It’s Not Slacking: Watching Videos at Work Makes You More Productive

August 19, 2015

You can only stare at spreadsheets or Word documents so long before your eyes become blurry, numbers and words run together, and you lose the ability to focus. It’s not just you. It happens to everyone and, when it does, it’s your brain telling you that you need a break.

So you sneak off to ICanHasCheezburger or YouTube for a quick chuckle. But you can’t really enjoy it because you feel a bit guilty, or at least feel you should feel guilty, so you spend as much time looking over your shoulder as you do at the screen. But we’re here to tell you that you shouldn’t be embarrassed by your behavior; you should be embracing it.

Science Says You Need a Break

Researchers used the productivity software Desktime to find out what sort of work habits made employees more productive. It wasn’t working longer hours, and it wasn’t working non-stop. The 10 percent of employees who displayed the most productivity worked for an average of 52 minutes at a time before taking a 17-minute break. Researchers didn’t track what these most productive workers did on their breaks, but watching videos is as good an option as any.

Boss still isn’t buying it? The length of the break isn’t necessarily as important as just momentarily switching focus. Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign assert that paying attention to a single task for too long reduces performance and that even short breaks help.

But Why Videos?

According to research conducted by Assistant Professor Jessica Gail Myrick of Indiana University Bloomington, watching cat videos can boost viewers’ energy and feelings of happiness.

“Even if they [viewers] are watching cat videos on YouTube to procrastinate or while they should be working, the emotional pay-off may actually help people take on tough tasks afterward,” Myrick said.

How better than to mentally psych yourself up for a dreary project than with a laugh or an aww?

Maybe cats aren’t your thing. How about a disastrous Orson Welles champagne commercial? What you choose to watch doesn’t matter, as long as it takes your mind off your work for a moment. Your brain isn’t meant to work without interruption 8 (or more) hours each day. Study after study shows periods of mental focus require periods of mental rest.

And, while it may seem obvious, lots of people are watching videos at work, not just you. In fact, 64 percent of workers admitted to watching online videos while at work—and many more probably do, but won’t fess up—and 37 percent said they weren’t afraid of being caught. The most popular time to watch is between noon and 2 p.m. But the most interesting finding is that the average workplace viewer spends 6 percent of an 8-hour work day—that’s almost 29 minutes—watching online videos.

Stop Hiding Behind Multiple Browser Tabs

The next time your boss strolls down your aisle, don’t be ashamed about what you’re doing. Admit to it: there’s a pretty good chance your boss watches videos at work, too.

Do you own up to watching videos at work? Have a video that makes for a good, quick break? Share it!

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