what is the right amount of time to work between breaks?
In the spirit of first principles thinking, let's start with what we know:
The field of Chronobiology studies the cyclical nature of animal biology. There are many cycles at play during our workday, most notably: ultradian rhythms and gene oscillations.
Reasonable people will agree that working for long hours without a break is not healthy or productive (it's sad), and that our days are filled with natural highs and lows.
So, reasonable people may ask: What is the right amount of time to work between breaks?
There are plenty of recent and popular opinions about how often to take breaks. Here are a few of our favorites:
work with time, instead of struggling against it ~ Francesco Cocirillo
The "Tomato Program" of time management was developed by Francesco Cocirillo in the late 1980s. It has become widely known as a technique to improve your productivity.
The Pomodoro Technique has three parts:
If you're interested in trying the Pomodoro Technique, there are plenty of free tools you can use. Here is the official webapp.
working for 75 to 90 minutes pushes the limit of your concentration
There are more rigorous studies of productivity, most of which observe top performers in some field, then determine which configuration of work- and break-times result in the best output.
Robert Pozen's book, Extreme Productivity suggests that working for 75 to 90 minutes pushes the limit of your concentration. He studied musicians.
Tony Schwartz, who founded The Energy Project, teaches a technique to fortune 500 CEOs called "pulse-and-pause", which seems to agree with Pozen's work. The Energy Project claims that every 90 minutes we become psychologically fatigued, and that we should leverage that cycle.
the most productive people worked for 52 minutes, then took a 17 minute break
A Latvian startup, Desktime, analyzed over 5 million computer-use records, then "isolated the top 10% most productive employees". The results of their study say that the most productive people worked for 52 minutes, then took a 17 minute break.
not all breaks are created equal (you should focus on happiness and quality)
With all this information at hand, you may be feeling overwhelmed. Don't be! The most important thing for most people is that you take more breaks.
We should, however, leave you with a word of warning: not all breaks are created equal (you should focus on happiness and quality). This post in Psychology Today explains some a kinds of breaks that can make you more tired or stressed. It also suggests some breaks that can be more beneficial.
You can take a page out of our book here: 10 Break Ideas for a Happier Workday.
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