The researchers split 96 people into three groups. All were asked to highlight as many letter 'e's as they could in a sample of text. One group worked the whole time, either on the 'e's or at another simple task. The second group was allowed to take a break, and could use that time to do anything but surf the Web. The third group was encouraged to browse the Web during their break.
- Those who surfed the Web during their break were the most productive. They also scored lowest on tests meant to measure mental exhaustion and boredom, and scored highest on tests of their level of engagement.
- Men were more likely to 'cyberloaf' than women. Women were more likely to say that doing so kept them from getting their work done.
Stay away from email
About the least productive thing you could do with your break time, the researchers say, is to attend to your personal email. Catching up on your email just doesn't give your brain a break. You have no control over the kind of email you receive, and writing out responses is relatively demanding. It makes you wonder about all the people you see at conferences tapping out messages on their blackberries at 'break' times.
Those who use Web surfing to take a break generally visit sites they already know that they like, so mentally, Web surfing gives them a little break and a little boost. "Browing the Internet serves an important restorative function," write the authors.
The study was presented in August meeting at the annual meeting of the Academy of Management.
Do you cyberloaf at work? Do you feel guilty about it?
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Kimberly Weisul is a freelance writer, editor and editorial consultant. Follow her on twitter at www.twitter.com/weisul.