The Power of Micro-Breaks

One of my colleagues recently asked me to join her for a quick coffee run and I gave my usual response of “no but can you grab a latte for me”. She asked me why I take so few breaks throughout the day and reminded me that we do promote for wellbeing for a living. I told her the nature of my work means that I have to maintain momentum when I’m “on a roll” so to speak and consequently I don’t want to interrupt this flow. After all I head to the gym for a heavy workout every morning and walk my dog for at least an hour every night so I know I’m getting enough physical activity.  

She raised some concerns over this, starting with an ergonomic point of view and suggested I try taking micro-breaks. I responded in the negative and was skeptical around the benefits this would bring as I didn’t want to interrupt my creative flow. I did however admit to myself that it’s not unusual for me to have the odd background headache (presumably from eye strain) and can experience muscle tightness from being in the same position all day.

Straight to action my colleague suggested I download an app onto my computer to remind me to take micro-breaks throughout the day. Despite my skepticism, I valued her opinion, so downloaded the app she suggested and gave it a try. This reminded me to take a 5 min break every hour along with other tips related to eye strain and body posture every 15-20 minutes. To my surprise, I found that this provided several benefits to my work day which I have maintained for some time now and are outlined below

Less eye strain

This is an obvious benefit but not one you immediately think of throughout each work day, particularly when you are at your most productive, however just taking some time away from your screen can help to maintain strong eye sight and reduce the risk of strain at the end of each work day. For example, if every 20 minutes you take the time to blink 10 times by closing your eyes as if falling asleep (very slowly). This will help rewet your eyes and guard against that horrible feeling of having dry eyes after staring at a computer screen for 4-5 hours straight

Better posture

By simply taking a break every 45 mins to an hour to walk around your desk and stretch your body you can avoid repetitive stress injuries or the rigidity of sitting in front of your computer furiously typing away. I personally found this to be the most beneficial physical aspect of the micro-break process as it helped me to feel far more limber and flexible at the end of each work day

Better concentration: One of my main concerns around taking micro-breaks was around the interruptions to my train of thought which I thought would make it difficult for me to get back on track. I found the opposite to be true however, particularly when I took some time to go outside and take in some sunshine during one of my micro-breaks I found that after returning to my desk my concentration levels were actually improved and I returned quickly to my work without my mind wandering as it sometimes would without taking such a break.

Boost in productivity

This was what surprised me the most – taking short breaks throughout the day meant that I was actually more productive in the long run rather than less so. I found that after taking the micro-breaks I would work faster than if I just pushed through (despite my own feeling of being rather productive at different stages). This is also backed up by research outside of my own experiences as studies in the US have found that taking 30 second micro-breaks across the day can improve productivity by up to 13%

Improved morale

Again, this is another area that I wasn’t ever expecting an improvement in or felt was a possible factor however since beginning this process I have found that I have connected more with my work colleagues on a personal level which in turn has provided me with a greater sense of belonging at work. Prior to taking on this habit my conversations with coworkers consisted mainly of work related things which I was quite unaware of and would never have realised the power of more personal connections. 

There are no hard and fast rules to follow here,  breaks can be 30 seconds to 10 minutes depending on your preference but the experience of myself and many others has shown that taking regular micro-breaks across your workday can improve several aspects of your physical and mental well-being at work and lead to greater productivity and job satisfaction as a result.

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