Give Yourself a Break

18.10.2020 |

Episode #7 of the course How to work from home: From surviving to thriving by Jordan Thibodeau and Joe Ternasky


“Scheduling downtime as part of your routine is hard but worth it, personally, even professionally.”—Daniel Goleman

Welcome back!

In this lesson, we’ll discuss how to make the most out of your break times.


What Is the Real Point of a Break?

Breaks help you maintain your pace without getting burned out. In your work from home career, you’re in charge of your own time, so pay attention! What can a good break do for you?

Breaks improve your focus. Sometimes when you stare at something for too long, you reach a point where your eyes are taking in the light, but your brain has long stopped seeing it. Taking breaks throughout the workday gives your eyes something novel to look at and can literally help the cones and rods within them refresh themselves. This will allow you to refocus on the task at hand. In much the same way, if you listen to something for too long, you can lose the capacity to process what you hear. It all becomes noise.

Breaks decrease boredom. Even fun work can become tedious if you’re at it for too long. A little refresher will bring your energy back.

Breaks boost your problem-solving skills. The mind, when given its freedom, can wander away from a given task and come back with fresh ideas you didn’t even know you had. Taking regular breaks can buy you the precious minutes your brain needs to let this process happen. Information is most useful when it has been digested, not just consumed.

Breaks help you reevaluate your goals. Breaks let you see your projects with fresh eyes, thereby letting you work smarter. Even micro-breaks (thirty seconds to five minutes) can be surprisingly effective.


How to Make the Most out of Your Breaks

Here are some suggestions to make your breaks more brilliant:

Feed yourself. Hungry people make hasty decisions and more quickly lose their focus. Slow-releasing glucose sources like whole grains will give your brain a steady supply of energy. Nuts, seeds, dark chocolate, fish, raw carrots, and avocados are all good brain-foods. If you’re worried about overeating, then try grazing instead: trade one big lunch for two smaller snacks set a couple of hours apart.

Have a coffee. Is there anything else that will kickstart you quite as well? The coffee break is a time-honored office tradition. Don’t let it die just because you work from home.

Talk to someone. Having a fun conversation can boost your creativity and your happiness.

Take a nap. Many studies indicate that naps can increase one’s alertness. If you’re feeling overworked throughout your workday, then take advantage of the fact you work from home and lie down for a quick nap! If you’re worried about sleeping for too long, then set yourself an alarm with a gentle noise to awaken you. Consider setting your alarm sound to a song that always makes you feel happy or energized, or try recording your own wake-up call! The sound of your loved ones, your pets, or your own voice might be a fun change of pace from a normal alarm sound that signals to your brain that it’s time to get back to work.

Get outside! The more “natural” the setting, the better; but even just standing on the doorstep or sticking your head out the window can be surprisingly refreshing. Plus, being outdoors is great for the immune system and lowers stress.

Exercise. Indoors or outdoors, exercise boosts creative thought by increasing blood flow to your brain. It also releases endorphins that can make you feel happier and alert.

Change your position. When you’re “in the zone,” it’s easy to let posture degrade, or to ignore that sore spot. Slumping tells your whole body that it is tired and bored. Use a break to reassess your posture. Even a slight change in position gives a boost to your focus and improves productivity. Evaluate the comfort of your work environment. Is your posture terrible? Are your muscles screaming at you? Don’t suffer. Make adjustments.

Loosen up. Gently tilting your head (chin to chest, and ear to shoulder, holding for 15-30 seconds) can relieve neck and shoulder tension. Orthopedic websites have great lists of wrist and hand exercises to prevent wear and tear, but simply rotating your wrists clockwise, then counterclockwise, works great. For your hands/fingers, stretch all fingers out as wide as you can, then make a fist, and repeat until your fingers feel awesome again.

Meditate. Meditation, and even simple breathing exercises, are wonderful ways to relax, rejuvenate, and give your mind a peaceful break.

Give your eyes a break. Your eyes grow tired after too much computer-screen time. Reduce eye strain by changing the distance of your focus. It’s the 20-20-20 rule: for every twenty minutes looking at a computer screen, focus on something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. A post-it note on your monitor can also remind you to refocus more frequently.


How To Ruin Your Breaks

However, there are ways to ruin your break time. The following are common ways you can make your break time counterproductive.

Keep on working. You’ve stepped away from the job but brought the problem with you in your head. You’re not giving your brain any time to process, reflect, or recharge. If you have trouble switching off, you can either try working for longer chunks of time (the 25 minutes suggested by the Pomodoro Method is just that—a suggestion) or you can give your brain a task that demands a different focus entirely. Puzzles and strategy games are good for that. Just remember not to…

Start something you’ll have trouble stopping. For example, this is not a great time to phone Mom, who always keeps you on the line half an hour longer than you planned. You want something that gives you five to ten minutes of mental playtime and/or physical recharging without dragging you into an hour-long commitment.

Stress about your break. A break doesn’t have to be a nonstop joyride, but it is supposed to help you refresh and refocus. If you go on a break and begin to fret that you’re not being refreshed enough, that sort of defeats the purpose. Take it easy work from home warrior! Breaks are a part of work, but they don’t have to be “work.” Remember that just getting up, stretching, and changing your view for a few minutes is a perfectly good way to recharge.


To Do

Task #1: Review the ways you can make the most out of your breaks and how you can ruin your breaks.

Task #2: Reflect on the last break you have taken and ask yourself the following questions:

1. What did you do that made your last break refreshing?

2. Were there things you did that made it a bad break?

3. What can you do going forward to make the most of your future breaks?

That’s a wrap for this lesson. We look forward to having you join us for our next lesson.

Jordan and Joe

Work From Home Teachers


Recommended book

The Art of Working Remotely: How to Thrive in a Distributed Workplace by Scott Dawson


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