Improve productivity by taking breaks during the workday

Jun 30, 2016 7:30:00 AM


It seems a little backwards, but taking breaks during your workday can actually improve productivity. Breaks are good. If you are a manager, you should encourage your employees to take them and lead by example. If you are an employee, you should actually take advantage of them—and don’t feel guilty about it.

Reasons break are good:

  • Reduce boredom
  • Lower stress
  • Give us a chance to refocus, reprioritize, and see the bigger picture again
  • Help us retain information
  • Help us live our lives
  • Keep our brains from exploding

Scientific research that has produced several methods that help you figure out when to take breaks.

  • Pomodoro Technique. Work 25 minutes. Take a 5 minute break. Every fourth cycle take a longer break. The Pomodoro Technique method is best for completing a specific task.
  • 90-minute work blocks. Work for 90 minutes, take a 20 minute break. There’s a great article in the Harvard Business Review advocating for this method, which is based on the ultradian rhythm.
  • The 52-17 method. Work for 52 minutes, take a 17 minute break. The Muse breaks it down.

So what should we do during our breaks? Not work. Getting up from your desk to get approval from your boss on a proposal is not a break. Taking a client call outside doesn’t count. Walking while trying to solve a work-related problem is not the answer. You need to completely disengage from work and take a serious mental rest.

Here are a few ideas on what you can do:

Exercise. Take a walk. Go to the gym. Take a yoga class. Exercise improves productivity, too.

Eat. Go to lunch. Get a snack. Indulge in some Sour Patch Kids.

Talk to friends or family. Call your mom. Skype with your kids. Email Grandma.

Read. Check the news. Read your favorite blog. Check the stats on your favorite sports teams. Scour social media. Read Buzzfeed. Take a Buzzfeed quiz. (I said a Buzzfeed quiz. As in one. OK, maybe two.)

Listen to music or a podcast. Sit back in your chair and put on your favorite tunes. Catch up on The Moth or This American Life.

Watch online videos. Watch the latest music video of your favorite artist. Discover what Maru has been up to lately.

Shop online. Hey, working is for making money, and making money is to spend it. Right?

Take a shower. No, really. The best thinking is done in the shower.  

Take a power nap. Twenty minute naps give you the energy you need to finish your day.

If it’s been a really long and stressful day, I personally enjoy finding an amazing gif or Someecard that sums up my day and share it with everyone.

How do you spend your breaks during the workday?

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Erin Gifford

Written by Erin Gifford

Erin started with cove in January 2014 and has been enjoying the adventure ever since. Outside of her role as marketing director with cove, she loves the performing arts, memoirs, and UNC.