Discontinuous Productivity

Jun 12, 2016

At our last professional networking meeting we discussed the need for taking mini breaks at least every 90 minutes during the workday. Christine Carter coined the term ‘discontinuous productivity’ which is very appropriate since these “breaks” make a great contribution to productivity. Findings are that employees are more productive PLUS enhance their well-being and resiliency when frequent breaks are taken. In fact, energy levels naturally dip after about 90 minutes of high work concentration. At this point tension and stress build, and productivity declines.

Optimizing the brain’s natural power and employee creativity, efficiency, and energy – or ultradian rhythms – requires taking frequent ‘breaks’ to keep the juices flowing. This makes sense, right? Just think about your energy levels during the day and how you feel – as well as what you hear regarding how other employees feel – at the end of the workday. Also think about when a solution or an, ‘ah huh’ moment, comes to you. Often when we stop trying so hard, or think about – or do – something else.

What became quickly apparent during our discussion was that we all agreed with and understood the importance of discontinuous productivity, but acknowledged the difficulty in actually developing the habit. It was also apparent that the organizational culture has to support this habit change, and although a few said their organization actually has a program on energy management, most said that taking breaks would not be viewed as productive.

Ironic isn’t it, especially when it’s known to be true – whether on the golf course, at the water cooler, or over lunch. However, we’ve heard many stories through the years, for example, employees not using an onsite fitness center, not taking vacations, and answering emails during their time off because of fear of management retribution. Another example was an employee being rewarded for working 36 hours straight, which was against safety and HR policies, yet sent a clear message to others of what was acknowledged and applauded.

Yes, ironic, especially since not taking the discontinuous productivity or ‘power’ breaks actually lowers productivity (and energy!) as well as the joy employees gets from work. Plus, lowering productivity, energy and joy detract from well-being and resiliency, therefore negating potential benefits from worksite wellness initiatives.

Another benefit of discontinuous productivity that was mentioned during our group discussion was that the breaks provide time to reflect. Most leaders and employees move from one task to the next like robots, taking little time to think about their actions or to consider best practices. Taking a few minutes to reflect has many benefits. Built in or required reflection breaks provide,

  • The power break needed for ultradian rhythms
  • Energy management
  • Increased productivity
  • Creative surge
  • Resiliency & well-being
  • Best practices
  • Learning

Knowing this, will you take your power break and encourage others to do so as well?