The power of taking small breaks at work

On November 2, 2012

Every day I spend at least 8-10 hours sitting in front of the computer. I know most of you do the same.

The kind of work that we do is very specific to our area of expertise. But all of us want to be more productive and stay healthy.

When we are busy doing our work, it's common to ignore small things such as taking a break. We think that taking a break would unnecessarily delay our work and reduce our productive time.

But, according to research, taking regular small breaks actually makes us more productive. Besides that, it is also good for our health.

Sometimes, we have plenty of work to do. At such times, it is not even possible to think about taking a break. I have been through such situations. That's why, I remind myself to take regular breaks whenever I can.

Scientific studies aside, when your work involves staring at the bright screen of a computer continuously for hours together, it makes perfect sense to think about taking a break.

Your eyes need rest, your body needs some movement, and your mind needs a small distraction to get new ideas and fresh perspectives. Taking tiny breaks between your work ensures that you get this needful rest.

Benefits of taking small breaks

  • You feel more fresh and energetic when you return back to your work.
  • Your body gets the proper movement and blood flow, necessary for staying in good health.
  • After continuous hours of work without taking a break, our eyes feel dry and sleepy. Few minutes away from the screen will relax your eyes. Also, regularly blinking your eyes helps.
  • When we work continuously, our mind ignores small changes as it gets used to them, and we may miss some important details. After returning from a break, everything appears new to the mind and it notices small changes again.
  • Sometimes, the best ideas come to the mind when you don't think about your work. This is because the problem is always there in our subconscious mind. Just the right circumstances triggers the solution.
How often should you take breaks

The optimum time to take a break can vary from person to person.

Sometimes, when I am programming, I actually find taking breaks to be distracting. In such cases I take breaks only after a couple of hours.
At other times, I usually take a break every 30-45 minutes.

I think the amount of break time is directly related to your work time. If you take break every 30-40 minutes, the ideal break time would probably be 2-5 minutes. If you take a break every couple of hours, the ideal break time would probably be 5-15 minutes.

You can try varying your break time and the number of breaks you take in a day to find what suits you best.

Each one of us like to work and take breaks as per our own needs and interests. So, I think it's wrong to suggest a fixed time and type of break which applies to everyone. I make sure that I take a break at least once every hour and this works perfectly for me.

Different types of break to refresh yourself

The most important thing when taking a break is to not think abut the work that you were doing. The goal of a break is to make you return to your work with a fresh, new approach which you can't do if you were still thinking about it during your break time.

Also, don't take a break that's more likely to burden your thoughts. So thinking about unnecessary news, gossiping against another colleague is a complete waste of your precious break time.

Here are some of the ways that work for me. These are the most common ones which most of us already do, but don't necessarily consider them as breaks. If you try them, you will see that some of these will work for you too.

Take a Walk
This is a good way to give your body just a tiny bit of exercise and makes your body active. Depending upon your work environment, it may not be possible to take long walks. In that case, you can take small walks in the office area itself. 

If you work at home then it's perfect. I walk around my hall or terrace every few hours. If possible, I make my walks longer and go outside the house. Sometimes, it's necessary to change the routine in order to have fresh ideas.

Read a Book
If you can spare 10-15 minutes, a good way to make use of this time would be to read books. If possible, try to keep a real book handy at your desk. It won't be a break if you continue reading on an iPad, a tablet or on your system.

A few minutes without the glare of the screen will be good for your eyes. Also, it's a good idea to read a book that’s not related to your work in any way. Read something that's likely to use other areas of your brain. This way you will get a real break from work.

Meditate
If you like to meditate, like I do, you will find this to be a refreshing change. If you don't meditate, you can still close your eyes for few minutes and just relax on your desk or take a small nap if you must.

Take slow deep breaths
Taking slow deep breaths helps calm your mind. It also reduces any stress and relaxes your whole body. Just a few minutes of deep breathing should be enough.

Look around you
Sometimes you can just turn your head and see what's happening around you. People chit-chatting, someone talking on a phone, someone just goofing around like you. Anything that make you forget about your work for some time, will do the trick.

Stretch your body
If it's not possible to take a walk, you can just get up from your chair and stretch your body. Move your legs and hands a little, rotate your neck in circles, or try to bend and touch your toes.

Listen to a song
Listening to your favorite song can be a good energy booster. I would prefer that you listen to soft music or songs that will make you feel relaxed. Close your eyes and be completely immersed in listening to the song. I do it this way and it feels more enjoyable.

Take a healthy bite
It's healthy to have small amounts of nutritious food throughout the day, rather than having two or three heavy meals. If possible, keep some fruits with you and have them between meals. A cup of tea or fresh fruit juice can also be considered.

Based on your experience, do what works best for you. It may even be something different from the things I have mentioned above.

The key thing to take away from this post is to take regular small breaks that are likely to relax your body and mind, and make you feel fresh and energetic again. A good break makes you more productive and is good for your mental and physical well-being.

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