How to take the perfect break from work, according to science

We have all been there, counting down the hours to when the clock reads quitting time. 

Or perhaps, you’re not even waiting for the end of the day, but instead impatiently waiting for your first break. You are tapping your feet, checking your Instagram account, or refreshing your email continuously, hoping to take a break soon. 

However, you keep reminding yourself that you “Need to stay focused” when you’re unsure how to in all reality. What if the solution to being productive at work has more to do with not how focused you are but the science behind your breaks? 

Today, we will examine the strategies for taking the perfect break from work according to science! 

How to take the perfect break from work

In a typical eight-hour workday, if someone worked every single minute of those eight hours, they would work 480 minutes. 

Now, whether you’re someone who works in an office, at home, or you manage employees, you know that realistically, almost 0.00% of people are on task and productive for 480 minutes. In fact, the opposite is true. 

Most people are often unproductive, and simply counting the minutes, bored, or simply unmotivated. Regardless, the truth to the matter is that science shows you can eliminate some inattention issues with breaks! 

Use some of the following ideas from the list below to see how breaks can help you perform better!

Don’t manage your time, manage priorities

The first thing you want to recognize when it comes to time is that you don’t manage it. Time will go on, no matter what you or I do about it. However, what you can manage is how you manage your priorities, aka what you do with your time! 

The sheer fact is this, most of us don’t want to work eight hours, nor do we actually need to. Our work can be done with less time, but because we tend to think, “I have 8 hours,” we fill it with tasks and with a notion that we have no time for breaks. 

This is simply untrue. 

We have time for breaks; in fact, we have time for lots of breaks. This is why rule number one is to flip your mindset when taking breaks at work. Breaks can actually make you:

  • more productive, 
  • more alert, 
  • more focused

Research shows that similar to how a dog will sit for a treat (reward), we can focus our attention better when we know we have a break, a human reward when we are at work. Now that you know why it’s vital to stop telling yourself you don’t have time for a break consider implementing a few of these ideas below!

Use the Pomodoro Technique

Ever heard of the tomato timer? I actually used it to write this article. 

Pomodoro, which translates to tomato in Italian, is also a straightforward time management technique that makes tomato sauce. Regardless, here is how the super-effective time management technique works:

  1. Starting with your top priority, say writing an article on perfect breaks from work, set a timer for 25 minutes. 
  2. Now, work distraction-free on that task for 25 minutes or until the timer goes off.
  3. Here is the fun part, take a five-minute break.
  4. Repeat the sequence 3x more times, creating a two-hour productivity chunk with three work breaks
  5. Once you have done this 4x, take a longer break for 10-15 minutes, consider going on a walk! 

Why 25 minutes? 

The time of 25 minutes, according to science, is the perfect amount of time to decrease procrastination, increasing the right amount of urgency, but it’s not too long either. You’re able to frame your workday more effectively and work in very hyper-focused chunks, thus getting more done! 

Consider the 52-17 method

For me, I sometimes find 25 minutes not being enough, almost not wanting to break my groove that I find myself in. On the other hand, sometimes I feel like after ten minutes, sometimes I am already itching for a break. 

Insert the 52-17 work/break ratio.

Researches have figured out that the most efficient 10% of workers do their most effective work in a 52-minute chunk followed by a break, which you already probably guessed, lasts 17 minutes. 

The 17-minute break, which is also research-backed based on these high achievers, is something that helps reset, refocus, and reenergize those working in a 52-minute chunk. During the course of a standard eight-hour workday, that equates to almost seven productivity chunks lasting 52 minutes followed by a 17-minute break. 

Finally, whether you go with a 25/5 or a 52/17, or perhaps you can only find an occasional 15-minute break, what you will want to consider is taking your break to do things personally or to get your mind off things! 

Consider these break ideas

What sort of break you also take matters. Typically, the best break is one where you disconnect and take a walk! Consider some of these ideas:

  • Go for a quick walk
  • Stand up, stretch
  • Drink a large glass of water
  • Use the bathroom
  • Check your phone (don’t check when working, hide it from yourself!)
  • Read something you enjoy
  • Watch a funny video from time to time.
  • Talk with someone 
  • Power nap
  • Eat a snack
  • Avoid email and work tasks – this is not a break! 

Final word

If you’re anything like me and you have been working home for an extended period of time, it’s quite often that we let our dog distract us, or Eufy, your robot vacuum (when he gets stuck). 

Either way, when you work from home, especially sometimes we might take too many breaks. On the other hand, when we work at the office, we might feel guilty for taking breaks. However, as you can see, the most productive people actually make good use of breaks! 

Regardless of what system you ultimately adopt, start looking at breaks as a good thing to help you!

P.S. When I started this article, I used the Pomodoro technique to a ‘T,’ and I finished this seven minutes into my second 25-minute work period! I was a lot more productive after my break too!