The Ultimate Guide to Taking Breaks in the Workplace

Taking breaks in the workplace is critical for improving productivity, creativity, and overall health. This ultimate guide explores the benefits of taking breaks and provides tips for incorporating them into your workday.

a graphic image of the person taking a break

We live in a world that glorifies overwork and burnout, and taking time for ourselves can often be seen as a weakness.

Based on the Workplace Wellbeing Report, 35% of workers indicate that their organizational culture is supportive of taking breaks.

In actuality, research has demonstrated that breaks can improve both your overall sense of well-being and work efficiency.

reminder of a break to be taken

How Breaks Became Essential in the Workplace

Uncovering the History of Breaks📜

The first documented labor strike dates back to 1159 BC when Egyptian workers staged a sit-in protest to demand better working conditions, including breaks.

Coffee Break Culture☕

In the 1950s, the American business world popularized the concept of coffee breaks, which had originated from the German custom of kaffeeklatsch, a tradition of enjoying coffee while chatting.

a hand holding a cup of coffee during a coffee-break

The Impactful Legacy of Ford on Work-Life Balance⏰

Ford Motor Company popularized the concept of the weekend in 1926. Henry Ford believed that giving workers time to rest and pursue their own interests outside of work would increase their productivity in the long run.

Four-Day Workweek Revolution🤔

Microsoft famously experimented with a four-day workweek in their Japan office, which led to a 40% boost in productivity. The results showed that providing additional time for relaxation and leisure pursuits to workers leads to enhanced job contentment, reduced stress, and superior work output.

What Happens When We Don't Take Breaks?

To master the art of taking productive breaks, it's essential to understand the consequences of not taking them.

When we don't take breaks, we put ourselves at risk of burnout, which can lead to chronic stress, fatigue, and physical and mental health problems.

The tragic example at Merrill Lynch highlights the morbid dangers of overworking, as evidenced by the death of young analyst Moritz Erhardt in 1998. Erhardt worked for 72 hours straight in an effort to impress his bosses, ultimately succumbing to the harmful effects of overwork.

The Bottom Line: Breaks are important across any professional group – for instance, athletes take breaks during games and practice. It's not only about letting the body recover physically but also about energizing the mind and recharging focus. In other words, taking breaks is not just a luxury but a necessity.

The Benefits of Taking Breaks: From Burnout to Balance

Aside from improved focus, taking breaks has numerous benefits both for our mental health and performance.

Avoiding Fatigue 🌞

According to Illinois News Bureau, taking brief breaks can reduce mental fatigue and maintain attention. The study found that participants who took two breaks during a task performed better than those who didn't take any breaks.

Improved Performance 💪

The study published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior suggests that taking a break improves well-being and performance resulting from engaging in activities that promote relaxation and recovery.

Another study demonstrated that taking short, five-minute brain breaks during work can significantly boost productivity levels.

Increased job satisfaction✅

Workers who take breaks generally report higher levels of job satisfaction than those who don't. This could stem from feeling more control over their schedules and having opportunities to step away from the pressures of daily demands. Encouraging break times can be seen as an investment in employee well-being and happiness.

Improved Creativity💁🏿

Taking breaks can fuel your creativity by giving you time to reflect and brainstorm. When you take a break, it provides an opportunity to let your mind wander and explore new ideas. This allows your brain to access other parts critical in restoring its creativity and enabling you to tackle complex problems.

Better Balance⚖️

Taking breaks can help improve your overall mental health by helping you manage stress levels and promoting a more relaxed and positive working environment.

How Often You Should Take Breaks While Working

Microbreaks, or short, rest breaks of 30–180 seconds, taken at 10 ~ 20 min intervals help reduce musculoskeletal discomfort by allowing short periods of rest that reduce the strain on muscles and joints, recover the body and prevent distress and injury over time.

The Best Time To Take A Short Break

alarm clock on the yellow background

The best time to take a short break is actually when you start to feel a dip in your energy or focus. This could be anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes of work, depending on the individual.

