Have you ever played Angry Birds, the smash hit game that has been downloaded over twelve million times? Prophet’s recent switch to iPhones has allowed me to play hours of Angry Birds and I can already tell that my productivity is improving.
It’s the best 99 cents that I have ever billed to a client. Just kidding! I bought it myself and it was well worth it because a large body of research shows that taking short breaks from dedicated tasks like building decks, writing positioning statements, creating ideas, or even filing papers can make you a much more engaged and productive person.
Physically and mentally, humans aren’t any different than we were fifty thousand years ago when we were chasing gazelles across the savannah or painstakingly scaling cliffs to steal eggs from angry birds – and our bodies need to rest to stay focused and be effective. We are designed for about ninety minutes of uninterrupted work before our nervous systems start to panic. Whether you are tracking a deer or rocking a spreadsheet, after ninety minutes your brain says, “What is wrong here? Why are you still working so hard?” If you deny yourself a short break, your body starts dumping a chemical cocktail of dopamine, endorphins, and adrenaline into your bloodstream to give you a boost of energy and keep you feeling positive. If you keep going and going, hour after hour without a break, you essentially become a junkie who is addicted to working. Sound like anyone you know?
The real problem is that your efficiency, creativity, and quality plateaus and then declines as you get burned out on the work-smack that your brain has hooked you on. By taking a short five-minute break, like playing a bit of Angry Birds, reading a newspaper article, or even shopping online, you can stem the innate “fight or flight” chain reaction that leads to you working longer with poorer output.
When it comes to problem solving, there is another strategic benefit to taking short breaks. Researchers studying Unconscious Thought Theory have proven that the unconscious mind is far better at solving complex problems then the conscious mind. Have you ever had a breakthrough thought in the shower or just as you drift off to sleep? When the chatterbox “front” of your brain shuts off for even a few moments, the “back” can finally speak up and announce all the heavy lifting it has been doing all along.
So don’t fall into the trap of “powering through” when you feel fried because you think it’s expected in the world of business. It’s a fallacy. Take regular mental breaks to keep you at your best.
I only played Angry Birds once while writing this.