Using Social Media While You Work May Not be So Bad After All

Science shows that taking microbreaks can boost your productivity

Andrew Macrae
4 min readApr 28, 2020


Photo by Carlos Lindner on Unsplash

I’ve had this theory for a while that checking my social media feeds while I’m working isn’t that bad for me.

It gives my brain tiny, regular breaks from the task at hand. The small doses of refreshment provide little boosts when I’m working on difficult problems and finding it hard to concentrate.

These breaks also give me access to a state of semi-distraction that lets me come at things obliquely.

But am I just trying to justify my bad habits? I’m also a big believer in the main argument in Cal Newport’s Deep Work (affiliate link): that we need large, uninterrupted blocks of time to do our best and most effective work.

How can we reconcile these two points of view, and what does the science say about microbreaks and oblique approaches to productivity?


There’s plenty of evidence to suggest digital distraction is harmful when we allow it to intrude into our work in the form of alerts and notifications that interrupt us.

But when we’re controlling the breaks, it’s a different story. A number of studies point to the benefits of non-work-related internet use for productivity.

  • BLS Coker (2013) found that using non-work-related internet surfing replenished workers’ attention. They also found that younger people (i.e. Millennials brought up on the internet) had greater benefits from these breaks than older people.
  • F Quoquab et al. (2015) studied office workers in Kuala Lumpur, and found that there was a positive relationship between their non-work-related internet use and productivity.
  • J Kuem and M Siponen M (2014) looked at the impact of short, non-work-related computer use on creativity, and found that it had a positive effect on creative performance.

The caveat in all of these studies is that the benefits decrease if you start turning the microbreaks into maxibreaks.

How do microbreaks work?



Andrew Macrae

Freelance writer and editor. Sign up for my newsletter about writing, freelancing and whatever is worrying me