In our day to day life, especially at work(in Office say a software company), due to the nature of work, it requires a lot of attention and deep involvement in the system/code. It is popular belief that taking breaks increases one's productivity.

Considering that in order to take a break, a person spends 30 minutes reading a non-fiction book, on his/her favorite topic, totally unrelated to office work, will it account to taking a break. Or due to the huge context switch, will it actually lead to more curiosity and distraction from office work and affect productivity inversely?

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    $\begingroup$ Well, by definition I take it you take 'a break' from your work. :) Your underlying question apparently seems more related to whether it reduces mental load, or perhaps feelings of stress, or whether it improves productivity? As per 'context switching' more generally speaking, some studies show that there is an optimal amount of context switching which leads to the highest amount of productivity. Is that something you are interested in or are you looking for specifically 'non-fiction' reading, if so why? $\endgroup$
    – Steven Jeuris
    May 4, 2016 at 22:16
  • $\begingroup$ @Steven Jeuris, I am specifically referring to non-fiction as it has the potential to increase your curiosity and force you to study about the topic further or to go deeper and deeper into it, unlike reading a literary work(not generally referring to all fiction), which you appreciate and end your engagement with it, at-least for Example a Romantic poetry/song etc. I wont comment much about fiction, as I am not a regular fiction reader... As I understand, non-fiction works engage you more into them, and can make study them further $\endgroup$
    – Sushant
    May 5, 2016 at 6:16

1 Answer 1


A lot depends on your definition of what constitutes 'a break'. Many are likely to argue a break involves relaxing, a 'fun' pastime, which in another question on this site has been discussed to be beneficial for the work environment in the case of social activities:

..., having fun at work was perceived to positively influence workplace relationships to a moderate-high degree, contribute to managing stress to a moderate degree, improved job satisfaction to moderate degree and was reported to have a little more than neutral, direct impact on workplace effectiveness. These outcomes must however be examined in the context of results, suggesting not only are different types of fun activities enjoyed more, but different types of activities are highly salient in relation to the particular organisational variable measured.

However, these results do not seem to generalize to your scenario, as you seem to be more interested in taking a break from ongoing work and potentially switching to other mentally demanding individual work.

Therefore I believe the following study on multitasking—the interleaving of several primary tasks—which are executed one at a time) by Adler and Benbunan-Fich (2012) measures results more in line with what you are after.

Our results show an inverted-U pattern for performance efficiency (productivity) and a decreasing line for performance effectiveness (accuracy).

There is thus an optimal amount of task switching which leads to the highest productivity. However, increased levels of multitasking lead to a significant loss in accuracy, indicating a trade-off between productivity and accuracy.

These results thus seem to confirm that in at least the context of the study switching to a different task can improve productivity, in line with increased effectiveness when taking 'a break'. To which degree (and if at all), however, will depend highly on the specific tasks and work environment. For example, a follow-up study by the same authors (Adler and Benbunan-Fich, 2015) shows that subjective task difficulty is a determining factor: easy tasks benefit from multitasking by increasing stimulation, whereas hard tasks decrease performance as the result of an overload in mental workload.

Adler, R. F., & Benbunan-Fich, R. (2012). Juggling on a high wire: Multitasking effects on performance. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 70(2), 156-168.
Adler, R. F., & Benbunan-Fich, R. (2015). The effects of task difficulty and multitasking on performance. Interacting with Computers, 27(4), 430-439.


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