If you wait until you're completely exhausted, it may be too late. At this point, it will take longer to recharge and refocus, and your work quality may suffer.

How To Take Effective Breaks At Work

Taking breaks effectively is an art. Here are some tips to help you master the art of taking breaks and getting the most out of your downtime.

Figure out the type of rest you need🌄

There are seven types of rest: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social, sensory, and creative. Once you’ve figured out the type of rest you need, it’s time to adapt your rest to fit that specific need.

Furthermore, the type of work can also influence the type of activity that is most beneficial during a break.

For instance, physical movement may be more important during a break for someone who sits at a desk all day, while social interaction may be more important for someone who works in isolation.

Plan your breaks🗓️

It's essential to plan your breaks to ensure that they are effective.

Consider scheduling regular breaks throughout the day, such as a five-minute break every hour, a midday lunch break, and a short walking break in the afternoon.

Applying a time tracker to get insight into your work time can be a game-changer in mastering the art of productive breaks. Additionally, an iterative Pomodoro technique can be a helpful tool for taking breaks effectively.


Take a break from all electronics, including your phone and computer. Disconnect from technology and give your mind a chance to recharge. Taking a few minutes each day to practice mindfulness can help you stay focused and reduce stress. This can be as simple as taking deep breaths or practicing a guided meditation.

breathing break

Get Moving🏊‍♀️

Physical activity during your break can be an excellent way to recharge your mind and body. Consider going for a short walk, stretching, or practicing gentle yoga.

Engage with Others👍

Breaks are an opportunity to socialize and connect with others. Consider spending your break time with coworkers or friends.

Prioritize Self-Care🏞️

Use your break time to prioritize self-care. This can include listening to music, journaling, exercising, or having an enjoyable lunch break.

Go Outside🌿

Spending time in nature proved to be an excellent way to recharge and rejuvenate your mind and body.

Consider the effectiveness of taking a break outside and make it your priority to find time to enjoy some fresh air and sunshine.

Don't Feel Guilty😊

a happy person

Taking breaks, no matter how insignificant they may seem, is not only essential to maintaining a sound state of mind but also pertinent to elevating our productivity levels.

It's time to ditch any guilt or apprehension about hitting the pause button and make time for yourself.

Take a power nap🛋️

a pillow and a word nap

If you're feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, a 10-20 minute nap can help you recharge and boost productivity.

Hydrate and refuel🍉

Consuming water and healthy snacks during breaks can boost your energy levels and keep you hydrated while working.

Use scent to boost mood🌸

Certain scents can help to improve your mood and energy levels. Try using essential oils or lighting a scented candle to create a more positive and relaxing environment.

Practice gratitude😌

Taking a few minutes of your break to reflect on what you're grateful for proves to be extremely powerful as it can not only help you reduce stress but teach you happiness and improve your overall look at life.

Embrace silence 🤫

Sitting in silence can be the best break your mind needs. This can help you get clarity and recharge.

Distract Yourself Creatively 🎨

person sitting in the armchair and holding a coffee cup

According to research, activities that make you feel “emotionally transported into the story” (reading a page of fiction, listening to an engaging podcast, etc.) bring the effect of refreshment.

Pay attention to your mind🧠

Thinking about the things that stress us out often makes it harder to recharge. If you can shift your focus towards positive thoughts, it can help you relax and rejuvenate. Therefore, paying close attention to your mind and taking proactive steps to eliminate negative thoughts can work wonders in your quest toward effective breaks.

Concluding Thought

Taking breaks is a science, an art, and a game-changer for productivity. Strategic downtime is the secret sauce!

Here are the top tips:

  • Make breaks a priority, guilt-free!
  • Unplug, exercise, socialize, and prioritize joy.
  • Embrace self-care and nature, and watch burnout disappear.

With the art of taking breaks mastered, you'll be well on your way to a healthier, happier, and more successful life!