TAFEP Hero 2023 Nov
human resources online

Do 17 minute breaks really work?

How to boost productivity levels is constantly on people's agendas. Whether it's helped by eating chocolate, to sleeping more, researchers from all around the world have been studying various techniques of ensuring people get more done in a shorter amount of time.

Having realised early on that indulging in chocolate was doing nothing to help us with our self-esteem issues, and that sleeping longer was getting to be more and more difficult in our stress-filled reporter lives, deputy editor Sabrina Zolkifi and I decided to conduct a social experiment on one of the most recently discovered productivity hacks – the 17 minute break formula.

Authors of this study claimed the most productive people in the world take a 17 minute break after working continuously for 52 minutes. While the concept underlying this technique was nothing new (just ask our editor Rebecca Lewis, who had emphatically claimed “I told you so!” right after reading the report), the novelty of the research lay in the fact that it told you the exact number of minutes you needed to work everyday in order to be productive.

Determined to try this out for ourselves, Sabrina and I set up an alarm which would ring after 52 minutes of continuous work and remind us to take a break. We firmly agreed, however, that in those 52 minutes, we would work with intense concentration and try our best not to indulge in non-work related stuff such as personal texts or logging onto personal social media profiles.

Interestingly, the experiment revealed a lot. Not only about its efficiency as a model for productivity, but also on our own individual working styles.

For one, it determined how both of us were definitely not comfortable with the idea of taking breaks. Breaks which are 17 minutes long.

Knowing that I had to stop to take a break in less than an hour, I almost sprinted to finish as much work as possible in that amount of time. But precisely because I had been in super-efficient mode for the last hour or so, it seemed weird to suddenly stop working and step away from my desk for 17 minutes.

Sabrina wasn’t in a much better state. Being accustomed to multi-tasking, she had to continuously remind herself not to go onto social media and focus only on the feature she was writing. However, she just ended up being distracted by checking the time every five minutes to ensure the experiment was on track and we hadn’t reached ‘break-time’.

Five minutes into the break, both of us were ready to go back to work. Me because I was still in my super-efficient mode, and Sabrina because she was getting into hers. But we did restrain, and we passed the time with general tom-foolery with the support of our colleagues and the newest journalist on our team, Aditi.

One might say the experiment did boost our productivity to a certain extent – both of us managed to tick off all the things on our agenda for the afternoon - but it got me thinking about whether setting an allocated number of minutes for working was really beneficial for both of us.

It essentially proved the old phenomenon - that the idea of taking a break, of knowing that you have a limited time to perform tasks, does push workers to give their best and stick to their timetable.

But, as much as I am cringing with ending off with the world’s most overused cliché, what works for some doesn’t work for others. It looks like you really can’t determine the exact number of hours one must work everyday to be productive.

Instead, sticking to your timetable and pacing yourself accordingly seems like a better idea.

Sorry, researchers. Hope you’re more productive next time.

Image: Shutterstock

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