It’s 17 minutes, according to Derek Thompson:
DeskTime, a productivity app that tracks employees’ computer use, peeked into its data to study the behavior of its most productive workers. The highest-performing 10 percent tended to work for 52 consecutive minutes followed by a 17-minute break. Those 17 minutes were often spent away from the computer, said Julia Gifford at The Muse, by talking a walk, doing exercises, or talking to coworkers.
Telling people to focus for 52 consecutive minutes and then to immediately abandon their desks for exactly 1,020 seconds might strike you as goofy advice. But this isn’t the first observational study to show that short breaks correlate with higher productivity. In 1999, Cornell University’s Ergonomics Research Laboratory used a computer program to remind workers to take short breaks. The project concluded that “workers receiving the alerts [reminding them to stop working] were 13 percent more accurate on average in their work than coworkers who were not reminded.”
Lisa Evans stresses the importance of stepping away from the computer screen:
What was particularly surprising about the study’s results, however, was what the most productive individuals did during their breaks. “Those 17 minutes were spent completely away from the computer–not checking email, not on YouTube” says Gifford. Taking a walk, chatting with co-workers (not about work), or relaxing reading a book were some common activities the most productive employees did while on break. While many of us often feel the need to look like we’re working hard and putting in long hours at our desks, Gifford says the study shows managers the importance of ensuring employees know it’s okay to step away without fear of appearing lazy or unproductive.