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by Leo Jakobson | September 23, 2015
Breaks are an important tool to help workers stay focused and energized throughout the day, but not all breaks are created equal, a new study finds. The research, from Baylor University, finds that taking a break earlier than might be expected, and doing something enjoyable during it, can create positive benefits throughout the day.

The study, titled "Give Me a Better Break: Choosing Workday Break Activities to Maximize Resource Recovery," surveyed 95 workers (ranging in age from 22 to 67) over a five-day workweek. Each respondent documented their breaks, including time of day, length, and activities they took part in -- including lunch, coffee, and socializing with coworkers (though bathroom breaks were excluded).

Drawing on the 959 total breaks the respondents took, researchers Emily Hunter and Cindy Wu, associate professors of management in Baylor University's Hankamer School of Business, determined that a break taken mid-morning tended to boost energy, concentration, and motivation more than a break taken later in the day.

"We took some of our layperson hypotheses about what we believed were helpful in a break and tested those empirically in the best way possible," Hunter said in a statement. "What we found was that a better workday break was not composed of many of the things we believed."

Specifically, the traditional idea of working hard through the morning with a lunch break then mid-afternoon break, did less to replenish one's personal resources than a short break earlier. 

Additionally, the researchers found that what someone does on their break can impact its effectiveness. Those doing activities they choose to do -- as opposed to something assigned to them -- were more likely to experience a boost in focus and motivation. But that did not necessarily mean that employees should not do work-related activities while on break: the professors found no correlation evidence that leisurely activities were more beneficial than work activities, so long as the worker personally wanted to do them.

It was also found that more frequent, short breaks of 15 or 30 minutes were more effective at replenishing one's resources than fewer long breaks.

"Unlike your cellphone, which popular wisdom tells us should be depleted to zero percent before you charge it fully to 100 percent, people instead need to charge more frequently throughout the day," Hunter said.

The full report can be found here.