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Breaks for breakthroughs: The importance of taking breaks during the workday

August 23, 2022 - 15 min read


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Breaks and work performance: two sides of the same coin

When should you take a break?

A different break for every need

Don’t lose self-control

See breaks as part of your workday

Taking longer breaks to prevent decision fatigue

Work hard, rest hard

Have you taken a break today? Anything counts, even if it was your lunch break. As long as it gave you some downtime away from work, we’re happy. 

The importance of taking breaks stretches far and wide. Breaks help your productivity, energy levels, and ability to focus — not to mention your mental health and well-being.

But perhaps you struggle to take breaks. We know it’s not as simple as it sounds. You might think you’re shrugging off your work or being lazy, but you’re wrong. When you learn how valuable it is to give yourself a break while still in control, you’ll wonder why you didn’t start taking breaks sooner. 


Breaks and work performance: two sides of the same coin

It’s not a question of if we should take breaks. It’s a question of when and for how long. A break is a time for yourself. It’s when you have the chance to stand up and stretch, grab some food, or search for stress relief. Taking a break from work is a necessity for your productivity and focus.

The idea that we need to remain focused on one single task for as long as possible has been debunked by many studies. In fact, researchers have found that when our brains get used to something, performance and productivity begin to plummet

They also found that paying attention to single tasks for too long is harmful to performance — but taking short breaks ultimately helps us stay focused for longer. That’s why brain breaks are important: they allow us to regroup and gather our attention, rather than continue fighting for concentration — which just makes us unproductive in the end.

Some researchers have also found that lengthy breaks are counterintuitive because workers grow bored and fatigued more easily. The amount of time we rest for matters. We need to ensure that we’re taking breaks that boost our energy levels. We also need to find the right time to take those breaks.

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When should you take a break?

There are no set rules for taking breaks. However, it’s great if we take a break in the morning, afternoon, or evening — or better yet, during all those times. Taking breaks throughout our workday is necessary since we can’t focus intently for eight hours straight. We need to stretch, eat, and look at something other than our screens.

The statistics on taking breaks at work are alarming. One survey by Tork explored how people feel about taking a break from work and how often they do it. Here’s what they found:

  • 22% of workers feel judged when they take a break from work in the middle of the day
  • 39% of workers only occasionally, rarely, or never take a break
  • 94% of employees who take breaks feel like their breaks refreshed their perspective on work
  • Over 9 in 10 employees were more likely to stay at a job if their managers encouraged people to take breaks

Even though taking breaks is beneficial, we mentioned that sometimes, we should avoid breaks. We shouldn’t take breaks if we’re in what’s known as a flow state, where we’re effortlessly focusing and enjoying our tasks. That’s when our productivity is at its highest, so we don’t want to interrupt it.

That said, here are a few signs that you should take a break:

  • You feel Zoom fatigue setting in
  • You’re working too much on one single task
  • You’re hungry and need a healthy snack break
  • You’re feeling frustrated and need to clear your mind
  • You find it hard to concentrate on anything

BetterUp can provide the guidance you need to acknowledge when your body needs a break, and how you can make the most of your downtime. 


A different break for every need

Breaks fulfill a variety of needs. Sometimes they fill our stomachs, lower our stress levels, and give us a change of scenery away from our workspace. And we can’t forget the importance of taking a break from social media. At the end of the day, we should value any reason to take a break. We’ll be grateful for all the benefits these breaks provide.

But perhaps you’re overwhelmed by the different types of breaks you can take. The right kind of break can have an impact on how beneficial it is. 

However, knowing what kind of break to take is challenging, so we’ll provide some suggestions. We also suggest incorporating the Pomodoro technique while taking breaks to help with time management

Here are a few different types of breaks to try:

