Use Breaks You Control to Improve Your Work

Woman taking a break

Do you feel guilty about surfing the web at work? Even on breaks? Well, the Wall Street Journal published a story that should be a balm to your conscience. A new study looked at three groups of individuals who needed to focus on a certain task for a while, then switch to either a simple task or a break, and then go back to the first task.

One of the groups that got a break was allowed to do anything they wanted except browse the internet. The second group could surf their favorite sites. Both groups outperformed the group that didn’t take a break, and the web-surfing group outperformed the other break-takers.

The article also emphasizes that surfing through different sites was more rejuvenating than checking and responding to email because when you surf, you are in complete control. When you’re responding to emails, your actions are somewhat dictated by whoever sent each message. You can’t control the emails you receive.

The Need for Control

In essence, what this study proves is not necessarily that web surfing makes you a better worker. Instead, it supports the idea that if you are in control of your downtime, you’re more likely to be effective elsewhere. Your breaks need to offer a little island of true rest to be effective. If you aren’t in control, it’s difficult to rest.

Then again, if you aren’t in control, it’s difficult to work too. Nobody likes having their hands tied. When you’re free to control your work, your breaks, and your quality, you’re free to do your very best. That type of freedom isn’t always possible—and let’s be honest, for certain types of work, someone else may be better qualified to control quality. But freedom to control your efforts is important, and it’s something you should seek in your work.

Finding Your Control

That doesn’t necessarily mean you should go to your boss and demand more autonomy (though negotiating for some may not be a bad idea). Most times, reality is just a matter of perspective. If you focus on all the things you can’t do because the Guys Upstairs won’t let you, then you’re only going to think about your restrictions. (In the context of the study above, I wonder if the non-surfing group was told they could do anything except surf the internet. If they were, I wonder how much that except itched in the back of their minds.)

If you instead chose to focus on the things you can control and change, you’ll likely be more successful, innovative, and happy in your work. Exercise your control and use it to dictate your choices instead of focusing on the choice you aren’t allowed to make. Everyone will have restrictions on their actions—even if you’re the Big Boss, you’re still constrained by your budget and other factors—and everyone has choices to make. Focus on your choices and the things you control, and you’ll start seeing a world of freedom you can work in.

Image by photostock via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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