10 September 2019

Five ways to have a better break

Break times are precious opportunities to reset and recharge: here are five steps to getting the most out of your work breaks


Cathryn Newbery

Cathryn Newbery

Cathryn Newbery is head of content and community at Ciphr. She was previously deputy editor at People Management magazine. You can find her on Twitter @c_newbery. Her writing focuses on HR systems and solutions, as well as the employee experience at work.


Career development Health and wellbeing Performance


Break times are precious opportunities to reset and recharge: here are five tips for getting the most out of your work breaks

Although the benefits of taking regular breaks during the working day are well-documented, it can be all too easy to attempt to power through the day – either because of your own personal expectations of how a ‘high performing’ employee operates, or because of the pressure of an organisational culture that doesn’t recognise the importance of downtime.

According to a September 2017 study by TotalJobs, the average worker takes just 24 minutes per day for their lunch break. More than two-thirds (68%) of workers surveyed said they skip lunch regularly because they have too much to do, or because they had to handle unexpected extra tasks. With the length of time that we spend on breaks diminishing, it’s increasingly important that you use what little break time you might have to its fullest advantage, so you can return to work refreshed and ready to tackle that to-do list. Here are our top five tips for taking a better break at work.


1. Step away from your computer (and your mobile)

The first tip on our list is probably the hardest: to unplug from your laptop, computer or other mobile device. A summer 2019 poll of Guardian readers found that the average smartphone user spends a staggering 2.5 hours a day on their mobile device – with some respondents saying the spend between 8 and 10 hours a day on their smartphone. Add up the time spent at your desk working on a computer each day, and that’s a whole lot of screen time. Try to spend at least a small portion of your lunch break disconnected from the internet, so you can re-centre your thoughts on yourself, reduce the amount of online ‘chatter’ that you’re subject too, and refocus your attention for the rest of the day.


2. Switch up your location

Working in the same place – no matter how carefully you might have considered the affect of your office design on productivity – day in, day out, is bound to take its toll eventually. If you are stuck in the same habits or patterns, or struggling to come up with that vital creative idea, try taking a physical break from your workplace as well as the usual mental break from your tasks. Instead of eating lunch at your desk, for example, why not make use of a communal area where you can catch up with colleagues, stretch your legs in a local park, or even arrange to meet a local friend for coffee?

Academic research supports the usefulness of a change of scenery: a 2013 study by the University of Queensland, Australia, found that workers who took their lunch break in a restaurant with colleagues or friends reported feeling more relaxed after their break than people who’d had lunch on their own in the office.


3. Get some exercise

Taking regular exercise is really important for your body and mind to work effectively. But it can be tough to find the time and energy to exercise – particularly before and after work – so using your breaks to get moving makes a lot of sense. Doing simple stretches at your desk at regular intervals can help to prevent and alleviate the back and neck problems that afflict so many office-based workers. If you live close enough to your office (and your workplace provides changing and shower facilities), you could try cycling, running or walking to work, or squeeze in a quick lunchtime training session at the gym.

For an extra boost, try to take your exercise outside. A study by the University of Birmingham, published in January 2015, found that 30-minute lunchtime walks left people more enthusiastic, more relaxed, and better able cope with the rest of their day. Researcher Dr Cecilie Thogersen-Ntoumani said that although the study didn’t directly measure the impact of walking on productivity, “there is now quite strong research evidence that feeling more positive and enthusiastic at work is very important to productivity – so we would expect that people who walked at lunchtime would be more productive.”


4. Enjoy a healthy snack or meal

Many of the foods and drinks we enjoy on our breaks – such as tea, coffee, fizzy drinks, sweets or crisps – serve only to mask any sense of fatigue, rather than energising us and giving us the nutrients we need for our bodies and brains to perform effectively.

Instead, turn to brain-boosting foods such as wholegrains (which may help to improve concentration), blueberries (which are purported to improve short-term memory), blackcurrants (which may help alleviate anxiety) and nuts (which may help promote healthy brain function).


5. Rest

Taking a short nap – of about 20-30 minutes – is a great way to improve your alertness and performance, without leaving you feeling too groggy, or affecting your ability to sleep at night, says the National Sleep Foundation. But few offices feature places for workers to grab some shut-eye, so a more practical way of rebooting your brain might be to try meditation techniques. Regular mediation is said to improve people’s ability to make decisions, their listening capabilities, memory and ability to lead, as well as reducing stress levels. Try Headspace’s three-minute ‘meditation for work stress’ for a quick mid-day boost.