How to Take Effective Breaks at Work

PUBLISHED ON Mar 24, 2021

take effective break at work

In this new age of widespread working from home, one of the most important issues that comes up is that of productivity. We’ve written extensively in other articles about this topic and one of the key contributors of better productivity at work is taking breaks. The Science says taking timely breaks isn’t a waste of time but a necessity for your productivity and well-being. But there are bad breaks and there are effective breaks. In this short article we’ll examine all the key considerations of how to take effective breaks when WFH.

 

Importance of Taking a Break When Working from Home:

When you skip breaks altogether or take bad breaks it actually has a detrimental effect on your productivity and well-being. The following are common problems:

  • Loss of Focus and Concentration – studies consistently show your performance decreases the longer you have to focus on one specific task for a prolonged period.
  • Adds to Stress – in a time when the majority are under more pressure than ever, working relentlessly without taking a break inherently adds to stress.
  • Decision Fatigue – whether we know it or not we make hundreds of decisions every working day; from what to write in emails, crunching numbers or how to solve problems. This is all exhausting mentally and taking breaks will help you avoid decision fatigue.
  • Lack of Disengagement from Work – a lack of psychological detachment from work outside of working hours contributes to the increase in employee exhaustion over time, as this study from Sabine Sonnentag shows.

How to Take Effective Breaks – The Process:

Planning:

When we consider the broader idea of creating a better WFH experience, planning your day and setting a schedule comes on top of the list. So, when next planning your day, make sure you set time aside for breaks.

Time Management:

Generally speaking, working from home allows people to have more autonomy over their time and workload. People work effectively at different times of the day and will therefore fit in their breaks at varying times. Effective time management is a challenge everyone faces but in terms of taking breaks a study showed that the optimal amount of time for breaks is around 12% of the working day; assuming an 8-hour day this would equate to approx. 58mins or appropriately rounded up to an hour. But is it better to take one long break or several shorter breaks? Studies show that shorter, more frequent breaks are more effective in the long run.

A lot of people (including myself), especially in this digital era swear by the ‘Pomodoro Technique’ – a time management method that separates time into work and break phases:

You can use a Google Chrome extension called Strict WorkFlow if you so wish.

Another alternative is to work 52minutes then take a break of 17minutes – according to DeskTime, an app tracking people’s activity on their computer, the top 10 % most productive people work on average for 52 minutes and then take a break for 17 minutes.

 

What to Do During Breaks:

Depending on the type of break you’re taking (a mini or long break) there are things that are recommended you do and things that just don’t cut it, e.g., online shopping, binging on social media and mindless snacking. The right kind of break will allow you to achieve the very purpose of taking a break – there are two key components to create the perfect, productive break:

1) Completely different from your work – if you’re job involves sitting down at your computer all day, then get up and away from the screen.

2) Something you actually enjoy – this should bring positive vibes and help change your general mood and help you focus better when back at working.

Using these key components, the following are some suggestions:

  • Go for a Walk – a simple walk around the block will give you a change of scenery, helping clear your mind and get your blood flowing.
  • Stretching – this is really useful for mini-breaks and simply stepping away from your desk to stretch for 5 minutes can do wonders. You can try some of these ‘Deskercises’
  • Make a Healthy Snack – getting up, walking around for a bit and heading to the kitchen to make a healthy snack is definitely taking an effective break. Not only do you benefit from the break away from your desk, but eating healthy snacks will aid you in staying energised throughout the day. Read here for some Healthy Snack Ideas to Power You Through the Day. Give your mind the right fuel.
  • Simply Sit and Let Your Mind Wonder – again maybe more suited for one of your microbreaks, but with the information overload happening nowadays, sometimes there’s a need to let your mind have space. A report published in Science magazine found that simply letting our minds wander by zoning out or daydreaming has similar benefits to meditation.
  • Power Nap – napping is a great skill to develop. According to research, it’s ideal to sleep for 10–20 minutes when napping. That way, you wake up with increased energy and feeling revitalised.

These are just some suggestions but there could be many others that fall into the general two key components previously mentioned. For example, being social and walking around whilst talking to your friend/family on the phone for 5mins to say hello (bring a smile to your Mom’s face perhaps). Finally, you could opt to change it up and switch between the break activities, i.e., go for a long walk one day and a yoga session another.

 

Stop Taking Bad Breaks:

By now you should get the general principles of taking effective breaks at work (either remote or at the workplace). A few common unproductive breaks:

  • Watching YouTube & Netflix
  • Random browsing of shopping sites
  • Social media use (without effective boundaries).
  • Reading news articles

All the above involved increased unproductive screen time but eating junk food is an additional example of taking an unproductive break.

 

Conclusion: Effective Breaks = Better Productivity & Better Wellbeing

Hopefully, you’ve now got a firm understanding of the importance of taking effective breaks at work, the process of taking a break which included ideas on what to actually do and how long for. Now, take a deep breath. Relieve your eyes. Stretch your body. Go take an effective break.

 

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About Adrian Green

Freelance writer and career coach who has been working from home for the past 10 years. Passionate about helping others find the right career and work-life balance.
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