Taking Breaks Increases Productivity

Researchers have recently studied work performance habits using a time-tracking device and have identified what’s called the “52/17 Rule.” The 52/17 Rule indicates that the most productive people work for 52 minutes at a time, then break for 17 minutes before getting back to it. Turns out, taking incremental breathers to sip hot cocoa in the break room actually increases our productivity. Our brains are simply not built to focus for extended stints at the computer, a desk, in a toll-booth collecting quarters, or anywhere else for that matter.

Bearing this new information in mind, I’ll be the first to admitꟷI’m addicted to working non-stop.  My mind lasers with vise-grip focus until I’m done with my work. I’ll be in my own cognitive bubble, unreachable, unflappable, and probably a little bit cranky until I press “save,” “publish,” or “send.”  The kitchen could be on fire and I wouldn’t even know it. Fishing for a reaction, I mentioned this addiction to a friend. Tilting her head she responded, “So what? Isn’t that a good thing? I mean you’re getting stuff done.  That’s cool.”

But it’s not cool.  It’s not a positive addiction (not that addictions are ever “positive”) like…I don’t know… eating kale and drinking Kombucha.  And I’m pretty sure that I’m not the only American pulled by our leftover Puritan beliefs that suggest (or at the very least imply) the virtuousness of remaining in constant work-motion. Adages like “Don’t rest on your laurels,” and “Don’t let the grass grow under your feet,” have been woven into our culture and, for me, fester deep beneath my breastplate.  I work and I work and I work and rarely pause for a downbeat. The more I learn about mindfulness, the more I discover how tightly coiled I am, and how destructive that can be. But I’m learning.

As I write this, I’m testing out this so-called “52/17 Rule.”  I’m writing in 52-minute spurts; then breaking to watch 17-minutes of a Sopranos episode.   After the designated 17 minutes have passed (I’m setting a timer on my Smart Phone), I’m able to jump back into my writing flow midstream and pick up exactly where I left things.  I was skeptical about the 52/17 Rule at first, but must admit to feeling calmer, less prickly and getting just as much accomplished as I did as while operating in Pit-Bull mode. 

I’ve read chapter after chapter on mindfulness, healing, creativity, work-life balance, and the most effective ways to hit the pay dirt of positive emotion.  The words seem to all point to the same cause and effect. Anne Lamott sums it up simply. She writes, “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes…including you.” Just another one of life’s dualitiesꟷbreaking through by powering down; moving forward by pausing; and hearing the music more clearly by taking a downbeat.

Turns out this seemingly quirky 52/17 Rule isn’t just another strategy for structuring work flow; but a much grander template for living life, working hard, and knowing how and when to gracefully tap the brakes, peer out the window slates, and sip the cocoa. 

Mary Delaney is a licensed psychotherapist.  Her areas of interest include Reclaiming Lost Emotions, Overcoming Childhood Neglect, Finding True Purpose, Expressive Arts Therapy, Trauma, Relationships, Attachment, the Creative Personality, and Long-Term Recovery. For more information go to www.creativecorecounseling.com