Why You Need To Take Breaks At Work

J.R. Heimbigner

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At my day job, there are people who come in at 8 am. They will work through lunch and leave at 5 pm. Whenever I happen to walk by their cubicle, they are always plowing through work. For the tenured worker, I have noticed they tend to be very efficient with their work. For the newer employee, they seem to really struggle, even though they are working so hard.

I was part of the latter group.

Working from the time I got to the office until the time I left took a toll on my body and my soul. Even though I would get up to get food or use the restroom, I basically worked non-stop.

And I was always behind, struggling to catch up, bringing work home, and working until I was exhausted.

It was not good.

Back to My 3 AM Wake Up Call

Waking up in a nightmare panic over the stress I was experiencing from work caused me to look into my work world. I finally realized I needed to change something and started down the road to this series of productivity tips.

One of the tips and tricks I was finding over and over again was this one:

“Break Your Work Up into 45–90 Minute Intervals”

This seemed strange to me. What a wide gap for focused work. The idea is you work for 45, 60, or 90 minutes, and then take a quick two to five-minute break. Walk around, go to the restroom, get water, or just go outside for a couple of minutes. Then, jump back into your work. Sounded simple, but why does this help?

What I Learned About Breaking Up Our Work

There have been two primary things I have learned about the reasons we need to take breaks at work. It all started with the natural rhythms of our lives. And then, took off with looking into what has worked through proven process and study.

Ultradian Rhythm

I was already working, why would take time away from work help? What I found, was something called the ‘Ultradian Rhythm.’ This cycle is apparently present in both our sleep and our waking moments. The Ultradian Rhythm is as follows:

“Our brains can focus for 90–120 minutes at a time, and then need rest. The longer you go, the more rest you need. The shorter the time, the shorter the rest.”

We need to take breaks to allow our brains to rest. When our brains are rested, we can operate at a higher level of focus, creativity, and critical thinking. Others have found similar patterns.

Pomodoro Technique

Another one of these patterns which developed a system for working productively was created by Francisco Cirillo in the 1980s. His technique focuses on breaking down work activity into 25-minute work intervals and taking short breaks until you have completed work.

We can only work at a high level for so long. After this time, we start to slow down and have errors in our work. When we break, we allow our brains to catch back up to where we were minutes before.

Making it Work

While most jobs won’t allow you to take a break every 25 minutes, I have found our days naturally breakdown into 60–90 minute intervals. For example, if I arrive at my office at 8:30 am, I can complete my workday set up and morning routine in the first hour.

Then at 9:30 am I take a quick break, five minutes or so, to grab water and use the restroom. Then I jump back in at my difficult tasks to complete before lunch. I work on those until 11 am. At this point, there is an option to break for lunch or work another 60 minutes interval. At 12:15 pm, I am ready for lunch.

If I take an hour at lunch, it is a good time to recharge my batteries, maybe read or do something else.

1:15 pm comes around and it is time to hop back into work for 90 minutes. Work until 2:45 pm, take a break and work another 60 minutes. At that point, I make it to 3:50 pm and can go another 60 minutes. Boom, the day is over.

Looking back at this day, I worked seven hours, with an hour lunch, and only took an additional 20 minutes of breaks. If you need to work through lunch, make sure you step away from your desk or workstation for 30 minutes.

Does it Work?

After making this part of my work productivity for the last four months, I have found I am able to complete more tasks more thoroughly with a few more little breaks in the day. And even though our workdays might have more work than we can complete, there was another huge benefit.

More often than not, I am able to go home without having to take work with me, and my mind is better rested for my family. This has been a huge plus. Because I don’t only want to be productive at work, I want to create a margin for home.

Try this out, set timers on your phone next week, and trial run it for the week. I will guarantee you will find success and new strides in the quality and efficiency of your work habits.

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My goal with my writing is to help people get everything done they want in their very busy lives. I believe we can we all can achieve our dreams and I know it starts with having the right mindset, systems, and taking action every single day. My writing shares how to do this through self-improvement, inspiration, and productivity.

Spokane, WA
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