pause break

All you productivity buffs have probably heard this before: You should be taking breaks regularly to boost your productivity.

All the same, I’m terrible at breaks. I often feel guilty when I stop working to rest, which often makes it very difficult for me to truly relax.

According to a recent survey by Staples, I’m not alone in feeling this way. Apparently, 1 in 5 workers feel too guilty to even take breaks.

And how I spend my breaks definitely affects my entire day: how quickly I get through my to-do list, how my energy levels fluctuate into the afternoon, and how I feel as I head home.

Concentrating at work can be challenging to maintain and taking breaks is important for staying focused. In fact, studies have shown people are 9% more productive and up to 13% more accurate when they take regular breaks from their work.

So, how do you take a break the right way?

Here are 5 research-backed tips that will help you maximize your breaks at work.

1) Take a real break.

In many workplace environments (at home or in an office), breaks are getting shorter and even non-existent. According to the workplace consulting group Right Management, only 1 in 5 office workers reported taking a lunch break away from their desk. So, the most important step to making sure you get the most out of your breaks…make sure you actually take one.

Making a cup of coffee or eating at your desk for 60 seconds doesn’t count.

2) Go With Your Your Natural Flow

On Health Guidance, Adam Sinicki explains that a better way to view the way we view the way we produce work is to utilize a break at the right time. By accepting that just like our natural body clock, creativity and productivity has a natural “ebb and flow”. We can work to line up our cycle up with times we want to get the most work done.

For example, when I work on blog posts, I like to use the Pomodoro Technique, especially if I’m having a hard time getting started. It’s a great time management technique that builds breaks into your working pattern. Periods of work are broken into 25-minute intervals and separated by breaks of varying length.

Here’s the basic process:

  1. Choose a task from your To-Do list
  2. Set your timer for 25 minutes
  3. Work until the timer rings and record the interval as an X on a piece of paper.
  4. Take a break for 3-5 minutes
  5. After four 25-minute intervals, take a longer break for 15-30 minutes

I like to use an online timer called Tomato Timer to help me keep track of my intervals (it uses 5 and 1o minute breaks). You can also use a task management app like 30/30, which allows you to custom schedule your tasks and breaks.

3) Work with Purpose

In a recent piece publish by The Muse, Julia Gifford of the Draugiem Group, a Latvian-based business incubator, described using one of its startups DeskTime to find the best workflow to achieve maximum productivity.

DeskTime is a time-tracking and productivity app that tracks how employees spend their time at work. Based on the habits of the most productive 10% of their users, they were able to determine an interesting pattern – they all took effective breaks.

By analyzing their own data, they came up with a simple (but random) recipe:


According to Gifford, employees who were the most productive don’t work 8 hours per day and instead, work smarter with frequent breaks. The way most of them were able to get their work done was to treat those 52 minutes as a sort of work sprint. In other words, these employees made the most of their working times by working with purpose.

Even if you don’t decide to use DeskTime’s intervals, you can still apply the same trick. During a work interval, dedicate your time to accomplishing tasks and making progress. But when you take a break, completely relax and spend it resting so you’re ready for the next sprint.

4) Don’t Just Have a Coffee

I used to have a weird study habit in college, where I would study for multiple courses at once. I’d have a couple of books open and every 30 minutes or so, I’d switch when I felt my momentum slowing down.

It might sound strange to jump between subjects to maintain focus, but it worked for me. It was a great strategy to keep my energy up without losing interest (with the help of several well-timed pizza breaks).

recent study out of University of Cincinnati has an even stranger proposal for boosting workplace productivity. Turns out, all those times you secretly peeked at Facebook or wrote a sneaky personal email on the clock might have actually helped you get more done.

The team of researchers say that short web-browsing breaks to do things like send personal email, browse social networks, and other non-work related web activities can provide employees with momentary recovery, learning, and satisfaction, which in turn helps them focus on their work.

Here’s a few other counter-intuitive and weird ways to unwind on the job:

office prank

Our team loves a good practical joke!

  • Get up and stretch.
  • Meditate for 20 minutes.
  • Put on your favorite song and jam out to it.
  • Read a book in another room.
  • Go for a walk outside.
  • Draw a picture or play a prank on a colleague.
  • Move to another work space.
  • Take a 20-30 minute nap.

5) Know Your Limits

One last thing to keep in mind.

These tips are meant to give you some ideas for scheduling and structuring breaks, but you also need to recognize your own limits and act accordingly.

In a piece for the New York Times, John P. Trougakos, an assitant management professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough and the Rotman School of Management, compared concentrating on a task to using a muscle over an extended period of time. You have to rest and recover before you use it again.

He suggests trying to take breaks before you reach the end of your energy. If your energy starts to lag or you start drifting, it’s time to give yourself a rest.

Trougakos also says there’s no need to stop working if you’re in the zone. When you hit a work “sweet spot” why not keep going? A spell of natural creativity and concentration should feel invigorating. The main thing you need to be concerned about is forcing yourself to keep working when you’re running on fumes.

How do you make sure you take a break? What’s your favorite break tip? 

Share with us in the comments or on Facebook! Facebook. Or, tweet us your tips @flow_reader.

Image credits: Rafa Puerta