Need a Break at Work? Here Are 10 Things You Can Do

We all need a break now and then, especially at work. Workers who don’t take regular breaks are shown to have a higher burnout rate, lower productivity, and a decreased resistance to distractions. So, whether you’re shrouded in brain fog or tearing through that to-do list, you should regularly take a moment to let your brain recharge.

break at work

To keep you at your best, we’ve compiled a list of 10 things you can do when you need a break at work. We focused on activities that replenish mental strength in about 15 minutes, returning you to work primed for focus and productivity.

1.  Get Up and Move

Exercise reduces mental fatigue, and it doesn’t even take an hour-long spin class. Light exercise will do. During your break, consider stretching or easygoing full-body movements. These can be especially replenishing if your job involves sitting in front of a computer all day. Need some inspiration? The Internet has many helpful guides for at-the-desk exercises.

2.  Go for a Walk

Going for a walk provides exercise with an added benefit: You get to enjoy the outdoors. Fresh air and horizons reaching farther than a cubical wall will perk up your brain and help you concentrate when you get back to work. If you have access to a park or interurban trail, take advantage of it. Research has suggested that just looking at grassy rooftops can reduce errors and improve concentration.

3.  Have a Healthy Snack

Brains burn glucose, and the harder we work, the faster they burn through their reserves. Enjoying a snack refuels your brain for the next round. But not all snacks are created equal. Focus on healthy snacks that contain protein or low glycemic carbohydrates. Consider bananas, yogurts, or blueberries for a morning pick-me-up. Walnuts, carrots, and a small amount of dark chocolate are great for afternoon fair.

4.  Have a Power Nap

If you had a sleepless night, a power nap may be just the thing. Daytime naps can restore focus and motor skills while reducing stress. If possible, try to find a quiet, dark place to take your nap, and set the alarm for 20–25 minutes. If you nap longer, you run the risk of entering deep sleep and may wake up drowsier than had you forgone a nap altogether.

You can also try a coffee nap. Drink a cup of coffee before your 20-minute nap. You’ll receive the brain revitalizing benefits of a nap, plus an extra boost as the caffeine hits your blood stream right when you wake up.

5.  Read

Read a chapter in your book. Enjoy an article about a subject that interests you. Or hit up a Wikipedia page about a topic completely new to you. The key is to take your mind off work by engaging with something unrelated to your job and allowing your brain rest its tired, work-related neurons.

A word of warning: Don’t read news stories that work you up. Your goal is to relax during your break, not be driven to existential fits right before your next meeting.

6.  Do Something Hands-On

Now’s the time to enjoy your hobby. Write a blog post. Do a quick sketch. Crochet a baby beanie. Whatever’s your thing. Obviously, some hobbies translate better to the office than others. If you’re into woodworking, your lathe will have to stay at home, but you can still enjoy your hobby by, for example, sketching out your next project.

7.  Clean Your Work Area

Sounds like work, doesn’t it? Don’t be fooled. Cleaning clears your mind by allowing it to focus on something other than work. Organizing your work space will give you a sense of accomplishment and streamline your productivity for days to come. As a bonus, you can enjoy music or an audiobook while you’re at it. Setting aside a break or two a week to clean is simply a good work 8. habit.

8.  Socialize

If a coworker is going on break, consider spending time with her. Having a friendly chat is a great way to relieve stress and release your brain’s feel-good hormones. As with reading, we recommend sticking to subjects other than work: NCAA brackets, the latest blockbuster, the next book in the office book club, whatever.

If the conversation veers toward work, make sure to keep it lighthearted. Again, your goal is to relax. Please extend the same courtesy to your coworker.

9.  Meditate

Meditation is becoming a common practice in business offices and for good reason. Science continues to find numerous beneficial effects and even short mediation sessions can help people improve symptoms related to anxiety and depression. If meditation sounds too spiritual for you, just call it “mindfulness practice.” You’ll net the same mental health benefits either way, which is what we’re all about.

10.  Disengage and Treat Yourself

Find a way to completely disengage from work and treat yourself. For example, go for a walk down the block to a nearby coffee shop, and purchase your favorite coffee or tea. Don’t think about work at all; focus on the experience. Listen to the sounds of the people, savor the aroma of the coffee shop, and enjoy that first hot sip. Give all of your focus and attention to the experience, and get some life into your work-life balance.

You may have observed a notable absentee from our list: social media. Don’t do it. Social media is designed to make you feel unfulfilled. There’s always another post to like, another picture to comment on, another trend to worry you’ll miss. The compulsion is to return again and again.

We aren’t saying don’t engage with social media, but we are saying social media is incompatible with a quality break. A 15-minute break should revitalize your mind through a fulfilling activity, priming you to return to work ready to re-engage with the process. These 10 things do exactly that, and that’s why we recommend them when you need a break at work.

Search for your next job now:


Back to listing

The Washington Post Jobs Newsletter

Subscribe to the latest news about DC's jobs market