How to Take Great Breaks at the Office

Updated 11-10-2018

Most of us feel that we work too hard and that we don’t have enough breaks during our working day. The time between 8am and 7pm is a blur that only ends when we unlock the front door at night.

We generally give time pressure as the main reason for the stress in our work day. But a lack of time is not the only reason. Most of us simply do not know how to take a lunch or coffee break.

When we do have a little time, we end up scrolling through emails with coffee cup in hand, talking about work with colleagues or playing computer games. Often we even drift back into work without realizing it. Yes, we are often dragged back to work by ourselves, not by the boss.

Where to start?

Taking quality breaks is good for company productivity as well as your heart and soul. (Click here to see some background.)

Reminding yourself that taking good breaks will make money and save you from a heart attack will no doubt motivate you to start changing the way you work.

As a first step, take the 2×2 test. Try two of the techniques described below for two days.

Do nothing

The best way to take a break is to do absolutely nothing. Don’t think about what you are going to do next. Don’t sit and stew about what your boss just said. Don’t check emails or take calls or even read the newspaper. If you find doing nothing hard to do, use some of the following techniques.

Variety, variety, variety

To get rest during work breaks, do something different. If you are glued to a computer, move around. If you are a waitron, sit down for a while. If you are a manual laborer, read something. If you are an academic, do something physical.

At least get away from your computer screen. Leave your cubicle if you can. Getting out of your building would be even better. This is easier done than said. A simple walk to the water fountain or a walk downstairs to buy the newspaper may do the trick.

Draw the line

Do not mix work and breaks. Clearly marking the beginning and end of a break will help you take a break in the first place. It will also ensure that you do not float back into work without realizing.

Designate a few minutes for a break set the alarm on your mobile phone to mark its beginning and end. Many of the techniques described here only take a minute or two.

Avoid discussing work with colleagues during this time. If you can, don’t take or make phone calls. When you do work during breaks, it stops being a break and starts becoming part of the work day blur.

Move

Most people are sedentary at work, so movement gives a break. Take a walk, do a few stretches (check out this 3 minute stretching routine).

Breathe

Breathing deeply reduces stress. Simply close your eyes and breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Doing this 3 or 4 times is surprisingly calming.

Look

Your eyes need rest too. Closing your eyes for a minute or two is a surefire break.Looking at something calming like a plant, a garden or even just the clouds can also bring you back into the zone. If all else fails, have a look at the photo gallery of the Cloud Appreciation Society.

Listen

Close your eyes for a few moments and listen to the sounds around you. If your mind is too busy to do this, try and concentrate on one of the sounds. My loud old air-conditioner is very useful for this exercise.

Or hook up your MP3 player. Listen to whatever works for you, but in the end Mozart and John Coltrane may be more calming than Sepultura or Cannibal Corpse.

Take Micro-breaks

Micro-breaks can be taken at any time of the day. Many of the techniques discussed here can be applied without taking a formal break.

Take calls on your balcony. Try micro-napping by closing your eyes for a few seconds during meetings – if asked, tell them you were trying to listen carefully.

You could also try printing out your work to proofread it rather than proofing from your monitor. Walk over to your colleagues rather than phoning or emailing them. Or just stare at the clouds when you are sucked into another interminable conference call.

Featured photo by Dominik Dancs on Unsplash

Leave a Comment

{ 22 comments… add one }
  • sanmax12 October 29, 2009, 8:00 am

    Eat a Healthy Snack: You spend nine to twelve hours daily at office. Lunch and sipping coffee is not a good option to do during breaks. Try getting a healthy snack like fruits salad, boiled sprouts or simple popcorn. All this are healthy option to energize you and give you the right energy, which you need all day along.

    Read a newspaper or Magazine: Constant working on laptops and desktops can be stressful to your body. What you can simply do, is read newspaper or a magazine. Doing this will enliven your mind. You don’t have to strain your eyes and use your brain to think, you just have to read and relax.

    Do Stretching Exercise: Try doing simple stretching exercises. You can do hand and leg rotation, look up, down and sideways; all these will help you to relieve from the stiffness of sitting at one place. You can also climb up and down the stairs, which will not only be fun but also help you stay active.

