When I worked my office jobs, I looked forward to going out to lunch. But I always felt a twinge of guilt about it when some of my colleagues humble-bragged about having to eat lunch at their desks because, you know, they were, “sooooooooooo swamped.”
However, taking breaks is not a sign of laziness. A North Carolina State University study found that the more breaks you take, the more productive you can be. Results suggest that people coming to work tired can take five-minute respites to keep up their energy and get through the day.
The North Carolina State researchers here are talking about microbreaks. They are “short, voluntary and impromptu respites in the workday.”
What does a microbreak look like? If it’s safe enough for you to be at the office, you might get up from your chair, walk to the water cooler, and exchange a bit of gossip. If you’re working from home, you could take a walk around the block or go to the kitchen to microwave your room-temperature coffee.
Don’t underestimate the benefits of microbreaks. There’s nothing heroic about gluing yourself to your computer or work station for several hours with no respite. Taking short breaks benefits our productivity in the long run, doing wonders for our physical and mental well-being at the same time.
Prolonged Focus Can Backfire.
Getting in some deep work is what many professionals crave, and it sometimes requires time-consuming concentration. However, staying on a single task for too long can deplete our energy. After a while, we crave physical movement, and our attention goes elsewhere.
Microbreaks Help Recharge Your Brain.
Our brains can get overworked, which eventually leads to burnout. A momentary break can redirect blood flow to parts of the brain that get underutilized while we’re engaged in specific tasks. When we’re ready to get back to that arduous task, we feel mentally refreshed.
They Provide Occupational Benefits.
Besides a mental refresher, microbreaks provide other cognitive advantages like improved concentration and reduced work-related stress. Microbreaks are also associated with greater happiness about our jobs.
How to Get in Those Microbreaks
A microbreak is an excellent reboot for the brain. If microbreaks are hard to come by at your job, you might just need to find ways to make time for them, even if you work at home. Here’s how to get the most out of these short respites:
At Least Five or a Full Day
It’s entirely your call, but it’s probably a good idea to pull yourself away every 90 minutes or so. That means getting in at least five microbreaks in an eight-hour workday.
Try the Pomodoro Method
If you need reminders to take breaks, setting the alarm after every 25 minutes might do the trick. This is the Pomodoro method, a time-management approach that allows for a five-minute break after every 25 minutes of work. You can tweak the work and break minutes as you see fit.
Wait Till You’re at a Stopping Point
The Pomodoro method isn’t for everyone, especially people who need more than 25 minutes to get into a groove. While I believe Pomodoro can be effective, I find it frustrating when the alarm goes off just when I’m finally hitting my productivity peak.
Folks who need hyper-focusing to be productive might benefit from breaking after getting to a natural stopping point, like finishing a sub-task or checking off a to-do item. Completing an essential task is a great time to reenergize the brain. That way, you’ll be ready to attack the next big thing and give it your full attention.
Know the Signals
Some signs tell you when you should pull yourself away from your work for a few minutes. Getting distracted is one, like when you keep checking your Facebook page. Also, if you realize you’ve read the same paragraph five times, you might be fatigued. Other signs including feeling fidgety or losing concentration when you’re talking to someone.
Cap Breaks at 10 Minutes
Don’t overlook the “micro” in microbreaks. They’re supposed to be short, like 5-10 minutes maximum. Breaking for any longer will cause you to lose your momentum, making it harder to get back to work.
You Can Still Do Stuff during a Microbreak
If you get to a five-minute break and feel restless, get up and walk around. If you work from home, ask a roommate or family member to be your break buddy. Chatting someone up at work (assuming safe conditions) can also be a good excuse to take a break. Get a sip of water or refresh your coffee.
If you don’t feel like getting up or standing (which you should occasionally), try some focused breathing—four seconds in through the nose, followed by exhaling for four seconds through the mouth. You can also look away from the screen to refresh your eyes using the 20-20-20 rule.
A microbreak can be the thing that helps you get your mojo back. Even the most jam-packed workdays need some breaking up. Just keep in mind that microbreaks should help you recharge, not avoid work.