively punctuate the workday without detracting from actual work.
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Ideally, these workday pauses should consist of a portfolio of break types — activities that are proven to increase energy levels, or highly likely to improve mood. One study that measured people’s happiness levels through the day and during different activities found that beyond the obvious winners — eating and “intimate relations” — people were happiest when exercising, socializing, and engaging in spiritual activities.