August 2019: More Productive Minds and Healthier Bodies From Smart Recovery Time

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    We’ve asked this before, but until human physiology changes, it remains relevant today.

    First, how long can you hold up your outstretched arm parallel to the ground? Next, if you were to be generously paid where you earned more based on the total amount of time your outstretched arm was up each day for the next month, what strategy would you use to earn the most?

When considering the safety, comfort and performance of Knowledge Workers (aka people using computers to perform their work), the above two questions are crucial to consider, where your conclusions will have significant impact on the success of your outcomes.

It’s well-known in Biology and Biomechanics how in any activity we perform which requires the use of our muscles, that until the human body is reengineered we will always require some Recovery Time in some proportion to our efforts in order to allow our bodies to:

  • remove waste products such as lactic acid and CO2 from muscle and tissue

  • reoxygenate and refuel muscle and tissue with nutrients

Moreover, given the same loads to work with, the amount of effort we expend will directly depend on the angular deviations of our joints.

Your resolute author here happened upon an article in Fast Company from a few years ago and which remains true and correct today: The Exact Amount Of Time You Should Work Every Day which started with these two sentences:

You know that taking frequent breaks is good for your productivity, focus, and creativity, but you just never seem to get around to it.  You feel stressed and exhausted when you hammer away at your keyboard all day, and the evidence is everywhere.

The health and safety importance of microbreaks is the realm of two decades of safety management research. In fact, taking frequent short microbreaks while working (strategically placed brief recovery breaks) has become a prominent part of law and regulation covering computer users in over 30 countries beyond California in the United States.

Moreover, this science-driven best practice is being successfully utilized in some of the most admired and profitable companies in the world, all using ErgoSuite and its earlier versions for nearly two decades.

Microbreaks: Explore The Science of What Occurs In The Body

To best explain the physiological value of integrating microbreaks into your work time while working on your computer, we’ll turn to this clearly-explained two-minute New York Times Business news video interviewing Dr. James Levine, an Endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic: Why You Should Take More Breaks at Work

                             New York Times Levine

This paper’s focus is the important value of microbreaks for safety and productivity reasons.   Therefore, within this venue we’ll rest on Dr. Levine’s explanation and forego reciting the voluminous body of science which has directly connected microbreaks to significantly reduced discomfort and injury risk.

Microbreaks: Explore The Science of What Occurs In The Mind

Although understanding how the physiology of taking microbreaks while working is centrally important for health and safety in the office, it’s equally important to understand the psychological side of microbreaks and their significant and easily measurable positive impact on productivity.

Another New York Times article, To Stay on Schedule, Take a Break, also caught our attention while reading the first paragraph:

WANT to be more productive? Keep your nose to the grindstone, or your fingers on the keyboard and your eyes on the screen. Because the more time you put in, the more you’ll get done, right?   Wrong.  A growing body of evidence shows that taking regular breaks from mental tasks improves productivity and creativity — and that skipping breaks can lead to stress and exhaustion.

Vigilance Decrement: Phenomenon and Reality

  • There is extensive science behind this side of microbreaks also. One of the many comprehensive studies was run by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and published in the journal Cognition: Brief and Rare Mental ‘Breaks’ Keep You Focused: Deactivation and Reactivation of Task Goals Preempt Vigilance Decrements which explored the nature of attention and demonstrated that even brief diversions from a task can dramatically improve one’s ability to focus on that task for prolonged periods.
    When To Break
    This is known as Vigilance Decrement which anyone breathing will recognize and identify with as the personal experience of “having trouble doing the same task for too long of a period of time“. After a while, you begin to lose your focus and your performance on the task degrades.

    The study’s author, Dr. Alejandro Lleras, explained of two control groups (one with task breaks and one without): “Constant stimulation is registered by our brains as unimportant, to the point that the brain erases it from our awareness“.

    Dr. Lleras continued: “It was amazing that performance seemed to be unimpaired by time, while for the other groups performance was so clearly dropping off. This study is consistent with the idea that the brain is built to detect and respond to change,” Lleras said, “and suggests that prolonged attention to a single task actually hinders performance.

    We propose that deactivating and reactivating your goals allows you to stay focused,” he said. “From a practical standpoint, our research suggests that, when faced with long tasks (such as studying before a final exam or doing your taxes), it is best to impose brief breaks on yourself. Brief mental breaks will actually help you stay focused on your task!

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