Why Scheduling Breaks Can Boost Creativity

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To get more work done at work, you should pencil in time for breaks. The energy shortage that follows a caffeine-fueled hustle is inevitable for everyone. A study from researchers at Columbia Business School adds a twist to this idea: According to their report published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, breaks are best for creativity when they’re scheduled ahead of time.

The study, which the authors outlined in Harvard Business Review, was broken into two parts. For the first portion, they asked participants to solve two separate problems in a set amount of time. They told one half of the group to switch problems at predetermined points; they told the second half to manage the time they took with each task as they went along.

The second experiment was similar, only this time study subjects had to come up with creative answers to two open-ended questions. Once again, researchers gave half the group a strict schedule to work from while telling the other half to wing it.

Both cases pointed to one conclusion: Groups that jumped from task to task at set times were more creative than those that didn’t plan their breaks in advance, even though participants predicted the opposite would be true. According to the study authors, forcing yourself to pause what you're doing can give your mind the quick refresh you didn’t know it needed. They write for HBR, “Participants who didn’t step away from a task at regular intervals were more likely to write ‘new’ ideas that were very similar to the last one they had written. While they might have felt that they were on a roll, the reality was that, without the breaks afforded by continual task switching, their actual progress was limited.”

Past research has shown that taking breaks at work can lead to more productivity overall. A study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology in 2016 connected breaks to a boost in energy and concentration and less headaches, back pain, and burnout. To get the most out of your daily breaks, remember to decide when to take them at the start of each day, even if that means adding them to your calendar app.

[h/t Harvard Business Review]