Nathalie Jonsson

Science Writer 

Distraction Makes Life At Work Better


I find myself updating Facebook on my phone at work. Usually it’s just for a split second. Long enough to refresh the news feed. As soon as it updated I don’t get very surprised that nothing new has happened. I was just there updating it a few minutes ago. Actually, I am not too interested in the posts I just need to do something else. I just need a short break from work.

For a highly repetitive task, taking short pauses improves performance. It was fist thought of when workers in factories complained of the same type pain. The repetitiveness of working at an assembly line and preforming the same motion for an entire shift was wearing people out. By just introducing very short breaks at regular interval, the workers felt less pain and more confortable throughout the working day

Office workers do not perform repetitive physical motion, but can many times preform other types of repetitive tasks. When left to their own devices, one study found that office workers completing a repetitive data-entry task took micro pauses lasting on average 24.7 seconds. But people that took much longer pauses than that felt bored and actually did a bad job.

This year it was revealed that apart from sparing our bodies and keeping our minds alert, micro pauses might also be able to save lives. Surgeons operating for at least 2 hours were asked to take a 20 second pause every 20 minutes. During these pauses, they had to stop operating, remove themselves from the work situation, and stretch their neck and shoulders for 20 seconds. Doing this resulted in less pain, less fatigue and in a higher technical accuracy.

Don’t feel ashamed for stepping away from your work from time to time during the day. We need breaks. But there seems to be a narrow window for what makes a successful break and what makes an unsuccessful one. Keeping your breaks short and removing yourself from your place of work seems to be successful strategies. Which actually makes briefly diving into your social life via Facebook make sense.

It is a micro pause and it makes me better.

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