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Three Steps to a More Relaxed, Focused Workday


Everyone knows that you’re supposed to take breaks at work.

Google the term “work break” and you’ll see link after link (after link) of actionable advice for what you should be doing on the hour.

  • Take your eyes away from your screen for 20 seconds every 20 minutes
  • Stand up from your desk for 8 minutes every 52 minutes
  • Work for 55 minutes then walk for 5 minutes

It’s actually a bit daunting trying to figure out which are valid and which are merely “The advice of the day”. 

That’s why we were happy to see this comprehensive article on the topic by Dr. Christian Jarrett over at 99U. Jarrett is a psychologist turned writer and the brain behind the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest blog. In his post he boils down a heap of scientific data into three steps for for taking “truly restful breaks”. 

Here’s our brief overview to get you started. If you’re really interested in making your own plan (and want to see all his sources), we encourage you to check out his entire post.

Step 1: Fully Switch Off

Study after study confirms that break activities involving concentration or willpower don’t actually recharge your batteries. That’s right, online shopping and playing games on your phone don’t qualify as breaks. Sorry.

In a recent study published by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and George Mason University, office workers who participated in activities that required little or no physical or psychological effort got the best physical and mental recharge. Things like these:

  • Taking short naps
  • Strolling around the office
  • Stretching
  • Meditating
  • Listening to music
  • Daydreaming

It turns out reading websites and even checking personal emails make fatigue worse because they rely on many of the same mental processes that we use when we’re working.

Step 2: Take Short Breaks Early and Often

How about this for a shocking discovery? Even though you may feel “super energized” in the morning and ready to work hard until lunch, data from a Baylor University study shows that breaks taken in the AM are more beneficial than afternoon breaks.

In fact, if you skip a morning recharge, you’re going to need a longer break in the afternoon to get the same physical and mental effects. Bad news if your day often goes awry after lunch. So take short breaks early and often, then you won’t need to find those 30 minutes to relax later in the day to recover.

Thinking of skipping all your breaks and then just recovering at home? Unfortunately the science doesn’t back you up: over exhaustion at the end of the day makes it even more difficult to recuperate after work.

Step 3: Get Out of the Office

If you can step out of the office and away from your work (and your coworkers), you’ll be much more energized than someone who chose to spend their lunch hour talking shop. And WAY better than the person who ate at their desk.

And, maybe a good thing to note for managers, work-imposed lunch activities, like “lunch and learns” fared worst on the exhaustion scale. Might be best to turn that into a “snack and learn” after everyone’s had their lunches. Or come to terms with the fact that it’s really just another meeting. 

Don’t have time for lunch in the park? Even taking a short five minute walk around the block can help rejuvenate you. Jarret points out “Countless studies have shown how a green environment gives us a mental recharge, and what’s really encouraging is that recent work has shown that this doesn’t have to be a tropical rainforest. A modest urban park is all it takes.” 

Though we realize, especially in today’s busy, must-be-constantly-be-doing working world you might balk at the thought of sitting “idle” at your office, maybe that’s a great case for going outside to take the breaks you deserve. That could hit steps one, two, and three.

Just remember to own up to the breaks making you so productive when your boss asks you about it.

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