How to Take Productive Breaks

It wouldn’t kill you to take a break. Really. I know we got this “nose to the grindstone” culture going. But there is some rationale for taking breaks. Basically, the mind starts to wind down about 3 p.m., and it becomes hard to keep up the mental pace that gets you through the day.

And physically, your body needs the break. Your eyes need to focus on something that isn’t a computer monitor. Your circulatory system needs a reason to pump more blood. All those muscles in your legs need some action while the muscles in your arms and hands need a break.

Even so, you need to be productive. You want to be useful all the time. Maybe you can have your cake and eat it too if you try these productive breaks:

Link Around

Get a LinkedIn account and start connecting to people here. Find professional contacts out of the office too. This is a legitimate business function. Think of it as your address book on steroids.

And use it to reach out to your connections. Let them know what you’re doing. This is groundwork for when you start looking for a promotion or new job.

In the meantime, any manager here will see that you are serious about developing your career and meeting more people.

You can try Facebook. But it’s easy to get carried away and spend a lot of time on non-work related updates. That may be OK. But it’s not going to win you any points. It can backfire if it gives people here the perception that you spend a lot of time on Facebook. It would be like if they see you in the lunch room all the time.

Speaking of Lunch

Don’t skip lunch anymore. And eating at your desk doesn’t count. You need to get away from your cubicle. The lunch room gives you an opportunity to relax while you eat and be with other people.

If that sounds like too much fun for your Protestant work ethic, think of it as networking. Hey, it’s just as important inside this building as it is out there. So find out what our coworkers are doing. What kind of projects are in the works? Maybe you will hear something that you want to be part of. Or you might have a solution for someone else’s problem.

Blog About

Try reading WorkAwesome. You can learn all kinds of things that will help you be more productive and get along with your coworkers. It’s the best break you can take all day.

All kidding aside, there are tons of blogs and online publications about what we do. Take 15 minutes to read what’s going on in our industry. This is an opportunity to keep current.

It’s professional reading. And you can only hope that someone catches you doing it. You will learn something and position yourself as someone who is dedicated to the job.

Grab a Pencil

Try the crossword or Sudoku. These puzzles are literally mental exercises that will help sharpen your brain. They will develop your word and logic skills. The short term benefits will come from the break you take from the monitor (think of your eyes) and a refreshed brain. In the long term, your brain will be in better shape and less likely to suffer from the problems that come with age.

Walk it Off

Speaking of exercise, take a walk. Get your blood pumping, work some muscles and focus your eyes on something totally different. If the weather is rough, do a few floors in the stairwell. Find a way to move.

This won’t get you in shape for a marathon but it will have some health benefits. If you like it enough, you may want to get a more strenuous workout. Hit the gym or jog around the block instead of lounging in the lunch room. I know what I said about the wonderful opportunities to be found there. But life is about choices and trade offs. This can have bigger personal payoffs. Choose what’s best for you.

Power Up the Naps

But don’t over do it and come back too tired to get anything done. You don’t want to fall asleep. Or maybe that wouldn’t be the worst thing. There is some science surrounding taking naps during the work day.

I know. It doesn’t sound productive. And I’m sure if anyone here slips out for a 20 minute nap, my reaction would start with a roll of the eyes.

Then again, there are those who take regular smoke breaks. And I have taken the opportunity to slip out for a quick walk or grab a snack. A napper shouldn’t be seen any more of a slacker than the smokers or walkers. Some cultures see sleeping on the job as a sign of hard work.

If the nap can recharge the mental batteries, it doesn’t seem so lazy.

Maybe George Costanza had the right idea. I’m sure he would have appreciated the iNap@Work app on his iPhone. Why can’t I get this on my desktop?

Book Some Time

Grab a book for a quick break. I prefer some mind candy – quick and funny fiction. This stuff will never be considered for a Pulitzer, but I appreciate the escape. If you’re hell bent on being productive, try one of those business strategy books like the “Seven Habitats of High, Affected People.” Read something from the self-improvement shelf. You will be a better person and better prepared to finish the day.

And About Overdoing It…

Don’t take this as a prescription to goof off the rest of the day. There needs to be balance. And it’s obviously easy to overdo a break. You don’t want to be one of those people. Where that sweet spot lies between recharging your batteries and slacking off depends on you – and whoever sees you not working. It’s going to take some trial and error.

Be careful that you aren’t noticed experimenting too much. The last thing you need is for the CFO to come walking by and seeing you with your feet on the desk while doing a crossword.

So start small. Put down the mouse, and no one will get hurt.

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Cubicle Curtis is the guy sitting at the next workstation. He's been in this office longer than anyone else, so he's a valuable resource of who does what and how to get things done. Before this job, he has worked just about every job between pizza delivery and accounting. Now, he's all about getting the job done and helping you figure out how to survive yours.


  1. Bob Bessette on the 4th November

    Good post. My Dad used to work in a machine shop and he actually had a workbench at his job. Every lunch hour after he ate he would lay down on his workbench and take a nap. He would always feel refreshed afterwards. In other cultures they take a nap in the middle of the day. I think it’s very healthy. Sometimes I will go out to my car and take a quick cat nap.

    My wife does sudoku all day long because she is a stay at home Mom and finds it stimulating to work her brain.


    • Rob Marriott on the 20th November

      I completely agree about a nap in the afternoon and have thought this for years.

      I think UK employers should at least start to consider this, as well as other natural occurances the body undergoes every day. I seriously think it would not only keep employees happy, but it would increase productivity.

  2. Ben Lumley on the 4th November

    Some really good tips! Thanks!

    It’s easy to get suck into your work and never take a break, especially in the “nose to the grindstone” mentality.

    Brain fatigue is a killing when you’re working on a big project and working straight through.

    Speak from experience as I regularly fall of the wagon and find myself working for 18 hours straight through!

  3. RickSmithAuthor on the 5th November

    When my business was growing like crazy, we were having all sorts of managerial growing pains. I was exhausted, mostly mentally. A friend talked me into working out at lunch. Crazy to take 1.5 hours for a lunch break. But it worked. I could think through my issues. get out of the office. and i got in great shape to boot!

    I am a huge believer in taking breaks from routine. Creativity is about piecing together disjointed observations – that doesnt happen deep in a routine.

    Rick Smith
    The Leap

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