In the office environment, I was forced to take regular breaks from staring at my screen. Distractions came in the form of coworkers stopping to say hello, long walks down to the campus Starbucks and in-person meetings. A commute signaled the start and the end of the day, making it easy to shut everything off. Working from home took away all of those automatic triggers for a mental break. It's now on you to own your time.
My breaks are a top priority, because I am my top priority. I have a recurring lunch event on my calendar for an hour every day. The time may shift, but its existence is not negotiable. I also take regular breaks throughout the day to refill my water and grab another mug of tea.
I love going to OrangeTheory for my lunch break, which has the added benefit of being around other people who have the same goals as me: work hard, don't die. Since no one is around to smell me when I get home, I can check in on my computer first before taking a quick shower. I always come back energized and focused.
Why You Need Breaks
- It's an energy boost! A good break brings positive vibes and increases happiness.
- You will be better able to focus after a short intermission, which increases your motivation and your productivity.
- Giving your brain a break can help create space to solve problems, to be more creative, and possibly to remember more. Jury's still out.
- You lower the chances of ending up burned out.
- You are giving your body self-care.
- Overall, you will have a better work-life balance. That's something I personally strive for.
Signs it's time for a break...
- You can't focus. When you change your setting, it's easier to shift your mindset. Try taking a short break to address whatever is distracting you and then come back with better focus.
- Your eyes are tired or dry. Definitely take a screen-free break.
- The workday ended. Log off. Shut down. Own your time. It can be hard to stop working without the commute triggering the end of the workday, so figure out what works for you. An alarm? A gym class? A daily walk? Your family getting home?
Common Worries Surrounding Breaks
- What if someone needs me while I am unavailable? Your break doesn't have to be long! 5 minutes is all you need. In fact, it's recommended by fancy people who study this stuff that you work for 25 minutes and then take a 5-minute break for maximum productivity.
- What if I fall behind? Doubtful. A sharpened saw is far more efficient and effective than a dull blade. Try it.
- My meetings are too tight. Own your time. Put in some blocks during the day. Another trick I use? "I have a hard stop at 9:55am. We need to be efficient and focused." And I stuck to it, every single time. Yes, I have required people to schedule a separate meeting if they wanted to go over, because let's be real, it's never just another minute. I'm signaling to people that they need to be prepared and effective when we meet, because my time is valuable. Finally, never be afraid to ask for a meeting to be rescheduled if you need a break. You are (probably) a human, and the person you are meeting with is (probably) a human. We all get it.
Great Work-From-Home Breaks
- Take a short walk or do something else physical, especially if you sit for most of the day. I don't need to tell you sitting all day increases risk of heart disease, diabetes, or obesity. Walking outside has the added benefit of sunshine. If you just want to move for a couple minutes, there are plenty of easy cardio exercises that can get your blood pumping. (Try jumping jacks, knee highs, squats or lunges.)
- Stand up and stretch. It helps relieve the aches and pains of sitting all day and can help with posture.
- Eat a snack in the kitchen. Take a break from the screen and enjoy something nutritious. Never, ever, ever eat at your desk. This is one of the worst habits that can lead to weight gain. If you only eat in your designated eating space, then you won't automatically be hungry when you sit at your desk. Prioritize yourself!
- Drink a lot of water. Every time you get up to refill your glass, that's an easy mental break. If you're drinking a lot, you're staying hydrated. Bonus: staying hydrated means you aren't getting random brain signals that you confuse for hunger.
- Go read a book! It helps take you off the screen, and it brings your mind somewhere else. I like to set an alarm and read up until it chimes.
- Enjoy your hobby. If you love to dance, take a twirl around the kitchen. If you love to sing, belt out your favorite song. If you are knitting a project, work on it in short sprints throughout the day. Enjoy anything that is quick and makes you feel good.
- Reach out to a friend. A quick phone call or message might brighten their day, too. Just be cognizant of what they may have going on, especially if they're working, too.
- Play with your pet. They will (probably) love it, and you will (probably) love it. Wins all around!
- Meditate or take a nap. I personally feel great after a short nap in the afternoon. It helps me focus and leaves me feeling more energized. Not everyone's body responds in this way, though. You know you!
Try to avoid...
- Mindless snacking, online shopping, and the black hole that is social media. You don't need any of it!
- More screens, especially if your eyes are tired or dry. TVs, phones, iPads, whatever. Just walk away for a moment.
- More emails. That's still work, people!
- Housework. If you find them relaxing, great, carry on. If not, don't confuse housework for a good break. Caveat: If your desk is not organized, fix that ASAP. A clean desk makes for an efficient workday.