We recently discussed taking breaks at work: how long we work between breaks, if or how long we leave our workspaces on our breaks, what we do during them, and so on. While we’ve had many posts about productivity, including how to keep track of work to-dos, how to focus on work when other things are on your mind, and the best Spotify playlists to help you focus, we haven’t talked a lot about taking breaks throughout the day. Can you schedule when you take breaks at work? If so, do you tend to take a break at the same time every day? Do you schedule breaks on your calendar as appointments so that others know you are unavailable?
Even though breaks were allowed and even encouraged at most full- and part-time jobs I’ve held, I still wouldn’t stop to take my first “break” until 1 p.m. or later. Even then, it might’ve only been break time because I didn’t want to miss out on the last call for the office cafeteria salad bar at 2 p.m. I did, however, almost always take 45 minutes for lunch when I could. I would make it a point to take a long walk, read a book, or meet up with a friend.
We realize that for some of our readers’ high-demand jobs, it’s just not possible to take breaks, at least not frequently. For instance, as a trial attorney, on my docket days or days with back-to-back-to-back client meetings, or when I had trial prep, breaks weren’t always an option. I would often eat lunch at my desk, if I had time to eat at all, and I was lucky if I could get a few minutes to check my personal texts or emails.
Here are some tips we hope you find helpful when it comes trying to schedule breaks to increase your productivity at work:
Why you should schedule breaks at all
Taking a break will improve not only your physical health (as we all know, sitting for too long is bad for us), but your mental and emotional health, too. Even just walking for five minutes every hour can be beneficial. You’ll return to your work more relaxed, refreshed, and ready to keep working. You might even improve your creativity enough to solve a previously unsolvable problem, just by stepping away for a few minutes.
How frequently you should schedule breaks to increase your productivity
Experts say that 90 minutes is the absolute longest you should work before taking a break — even if the break is just for 5-10 minutes. Ideally, you should work an hour or less between breaks to be the most productive. The popular Pomodoro Technique advises you to work for 25 minutes (ideally focusing on one thing only), take a five minute break, and then go back to work. (After four 25-minute blocks, take a longer break.) But the timing can vary here — a study a few years ago found that taking 17-minute breaks every 52 minutes was the best strategy for being productive, while another study found that participants who were given two short breaks during a 50-minute task were able to stay more focused and perform better.
A few ways to encourage yourself to take breaks — besides setting timers/reminders on your phone — are setting your Fitbit to remind you to get up and move periodically; using a physical timer, website, or app to follow the Pomodoro Technique; or installing an app like StandUp! that prompts you to get up and move frequently.
How to get the most out of your breaks
To re-energize and reset your mind throughout the day, breaks can include:
- a short, brisk walk around the office or around the block
- a healthy snack
- exercise at your desk, including stretching or yoga
- walking over to a colleague to ask a question
- anything else to get away from your workstation!
How do you spend your breaks — going for a walk, getting or making coffee, or taking a few minutes to stretch or do a couple yoga poses in your workspace with the door closed? Do you have a job where you are required to take breaks at the same time every day?
Pictured: Deposit Photos / Swanlake1.
- 3 Ways to Get Maximum Stress Relief During Work Breaks [Huffington Post]
- Why You Shouldn’t Work More Than 90 Minutes Without Taking A Break [Lifehacker]
- Why Taking A Break At Work Makes You A Better Employee [Health]
- When, How, and How Often to Take A Break [Inc.]
My 48 year old bladder schedules hourly breaks for me! :)
I once had a job (salaried, professional) wherein my boss would not let me take breaks.
His control issues were terrifying.
Where I live everyone who works 8 hours a day is legally entitled to 1 half hour unpaid and 1 half hour paid breaks. Most people (including me) take an hour at lunch. I schedule my day around it and consider it generally non-negotiable unless there’s something crazy going on. I read while I eat (away from my desk!) and it’s such a nice mental break.
Off topic: I need a document notarized and the admin in another business downstairs from mine is a notary. In my state she can charge $5 for this, so I will bring that, but in case she doesn’t ask for it/doesn’t want it, is there a gift or some other thing that’s appropriate to give for the courtesy?
Ummm, I imagine you’ve thought of this, but a coffee shop gift card? or bring donuts to their office one morning.
no- unless you are already friendly with her and want to grab her a coffee or something. Maybe a note cc-ing her boss thanking her
No, I don’t know her at all, I don’t know anyone at her company so I can’t cc her boss. We have simply exchanged smiles and waves for a couple years. I just stuck my head in today to say if she happened to be a notary since it seemed likely that based on the firm it was, she or someone else there would be.
I’m wondering if any readers have experience living in London? I am considering a short term position in the city of London (like few block from St. Paul’s) and was hoping someone might want to take a break to tell me what neighborhoods are like there?
I’m looking for areas with tube stops that has walk-able entertainment/food/grocery, and even though I don’t want to spend my precious time abroad commuting, I am hoping to search for housing somewhere that could simultaneously be a little quiet and serene. I’m in my early 30’s and no kids and want to experience and do lots, but also want to feel like I’m getting away from the hustle and bustle of living in the middle of the city like where I live now. Does such a unicorn location exist?
LondonLeisureYear is your person for this. She goes as PuddleJumper now.
Thnx Sloan Sabbith & Violet. Will post again on afternoon post. Hopefully PuddleJumper is reading today!
Seems you are looking for my old area, SW11 , it is Battersea neighborhood but in the border with Clapham common park with the best of everything: local shopping and big supermarkets, plenty of entertaiment if you want it walking distant and also quiet streets to live in. Closest tube stations Claphan Junticon and Claphan common. Check if the commute time is ok for you.
thank you!! this could be a winner! ~15 min tube trip!!
Kew Gardens is a lovely, lovely area. Also, the train is direct to St Pauls, about 4o min.
I recently got a fitbit+flu season+slow time of year for me so I have been getting up when my fitbit goes off, taking a few laps around the middle of the office, and washing my hands. It has made a big difference in my mental health. I may ask for a wireless headset so I can pace while I do calls in the future.
YAY! Another FITBITTER like me! I also take time during the day to take break’s and to do steps around the office so that Dad can see I am NOT on my tuchus all day. I have put on a few pounds over the holiday, and of course they are on my tuchus, but I am sure I will get rid of that by bikini time. The manageing partner has already invited Myrna and me out to the Hamton’s to open his place up in April, and that includes a whole weekend of catered deli! YAY!!!!!! Margie and the baby will also be there so we surely will NOT have to do much more then eat! DOUBEL YAY!!!
I have a different work arrangement than most. I work almost exclusively remotely from my home and go into the office 1-2 times per month (as an attorney). I work for about 2 hours early in the morning from 5-7 am. I then take a break to get my daughter up and ready for school. It’s about an hour break. Then I work until about 10:30 or 11:00 when I run, shower, and make lunch. I eat at my desk and work until about 3:30 when I leave to pick up my daughter. Those breaks which are fairly substantial in length make me so much more productive.
Pleased to announce that this post has been mentioned in the recent Productivity Articles roundup episode!
You can find the article here: https://www.timecamp.com/blog/index.php/2018/01/productivity-articles-weekly-dose-motivation-15-1-18/.
Thank you so much for these excellent tips!
I’ve heard about that technique, though I still have problems with implementing it. The method that works really well for me is the Kanban method. It’s simple and effective. Thanks to it, I’m better at managing my tasks. If you want to read more about it, here’s a free ebook: https://www.slideshare.net/kanbantool/kanban-what-is-it . I hope you like it!