During a recent conference presentation on maintaining performance under pressure, an audience member asked the excellent question, “Does it matter when I take a break? Should I take one every hour?”
There is no definitive research to answer the question. What we do know is that our bodies and brains are designed to oscillate between periods of performance and periods of recovery. We also know that maintaining cognitive focus (attention and concentration) is difficult for long periods of time.
In our experience, the timing of breaks is highly individual. Some people prefer lots of frequent, short breaks to refresh and recharge, others like to take a larger chunk, for example getting out for a run in the middle of the day.
Our advice is to experiment: try planning, and taking, different kinds of recovery breaks. Pay attention to your levels of energy and performance before and after breaks – do you notice a difference? When are you most refreshed? What kind of break lifts your performance?
You will most likely find you want to experiment over a number of weeks to get a really clear picture for yourself. Then make a plan for how you are going to action the most effective breaks. You may want to talk with colleagues to recruit some support for doing this or set up a good reminder system.