How to Take Breaks That Help You Have the Most Productive Workday

Hitting the pause button during a hectic day can actually improve your efficiency and reduce your stress. Here’s how to do it.

Andrey Popov/ Shutterstock
Andrey Popov/ Shutterstock

The COVID-19 pandemic has urged us to rethink our relationship with time, work and productivity in ways we’d never expected. Among one of the biggest lessons: Many of us have learned that slowing down and taking breaks to recharge actually boosts our productivity, our focus, and concentration. Whether we’ve returned to an office or continue to work from home,, being intentional about breaks is key to a more efficient and more fulfilling workday. 

We asked our Thrive community to share how they carve out time for breaks during the day, and what they do during those breaks that benefits their well-being and productivity. Which of these will you try?

Doodle in between tasks

“I stumbled into the world of doodling by accident when I was diagnosed with breast cancer — a time when my mind was filled with anxiety and fear about what tomorrow might bring. Yet the more I doodled, the more peaceful and calm I began to feel. Doodling quickly became a profound daily practice that allowed my spirit to rest, recover, and regroup. Now, I set time aside every day to doodle, even if I only have ten minutes. In the beginning, doodling sounded like such a frivolous and mindless activity, yet it opened me up to a sacred space within which allowed me to access my own healing wisdom and connect with my creative spirit. I found myself experiencing more energy, enthusiasm, and joy. I felt more productive with whatever project I was working on as it cleared my mind of excess mental chatter. It’s now my favorite way to take a break!”

 —Carol Edmonston, speaker and author, Fullerton, CA

Set a “stand up and move” alarm 

“I rely on my watch as my reminder to stand up every half hour for at least for a minute. I also make sure that halfway through the day, I take a 20-minute walk. Science shows that simply walking for 20 minutes boosts your mood and improves your creativity. I find that it really makes a difference!”

 —Nicki Anderson, director of women’s leadership program at Benedictine University, Lisle, IL

Nourish yourself with “soul fuel”

“I’ve been finding that taking self-care breaks is key. Self-care is the ‘soul fuel’ that always enhances my productivity. During the day, I make time for a hot cup of tea, a few stretches, or a short meditation. I come back to the keyboard with new energy, fresh ideas, and a sprinkling of inspiration. I also bookend my day with a walk in nature to reflect on lessons learned and creative possibilities.”

 —Siobhan Kukolic, author, inspirational speaker and life coach, Toronto, Canada

Take a dance break

“My fifteen-year-old daughter and I have developed TikTok traditions that help us decompress and connect during our day-to-day routines. We take an impromptu break at least once a day, sometimes by making a dance TikTok, which is a great way to activate both sides of the brain! I never thought that a social media app would be the impetus for our mother-daughter bonding. As parents, we spend so much time trying to manage or restrict our kids’ screen time. This environment has helped me see how technology can introduce new ways of connecting with my teenager.”

—Monique Johnson, nonprofit executive, Richmond VA

Give yourself breathing room between meetings

“To take productive breaks, I’ve started to reserve a few minutes on either end of meetings. Often, I use those few minutes to hug my partner, step outside for some fresh air, or do a short meditation. I’ve found these fairly frequent short breaks have been great to help me stay grounded throughout the day and shift from different meeting mindsets as my day progresses. I have enjoyed scheduling it in such a way enough that I anticipate keeping a similar model when we return to work.”

 —Priya Jindal, transition management consultant, Washington, D.C.

Walk your dog

“My dog reminds me to get up and go outside several times a day. After lunch, it has become our habit to walk a half mile. Not only do I get the fresh air and exercise, but it clears my mind. When I sit at my computer again, it is with a new perspective.”

 —Laurie Jonas, blogger, Red Wing, MN

Schedule reminders to check in with yourself

“I set reminders on my phone to ask myself questions throughout the day, such as, ‘How could this day feel better?’ or ’Is there anything more energizing you could be doing right now?’ These little reminders go off multiple times throughout the day, and they are a way to check in with myself and ask if what I’m working on is actually serving me. During these breaks, I take the time to get outside, sit in the sun, slow down my breathing, and shake up my energy.”

 —Taylor Slango, business coach, Buffalo, NY

Combine a chore with your favorite podcast

“I take productive breaks by carving out small blocks to put on a podcast and tackle a brief household chore, like watering the plants or loading and unloading the dishwasher. What I love about these breaks is that not only are they a complete mental break from work which allows me to return with greater productivity and creativity, but I’m also productive — listening to something I enjoy, chipping away at housework, getting in a little movement, or just giving my eyes a break from my screens.”

 —Alexis Haselberger, time management and productivity coach, San Francisco, CA

What’s your favorite way to take a break during the day that improves your productivity? Share it with us in the comments!

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