Want to Be More Productive? Design a Better Work Break

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By Natalie M. Houston

What do you do when you take a break during your workday?

When I ask people this question, most of them tell me they get on their smartphones or visit various websites:  news publications, Facebook, Instagram, and other online sources of information and entertainment. There’s nothing wrong with doing that — sometimes looking at pictures of cute baby animals is exactly what you need to get through the afternoon.


But have you ever thought “I’ll just check Facebook for a couple of minutes” and then look up shocked to realize a half hour has gone by? Or notice after catching up with news or social media that you’re returning to work feeling more tired or unfocused than you did before your work break?

Bringing awareness to how you’re spending your time and matching your activities with how you want to feel will lead to better quality work breaks that provide the energy, focus, and creativity you need for your day.

How to Check In to Find the Best Work Break

Just ask yourself these questions to tune into and tune up your energy levels:

  • How am I feeling right now?  Is that feeling mostly related to my body, mind, or spirit?
  • How do I want to feel?  What does my body, mind, or spirit most need to feel that way?

For example, if I’m feeling tired, I might unthinkingly swig down more coffee and hope that it’ll make me more alert. But if I stop and check in with myself, I can find out that I’m physically tired because I’ve been sitting at the computer too long and decide to take a short walk instead to reenergize.

Or if I’m mentally tired from doing a difficult task requiring a lot of concentration, I might relax my mind by reading a few pages from a novel. If I’m feeling tired in my spirit from interacting with difficult people, then I might meditate or play with my dogs.

What you would do in the same situation might be completely different. You might prefer to take a nap, browse Pinterest, or talk to a friend. Each of us has different energy profiles, which means that what one person finds energizing might be overwhelming for someone else. Sometimes taking a quality work break means being willing to do something different from what your colleagues are doing.

Quality Work Break Ideas

Of course it’ll feel easier to slip into whatever you’re used to doing on your work breaks, whether that’s eating a donut or checking Facebook. It’s when you’re most in need of a quality work break activity that you’re least able (or willing) to think of one.

That’s why I keep a list of work break ideas near my desk to influence and inspire me. Here are a few of my favorites to get you started in coming up with your own list:

  • take a walk
  • do a few yoga poses
  • drink some water, brew some tea, eat a snack
  • read something inspiring
  • three minute dance party!
  • write a note to an old friend you haven’t been in touch with recently
  • go outside and notice as many sounds, smells and colors as you can
  • power nap
  • look at photos of animals or people you love
  • meditate, chant, or pray
  • play a game or work on a puzzle
  • draw or color (especially if you think you’re not artistic)

It matters less what you do than why you’re doing it. Pay attention to the three aspects of body, mind, and spirit to tune into your own energy style and choose work break activities that will truly refresh you.

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Photo: Roozbeh Rokni


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