Research shows that play affects both happiness and productivity. Desktime even claims you need 17 minutes of play after every hour of work to maintain optimal productivity.

Says who? Stuart Brown is a Doctor, psychiatrist and clinical researcher who has specialized in the benefits of play. Marc Berman is Assistant Professor of Psychology specialized in Cognition, Social and Integrative Neuroscience. John Jonides is Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience. Stephen Kaplan is a professior of Psychology, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Desktime is a time management application for optimizing time on the work floor. 

You’ve probably been there before: you are working non-stop on that one important thing that has to be finished today. You have no time for breaks because you need your time to work. Your mind wanders, your eyes hurt and a headache is pulsing underneath your skull. You are far from feeling happy and your cortisol levels are going red. Do you know that feeling? 

Take a break to remain focused

What if we told you your logic about efficiency is wrong? You feel like you need to maximize every minute, but that is not the most effective use of time. In order to maintain productivity, you need breaks. Yes, that is plural. You need a lot of them. The more inefficient, playful and energetic those breaks, the more focused your mind will be afterward. 

The paradox of playing at work

If your boss asks you why you are playing at work, you can refer to a couple of interesting scientific researchers. First, there’s Stuart Brown, M.D.. In his book Play, How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination & Invigorates the Soul he finds it paradoxal but true that a little moment of non-productivity helps you to clear your head and be more focussed at work.

Play to repair your brain

In "How to Thrive in a World of Too Much Busy" (2015), a book by Tony Crabbe, we read about "The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting with Nature", a 2008 research conducted by Marc Berman, John Jonides and Stephen Kaplan. This multidisciplinary team tested what types of breaks would refresh the brain best. To do this, they had subjects take a walk. Some walked through a busy city; other walked through a wood. The results showed that the woodland walk significantly improved cognitive performance; the city walk didn't. The reason for this is that, to avoid being hit by speeding taxis, directed attention couldn't totally switch off. The pleasant sights and sounds of the woods, on the other hand, attracted involuntary attention, and gave directed attention a full break.

The moral of this story is not that we need the woods and trees, but that to replenish our ability to direct our attention we should find ways to trigger our involuntary attention. Like play. Switching our attention from work to WhatsApp, TV or the news app, does little to cognitively recharge us because they require focus.

17 minute breaks

Desktime is automatic business-time tracking software. In 2014 it researched how play contributes to productivity. They found that you should play for 17 minutes after 52 minutes of work. It’s the optimal balance between effort and relaxation and sets for the highest productivity rates.

In conclusion, never force yourself to work for hours on end without stepping away for a moment. The results will be better if you allow your brain to recharge playfully.

How welcome is play in your company? Maybe it’s time to have intermissions on the workfloor as well!