Hitting Refresh: How To Take Effective Work Breaks

how to take effective work breaks

What do your work breaks look like?

Do you gobble down a sandwich with one hand while typing with the other and call it a lunch “break”?

Do you get away from your desk but stay glued to your phone?

Because here’s the thing: not all breaks are created equal.

You’re kind of like a giant battery. As you go about your workday, your energy depletes. And if you don’t use your breaks to recharge, you spend the rest of your day running on empty. 

This is true for everyone in your workplace. So if your office culture promotes a kind of work-til-you-drop mentality, the productivity of the staff is actually minimised

Worse, people might be headed towards burnout

That’s why you need to lead by example, encourage effective breaks, and stress the importance of downtime.

In this post we’ll take a look at how to take work breaks that bring you back rested, recharged, and ready for peak productivity. 

5 Ways To Take Better Breaks

Move

As anyone who’s ever sweated it out after a stressful day knows, exercise is a great stress buster. 

And that’s not all. Studies show that exercise “is very effective at reducing fatigue, improving alertness and concentration, and at enhancing overall cognitive function”.

For those who aren’t keen on getting their CrossFit on during lunch breaks, there are ways to move that don’t even require a change of clothing. 

Going for walks, dabbling in a bit of yoga or doing some gentle stretches are all perfectly beneficial ways to get up and move your body. And they don’t have to take up lots of time, so you can fit them in whenever (and wherever) your day allows. 

Eat (properly)

In 2011, Israeli researchers studied over 1,000 judicial rulings to find out whether meal breaks influenced parole decisions. 

Here’s what they found: The further a case was from a meal break, the less likely the judge was to grant parole. 

Directly after meal breaks, favourable rulings shot back up dramatically. 

Now, we’re not saying that food was the only factor here. Mental fatigue makes us default to the easiest decision. But surely a hungry judge is not the judge you want. 

Food is fuel for both our bodies and brains. That’s why our productivity and decision-making capabilities suffer when our stomachs are growling and our blood sugar is low. 

Bottom line? Do use meal breaks to fuel up – preferably in a healthy and nourishing way.

Disconnect 

Yeah, we know. We’re an IT company. We’re all about technology and being connected. 

But hey – we also understand the importance of switching off. 

If we’re always glued to our devices, we’re leaving ourselves open to work-related communications. Even when we don’t want them. 

And even if we’re just listlessly scrolling through social media, we’re not giving our minds a real rest from distraction and stimuli. 

That’s why it’s useful to take some tech-free time once in a while. Leave your laptop at the desk and put your phone in flight mode (or, gasp, actually power it off) so you can be fully present in whatever other activity you do on your break – be it going for a walk, having a social interaction, or just slowing down to enjoy your sandwich. 

Get outside (and into nature)

Fact: Being in an urban environment is less restorative than being in nature. 

Nature is calming. As one study notes, nature grabs our attention “in a bottom-up fashion, allowing top-down directed-attention abilities a chance to replenish.” 

In other words, we don’t have to expend our attention on avoiding being hit by a bus. 

This means that, for maximum mental replenishment, you should try and spend your breaks in nature. It could be as simple as sitting under a tree to eat your lunch or doing your stretches in the park. 

And even if you don’t have any natural beauty nearby, don’t let that deter you from stepping out of the office: a little sunlight and air is never a bad idea.

Set hard stops

It’s 12.45. You’re at your desk working and have lots to do. 

Now imagine two scenarios:

Scenario 1: You’ve organised to meet with a colleague at 1pm to go walking together on your lunch break.

Scenario 2: You haven’t blocked out any time for lunch or made any plans.

In which scenario are you more likely to take an effective break? Scenario 1, right? Because you’ve created a hard stop. 

Without a hard stop, your work can creep on. Before you know it, it’s 3pm and you’re slugging through on a mental deficit. 

So if you find that you’re inclined to just keep working through, try actually scheduling your breaks. It will make you more committed to taking them. 

Implementing Better Breaks In The Workplace

We’ve just gone through five super-simple yet effective ways to take better, more mentally-restorative breaks.

Now a quick look at what you can do to integrate these better break-taking strategies into your workplace culture. 

  1. Encourage people to get up and stretch regularly – try pinning up posters around the office that demonstrate basic stretches. 
  2. Educate staff in time-management methods that incorporate regular breaks. For example, the Pomodoro Technique
  3. Organise group classes for staff in the workplace – yoga, meditation, etc. 
  4. Connect with a local gym to offer membership discounts to staff. 
  5. Streamline your IT communications systems and processes to minimise distractions and keep work communications happening at the right times and places (you may not be able to control all those WhatsApp notifications, but giving people the right tools and policies helps).
  6. Keep meetings efficient and to their scheduled times so staff have time for breaks. 
  7. Keep the staff kitchen stocked with healthy snacks

Now, if you’ve made it this far, it might just be time for a little break. Go on – you know what to do.

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