The Importance of Taking Breaks during Work

The current Covid-19 crisis has created a new reality: lockdown. For many of us it’s been a struggle of willpower and discipline, coupled with keeping home and work life in balance.

People are either working remotely or waiting to get back to work. Either way, it’s important that you take breaks during your daily schedule to help you be at your mental best.

At KRS, we know that working from home can be difficult and requires creating healthy habits. That’s why we have compiled some information and insights about why, how and when you should take breaks during your day. We have sourced all the information from the reputable resources which are linked at the bottom of the post for your convenience.

Why take a break?

Firstly, we need to get this out of the way: taking a break does not equate to being lazy. Know your company’s policies concerning break times and use them. For those who are self-employed, give yourself the sufficient number of breaks you need to keep your focus. Developing a routine will place the right amount of breaks in your day, as well as duration.

Taking a break applies the moment you wake up. Getting to work immediately is a bad idea due to sleep inertia, which is a disorientated feeling/haze that lingers when you are still in the state of sleep. It takes around 15-30 minutes for most people to become fully alert. Do something that gently wakes you up and prepares you mentally and physically for work. This may include making a cup of coffee, reading or meditating; anything calming that you enjoy.

It is unnatural for humans to concentrate for eight hours straight. Most of us, on average, are only productive for about three of these eight hours, thanks to a loss of focus, eye strain, decision fatigue and a drastic dip in performance levels. In some cases, people start to suffer from health issues, such as insomnia, depression and/or anxiety if they decide not to take breaks at all. For many of us, the only “break” we take is lunch spent at the desk, which doesn’t help much.

A 2013 New York Times article observed:

“A new and growing body of multidisciplinary research shows that strategic renewal — including daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office an longer, more frequent vacations — boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health.”

Of course, we’re not telling you to take a holiday, but rather to build a healthy routine with a sufficient number of breaks.

“What is the point of breaks, you ask?” Let us explain 😊

1. A Break May Help You Refocus

When a person stays focused on one task for a long period of time, your performance gets poorer and poorer. Do not force yourself to work and stay focused for long duration of time. Taking breaks lowers mental fatigue and enhances your brain function, helping you to stay focused.

2. A Break May Help You Make Better Decisions

When you work, you are continuously making decisions, which can wear you down and inhibit clear thinking. This results in decision fatigue, which in most cases will leave you making bad decisions.

3. A Break May Help Provide You with Creative Fuel

When we’re working, we’re always thinking about the output. If we get stuck, we need some input to help us out. A small 15-minute rest (for example a coffee break or a short walk) may help spark an idea to a solution you’ve been looking for.

4. A Break May Help You Reach your Goal

Working for hours on end without any breaks may cause you to lose track of goals. It’s called “goal habituation”. The solution is to take short breaks from time to time, like 15-minute breaks after every hour. This gives the brain a chance to get away from the continuous output you produce. The mind relaxes and creative juices start to flow.

The Right Types of Breaks

Now that you understand the benefits of taking a break, we want you to know the right type of breaks you should take. In a nutshell, this is anything that gets your brain to rest.

A break entails anything that:

  • Gets your focus away from work
  • Gets your eyes off the screen
  • Gives your brain a chance to relax
  • Gets you out of the chair you’ve been sitting on for hours.

To know what the right type of breaks are, you need to know what the wrong type are. For example, going online is NOT recommended. According to the Harvard Business Review, social media increases your stress levels and diminishes your ability to focus and learn. This is due to the addictive instant gratification of seeing post after post without effort.

On the plus side, there are numerous things you can do during your breaks. For example:

  • Go for a walk or do some workouts. Most of us spend our time sitting all day, so this is highly recommended.
  • Take a nap. According to a study profiled by The Wall Street Journal in 2013, ten to twenty minutes is the ideal duration of a “power nap”. People who need to memorise facts, names, dates or similar information should have a nap period of 60 minutes. The study also found that a 90-minute nap gives a boost to your creativity and emotion-driven memories, therefore representing a full sleep cycle and decreasing the effects of inertia.
  • Meditate. This is best to do during your longer breaks.
  • Have a snack or coffee break. Glucose is what your brain runs on mostly. Healthy snack choices include almonds, fresh fruit, protein bars, kale chips, hummus and vegetables (like baby corn).

How to structure you breaks

It’s easy to lose track of time when you’re busy working on a project or just absorbing information. However, the last thing you want to do is lose focus and get tired. This is when a routine comes into play. Set break times aside in your calendar or day schedule, or set a timer to track your breaks. Mobile time-tracking apps are also helpful.

Here’s a rough example of a break schedule:

10:00: Coffee Break (15 minutes)

12:00:Lunch (30 minutes)

15:00: Snack Break (15 minutes)

Now, we’ve suggested different durations of time a person should take during a break, but it’s up to you and your type of work to find what works best. If you’re doing strenuous work that requires all your focus, take a 10-15-minute break every hour. However, if you’ve worked for more than two to three hours, take at least a 30-minute break. These breaks aren’t supposed to cause extra complications during your day, but offer yourself time to refresh, refocus and replenish your mind, and get to grips with project goals.

It should be said that taking too many breaks can backfire and make it harder to focus. If you need to get more done, take more effective breaks and don’t short-change yourself, particularly during lunch hour. There are apps that can lock you out of your computer for an hour, such as TimeOut (Mac) and Smart Break (Windows). Or you can simply use a timer on your phone or computer.

“What happen if I can’t take a break right now?” you ask. We suggest that you change tasks. This forces a shift in your focus and uses a different part of your brain, thus resting the other part (which resembles a break, of sorts). Here are some great apps that may help:

  • DeskTimer
  • FlowTime
  • FocusBooster
  • Be Focused

Creating healthy work habits is challenging, especially when working from home for the first time. Take it one step at a time and implement the changes over the next couple of weeks. Be patient and kind with yourself, and your ideal home/work routine will fall into place.