Time Management

Why Less Time Spent Working Could Actually Increase Your Productivity

Woman working on her laptop on a bench

When it comes to checking things off your to-do list, productivity seems relatively straightforward. Sure, there are tons of different popular hacks, tips, and techniques you can implement to maybe bump things up a notch.

But, when you boil it all down, the gist of it is pretty simple: The more time you spend at your desk, the more you’ll get crossed off that daunting list of yours, right?

Well, prepare for your mind to be blown: That’s not necessarily true. In fact, science paints a very different picture of productivity—and it might just be enough to inspire you to back up from that computer screen and step away from your desk for a few minutes.

That’s right, a mid-morning coffee break or a pause in your busy afternoon to walk the dog around the block can actually help you kick your productivity into high gear, as counterintuitive as it might seem. Unconvinced? Let’s dig into the science of how breaks can be a surprisingly helpful part of your workday.

So, how can breaks help you?


Think of the last time you sat at your desk for hours on end churning out what seemed like endless emails, projects, and assignments (that was likely yesterday for most of us…). How did you feel by the end of that marathon session? If you’re like most people, you felt drained, exhausted, and probably completely uninspired.

Don’t worry, that’s not just an indicator of you being a lazy slob who can’t manage to put in a hard day’s work. On the contrary, that phenomenon is completely natural. Studies show that after attempting to stay zoned in on one thing for a long period of time, we all have the tendency to lose our focus.

This drop in our “attentional resources” (which is basically just a fancy, scientific phrase for our ability to maintain our concentration) leads to decreased performance on tasks.

So, taking frequent breaks (science actually recommends one brief break per hour!) can improve your performance, kick start your creativity, and help you maintain a little bit more of your sanity.

Aside from avoiding feeling like a blurry-eyed, exhausted zombie at the end of the workday, breaks are a great chance for you to take a step back and evaluate the progress you’re making. It’s often far too easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of your day, that you end up hopping around from project to project without a handle on your end objective.

As the Harvard Business Review eloquently points out, pressing pause allows you to avoid missing the forest for the trees in the work you’re doing, and ensure you’re approaching your workload in the best, most effective way.

Finally (as if you really needed any more convincing at this point), we’ve all heard the warnings about how bad it is to stay in one sedentary position all day. Sitting for extended periods of time each and every day can cause some pretty nasty things to happen to your body (think depression, diabetes, obesity, and muscular issues).

So, making sure that you get up and move around every so often isn’t just important for your mind and your motivation—it’s crucial for your overall health as well.

How can you implement breaks in your workday?

Alright, you get it. Breaks are good—you’d even go so far as to say they’re necessary. But, that doesn’t change the fact that you’re overwhelmed with feelings of guilt each time you attempt to steal a little “you” time. Your to-do list is quite literally miles long and your inbox is stuffed to the gills—the mere thought of taking a break is enough to make you feel like a slacker who’s attempting to shirk all responsibility.

Believe us, we get it—as a matter of fact, we’ve been there before. It’s all too easy to fall into that trap of thinking that continuing to stay glued to your computer with your nose to the grindstone is the only way to power through. But, now you know better. And, luckily, there are a few practical strategies you can put into play to ensure that you actually sneak away every now and then (and leave those feelings of guilt behind).

1. Schedule Breaks


You schedule everything else throughout your week. So, why not do the same thing for your breaks? Pick set times each day when you know you need to stand up and get away for just a few minutes. Write them in your planner or on your to-do list if you have to, and then honor them as you would any other appointment or meeting.

Want to make this tactic even more effective? Use a time tracker like Toggl to keep tabs on your productivity each day. This will allow you to easily identify those times when you tend to be less motivated—which is the perfect time for you to schedule your break!

Not only will it give you the pause you need to recharge and refocus, but you’ll also feel less guilty stepping away at a time when you know you’d just be scrolling through Facebook or chewing at your fingernails anyway.

2. Use a Time Management Technique


There are plenty of time management methods out there that incorporate breaks. And, they might be worth a try if you’re serious about changing your habits.

The Pomodoro Technique is a popular one that allows you to work for a 25-minute period, before taking a short five-minute break. It’ll ensure that you step away every now and then, and also boosts your productivity by instilling a sense of urgency in your workday.

Don’t feel like sticking with something so rigid? There are no rules here. You can keep an eye on your own time tracker, and make a point to get up roughly every hour. The secret is to find something that works best for you.

3. Switch Up Your Scenery


This one is surprisingly simple, but can also be incredibly effective for tearing yourself away from that desk that seems to be holding you hostage.

“When you start to feel your motivation slipping, pack up your stuff and head to a different spot!

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Today, remote workers have the benefit of being remarkably mobile. So, why not take advantage of that? Grab your laptop and head outside to your patio or to your favorite corner table at a local coffee shop.

Not only will the switch in surroundings leave you with a newfound sense of inspiration, you’ll also force yourself to take a short break—because it’ll take you a little bit of time to actually get to your new spot. It’s a win-win!

The fact that abandoning your desk for a few minutes here and there could actually lead to getting more things accomplished (and accomplished well, at that!) is enough to challenge everything you thought you knew about productivity. But, science doesn’t lie.

So, make your best effort to step away every now and then. Trust us—it’s good for you and your to-do list.


August 8, 2016