Work and 'nano-transitions': what does that mean and how can you use it to your advantage?

·2-min read
Sometimes taking quick breaks or 'nano-transitions' can increase stress levels.

A "nano-transition" refers to a small pause between two tasks. It may be a new term but it refers to a phenomenon as old as time -- so what's its effect on productivity?

The term "nano-transition" refers to the very small transitions we make from everyday life to work. The word was coined recently by psychology professor Gloria González-Morales with three of her students, according to Quartz. The professor, who teaches at the University of Claremont in California, and her students have been studying these micro-breaks, especially with the widespread use of telework. These pauses may be refreshing for some and boost the day's productivity or life management but for others they can hinder productivity and concentration.

In concrete terms, a "nano-transition" corresponds to a quick scan of social networks between two emails, a call to one's family between two interviews, or putting in a load of laundry between two tasks. These are common practices in a teleworking situation, where boundaries are blurring.

To nano-transition or not to nano-transition, that is the question

In many cases these micro-breaks during the workday are not beneficial for productivity and could even increase stress for some employees. Gloria González-Morales emphasizes that breaks are meant to be pleasant for the employee, but this requires them to be intentional.

In teleworking, the culture of breaks is not really established. There's always a feeling of being lazy if you don't respond immediately to your company's instant messaging. Is that where the multiplication of nano-transitions comes from? Take fewer long breaks so you can always be available?

For managers it comes down to fixing clearer guidelines: "Instead of leaving it up to employees to interpret norms, however, González-Morales recommends that managers establish that employees are indeed trusted to work, walk and talk, or nap as needed," writes media site Quartz.