To Spark Innovation, Give Your Team A Think Break

Jordan Gross

Why a few hours of idle time can boost worker productivity.

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With nine people clumped together in a room the size of a two-car garage, it was almost impossible to not hear everyone’s conversations. But this was the nature of a budding startup. Minimize costs on the non-essentials. Space was unfortunately one of them.

In the summer of 2016, I worked for an Asian delivery food company. It was a husband and wife founded team, and this definitely allowed me to eavesdrop on some interesting conversations. One of the most common points of contention was about time.

Was each employee spending the right amount of time growing the business? How much time was the right amount?

While the husband craved productivity, execution, and devoted work time, his wife was more lenient. She believed in worker freedom. She trusted them to come back with new and fresh ideas.

“Give ’em a think break.”

She’d consistently urge. A think break was her idea of a few hours to themselves. She believed in Google’s 20% time, which allows engineers 20% of their time to work on their own projects. This in turn makes them more motivated to work on their Google projects.

I remember one late afternoon, the energy was drooping. One of the perks of working at an Asian delivery food business was free Asian delivery food lunches, and after a large feast, we seemed sluggish. One engineer in particular sat at his desk and made no effort to even fake moving his mouse.

Both husband and wife recognized his lack of energy, and they discussed what to do next. Husband wanted him to put his head down and work.

“Give ’em a think break.”

His wife urged. But the male founder refused. He sternly urged the engineer to spend time on the task at hand. This didn’t work in the company’s favor. The engineer ended up doing his work sloppily, and the founder himself had to recode his project the next day.

Another time, we had a pitch presentation to potential investors. Our head of marketing was nervous, and it was clear his deck was unpolished. With the meeting in a few days, our CEO urged him to complete the deck. But his wife thought otherwise.

“Give ’em a think break.”

She attempted to convince her husband. But again, he rejected her suggestion. The marketing head went into the pitch overanxious, overtired, and no investment was made.

I was brought to the team to help “Americanize” their consumer base. They partnered with authentic Asian restaurants, so many of their customers were Asian themselves.

I tried college campus ambassador programs. I tried getting the founder on podcasts. I tried changing all the verbiage on the website to make it more millennial sounding. Nothing worked.

I was at a standstill, and I could hear the duo talking about my efforts. “He needs to do better. He has to work more.” the male CEO asserted.

“Give ’em a think break.”

His wife insisted. And finally, he listened. He let me explore the neighborhood for a few hours, talk to restaurants, and gather information. I came back with a plan to partner with a few less authentic but more popular Asian restaurants, and this was implemented over time. Their customer base has now expanded and diversified.

The Benefits of a Think Break

1. It boosts employee autonomy

According to an article by Steven Kotler in Fast Co. a think break gives employees ownership of their own work. This heightened ownership connects them more to the desired result, thus leading to enhanced productivity and effort as a whole.

2. It allows employees to recharge

Although counterintuitive, nearly 90% of North Americans claim taking a break allows them to feel refreshed and ready to get back to work. They feel excited even to continue working.

3. It heightens creativity

It’s difficult to come up with new ideas without having new experiences. By letting employees change environment and take a break, they can attack problems with a new perspective.

Before You Go, Take Your Think Break

Think breaks are not a novel concept. 3M declared employees have 15% of free time back in 1948.

But with so many entrepreneurs focused on productivity, it’s easy to forget that assigning time to think can actually enhance productivity rather than harm it.

Try giving your employees a think break.
I’m sure they’ll thank you.
And your business will too.

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Reimagining Personal Development

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