  1. Nature break: Step outside and feel the fresh air. It’s nice to move away from our workspace and look at new things. That way, our focus recharges for when we return to work. Walking will get your blood pumping, but even sitting outside will help change things up.
  2. Social media break: Being mindful of your social media intake helps your mental health. It can also help you be more present. Setting limits on how much time you spend on certain apps is a way of enforcing your breaks.
  3. Power nap break: Napping isn’t for everyone, but some love it. Power naps boost our energy levels and help with difficulty concentrating.
  4. Dance break: Turn on your favorite song and groove for a bit. Dancing is a physical activity that’ll increase your heart rate and give you time to stretch if your job forces you to stay seated.
  5. Creative breaks: If your job doesn’t allow you to express your creativity, breaks can. You can do this by drawing, painting, journaling, or whatever form of creative expression you enjoy.
  6. Daydreaming breaks: Daydreaming while you work isn’t always a good idea, but doing it over a break is super beneficial. It allows your mind to wander, dream, and can even spark new ideas.
  7. Mindfulness meditation breaks: Mindfulness activities like taking deep breaths or tuning into your emotions can relax you. It helps you find stress relief and slow down your otherwise chaotic days.
  8. Food breaks: Everyone needs food to fuel their concentration and focus levels. So please, let’s take our lunch breaks. Taking a healthy snack break between bigger meals can even make a difference.


Don’t lose self-control

So you’ve decided to take a break and do some daydreaming. You’re feeling quite relaxed during your downtime. That only lasts, however, until you realize you’ve been daydreaming for the past 45 minutes. Now you have to work twice as hard to get something done by the end of the day because you lost track of time. 

You don’t want to break like this. Your focus won’t be recharged — it will be taken away. Plus, it’s a form of procrastination. You aren’t being mindful of the important tasks at hand or truly resting.

Simple activities like watching a funny video or chatting with your neighbor can turn into hours of distraction. These things may seem light-hearted, but they diminish your productivity. Luckily, you can arm yourself with some tools to help you stay in control.

Here are a few ways to keep your breaks on track: 

  • Use a timer when you take your breaks. Timers help you be exact with your break time and remind you when they’re over
  • Use either a virtual or physical calendar to schedule regular breaks and stay on a set timeline
  • Post-its or other notes around your work environment also remind you to take your breaks and when to finish them
  • Doing a concentration exercise as a break and resuming work when finished


Some tools may work better for you than others, so try several until you find what works for you. Whatever tool you choose, make sure that you stick to it and hold yourself accountable.

See breaks as part of your workday

The more you adjust to the idea that breaks should be a regular part of your day, the better. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Sometimes our days are super busy with time-sensitive work, and we feel like we can’t justify a pause. We should still make breaks a priority.

One study found that micro-breaks still have positive impacts on employee work performance. Micro breaks are things like standing up to stretch, filling a water bottle, or petting your cat. The researchers found that employees who took micro-breaks had higher work engagement, higher quality of work, and a more positive attitude toward work. 

Micro-breaks help our work performance, which shows that taking breaks increases our overall productivity. Even the smallest of breaks are healthy to include in your workday. 

Taking longer breaks to prevent decision fatigue


Even though micro-breaks have excellent benefits, sometimes we need longer breaks. We can’t forget about vacations and staycations, for example. They help us unwind and recharge our minds. 

Long breaks can also help us disconnect from work and technology. They encourage us to unplug and be more present. Think of them as opportunities to explore nature, try new things, or just kick our feet up and relax.

Long breaks help prevent decision fatigue, too. When we experience decision fatigue, our brains are sapped of creative ideas, we struggle to focus, and we can’t make decisions as easily as we usually do. Luckily, longer breaks have been found to help us recover from work-related strains and improve our well-being. They give our minds a rest from the stressors of work and daily life. 

If our decision-making abilities aren't what they usually are, we must put in the effort to improve our situation. Knowing when our brains need a longer break is an essential part of self-care.

Work hard, rest hard

We love to work hard. Seeing all that our hard work brings us is rewarding, but so is learning the importance of taking breaks. 

Learning how to take a break while still having self-control helps us take care of our mental health and well-being. It shows us that we can work hard and value rest simultaneously. It’s a form of self-care because we choose to improve our physical and mental health rather than let our work harm it. 

We’re also demonstrating that we value our work-life balance when taking a break. By stopping to take breaks, we’re showing ourselves that there’s more to our lives than only working. And that’s pretty special.

Find support from someone outside of your work team.  BetterUp can provide the guidance and accountability you need to take more breaks. We’ll help you devise a plan that allows you to take scheduled breaks and learn how to recognize when you need a longer one.

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Published August 23, 2022

Elizabeth Perry

Content Marketing Manager, ACC

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