    Music: Music is the best stress buster! Simply listen to your favorite songs on your iPod or mobile phone. Make sure you don’t disturb anybody while doing so.

    http://www.medimanage.com/my-health-at-work/art

  • sanmax12 October 29, 2009, 4:00 am

    Eat a Healthy Snack: You spend nine to twelve hours daily at office. Lunch and sipping coffee is not a good option to do during breaks. Try getting a healthy snack like fruits salad, boiled sprouts or simple popcorn. All this are healthy option to energize you and give you the right energy, which you need all day along.

    Read a newspaper or Magazine: Constant working on laptops and desktops can be stressful to your body. What you can simply do, is read newspaper or a magazine. Doing this will enliven your mind. You don’t have to strain your eyes and use your brain to think, you just have to read and relax.

    Do Stretching Exercise: Try doing simple stretching exercises. You can do hand and leg rotation, look up, down and sideways; all these will help you to relieve from the stiffness of sitting at one place. You can also climb up and down the stairs, which will not only be fun but also help you stay active.

    Music: Music is the best stress buster! Simply listen to your favorite songs on your iPod or mobile phone. Make sure you don’t disturb anybody while doing so.

    http://www.medimanage.com/my-health-at-work/art

  • sanmax12 October 20, 2009, 7:38 am

    Hello,
    I read your article which is based on things we do in a office break; it’s really good and informative. Keep it up…..
    I have some important point’s things we do in a office break which is available on this http://www.medimanage.com/my-health-at-work/art

  • Melek May 14, 2008, 7:18 am

    my favorite break to take is to just lay on the floor for about 5 minutes. it stretches out my back and helps me refocus. or, if i have a lot of time, i’ll curl up on my big chair and take a 15 min nap.

    also, just getting up and touching my toes, side bending and all that helps envigorate me.

  • Suo May 1, 2008, 3:07 am

    Nice long walks do great things – and alone ones.
    When stressed at work I watch relaxation videos at http://www.relaxwithnature.com Reading in general or mindless TV does it for me as well.

  • Sean April 30, 2008, 7:59 pm

    I tend to keep my breaks routine. They work out well for me, but I am a bit anal when it comes to my time.

  • James Marwood April 28, 2008, 12:21 pm

    I find taking effective breaks to be a real problem. I either overdo it and end up procrastinating, or I sit and work with no breaks, becoming less and less effective as I go.

    I find the best way for me to deal with this is to set timetabled breaks and stick to them. Like from 1-1:30 I leave my desk and get lunch. Between 3 and 3:15 I take a short walk and post any snailmail I need to send. I find this fixed break system keeps me somewhat.

  • Albert@Headspace (http://thoughtsintime.co.za/) April 24, 2008, 6:17 am

    @ Ksyu,

    These ‘unrestful’ breaks are exectly what one needs to get away from.

  • ksyu April 23, 2008, 4:01 am

    Thanks! I’m an academic and if I’m not teaching, I’m usually at my desk and spend my breaks watching Youtube which usually becomes a 2 hour long break. Now I’ve got better ways to spend my time that’ll stop me from falling into the dark clutches of being unproductive. ^-^

  • glen April 22, 2008, 1:24 pm

    @Mark- Uhhhh…

    @Rafael- WorkRave is good, and if you’re on a Mac I use AntiRSI

    http://tech.inhelsinki.nl/antirsi/

  • Rafael April 22, 2008, 8:13 am

    You might want to check out a small app called WorkRave that will remind you when to take breaks and even shows you some great stretching excercises
    http://www.workrave.org/

  • Mark April 22, 2008, 6:52 am

    Don’t forget about urination meditation. I find it’s a great way to relax, and your coworkers will definitely not follow you into the bathroom :)

  • glen April 21, 2008, 8:30 pm

    Ibrahim, did you really need much motivation? :)

  • Ibrahim April 21, 2008, 4:08 pm

    Excellent article. Very informative, plus it motivated me to take a break right now. Thanks, I needed it. =)