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The advert for “Kit-Kat” is all about taking a break, taking time out from our hectic schedule for a few minutes to enjoy their chocolatey wafer snack, and I have to confess a hot cup of tea and a couple of bars of “Kit-Kat” that I can satisfyingly snap apart is one of my particular pleasures.

But so often our breaks are currently taken on the run, they are not breaks at all, mere travelling adjournments from one task or meeting to the next and that’s not good at all from a brain point of view.

We need to have regular “brain breaks” to allow our brains some down time. Cognitive effort chews up a lot of mental energy which needs regular replenishment unlike certain aircraft which can be refuelled on the go without requiring the inconvenience of having to land and travel to a refuelling dock, our brain works so much better when we remember to apply the brakes.

Lunch eaten at the desk is a particular bete noire of mine, possibly because I was guilty of it for so long when working in general practice. Being constantly behind when seeing patients meant it was much easier to quickly eat a banana or take a couple of bites of sandwich, rather then actually stop for twenty minutes.

Yet studies have repeatedly shown how productivity soars when we do take adequate time out to rest our brain. When BHP introduced its 11 page manifesto to its employees when they moved offices here in Perth, one of the positive aspects was that lunch could no longer be eaten at one’s desk.

And the outcome? Productivity soared by 10%.

And it is more than just lunch. Our brain is designed to work in chunks of time no more than 90 minutes at a time ideally. That means we need to take coffee breaks and several of them if we want to work more effectively.

Dr Suzy Green from the Positivity Institute says that coffee breaks are “absolutely essential for peak performance”.

It’s not the coffee, although coffee does stimulate the brain. The benefit comes from defocussing from the task you have been working on and allowing your brain’s natural creativity and innovation a chance to come out and play.

Even more beneficial is to take a break with a couple of colleagues. Having a chat about different topics or perhaps things that you have been stuck on can lead to cross pollination of ideas and generate new thoughts and insights.

Scientists from the University of Sussex in the UK have found that workers who eat their lunch outside were the happiest. All that lovely fresh air, a bit of sunshine – yes it makes us feel better. Plus our work-stations are often cluttered and dare I say it unhygienic!

The other important factor to consider is workplace well-being. Here Dr Green advises how positive interactions between co-workers fosters a positive culture with the potential to elevate efficiency and productivity. Having the freedom to have a break from work when it is needed builds our sense of autonomy, a vital social domain that enhances our sense of well-being.

If you are happier in your workplace you are more likely to want to a) do the work b) continue at your workplace c) continue to contribute to the organisation to your greatest capability.

“Kit-Kats” are optional but breaks are not.

Photo credit: http://bit.ly/17czJ46

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.

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