There’s a scene in the classic sitcom The Office, where David Brent – the ultimate cringe boss, with zero self-awareness – is doing some motivational speaking. “Laughter is the best medicine,” he says, explaining to his staff that it reduces stress and that he likes to do it several times during the working day. He demonstrates the technique by bursting into a solo manic cackle; though it only lasts about 30 seconds, it seems to go on forever. The whole room stares back in lethal silence.
It turns out that, for once, Brent may have been onto something. He was inadvertently describing what experts call a “microbreak” – any brief activity that helps to break up the monotony of physically or mentally draining tasks. They can last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes and involve anything from making a cup of tea to stretching or watching a music video.
Though the breaks are tiny, they can have a disproportionately powerful impact – studies have shown that they can improve workers’ ability to concentrate, change the way they see their jobs, and even help them avoid the typical injuries that people get when they’re tied to their desks all day.