By Jiji Lee

How to Actually Take Short Breaks at Work


Five easy-to-implement ways to recharge in the middle of the workday.

It’s a no-brainer that we should be taking care of ourselves at work.

Ideally we'd build in time for frequent breaks for stretching, moving, and actually eating lunch away from our desk into our daily schedules.

But more often than not, we find ourselves bound to our chair, without remembering the last time we got up to stand or even drink a glass of water.

And it’s not just corporate culture that’s prone to these unhealthy work habits — the freelance world is just as susceptible (and in this economy of side gigs and hustles, perhaps even more so).  

If you’re convinced that your schedule is too jam-packed with meetings and tasks to take a break, then look to our guide on how to incorporate frequent health checks throughout the day. 

And bonus: Studies show that taking a break can actually make you *more* productive. 

Take a walk

If taking a walk sounds like an obvious prescription for a healthy work day, it’s actually not that obvious to most people. In fact, according to this article, the average American spends 90 percent of their life inside. This is an alarming but all-too-realistic figure, especially come winter time, when putting on a coat and braving the elements takes more effort than ordering in lunch. 

Plus, in this age of deep work and productivity, we feel obliged to stay inside and work on the task at hand. But the sustained hours at your computer will only add more strain on your eyes, back, and shoulders, while also diminishing your ability to concentrate and affect the quality of your work. 

Here’s how you can start taking more walks and boost your productivity and cognitive functions in the process. 

  • Start small. Put a Post-it on your computer telling yourself to go for a walk. The note will serve as a visual reminder of your commitment and will you hold accountable for doing this. 
  • Take a walk around the block. Avoid looking at your phone and pay attention to your surroundings. What’s the weather like? Is it windy? Cloudy? Do you notice any trees or flowers blooming in your path? By focusing on what’s going on around you, you can start to release the work thoughts and stresses occupying your mind.
  • If you’re really in a time crunch, take small walking breaks throughout the day. Maybe walk around your floor multiple times. Or take several flights of stairs. Or find an empty office and do a set of jumping jacks. It doesn’t matter how simple it may seem — the key is to get your body up and moving, while allowing your brain to take a much-needed break. 
  • If you have more time, try taking a long walk during your lunch break. Or if it’s easier to do this outside of work hours, take a walk before or after work. A morning walk can energize your for the day ahead. Or an evening walk can help you decompress and process your day. 

If you’re a freelancer, your work day isn’t bound by 9-to-5 hours, which can make it that much easier to slip into work mode and forget to leave the house.

For those who work remotely, it’s even more important to find a reason to go outside and take care of yourself. Here are some small things you can do: 

  • Instead of working from home all day, walk to a coffee shop and try working there for an hour.  Or walk there for a quick coffee break. 
  • Challenge yourself and make conversation with the employees or the other patrons. After all, Socializing is an important part of maintaining your well-being!
  • Instead of a Skype meeting, see if it’s possible to meet people face-to-face. Or do your meeting over the phone and take a walk outside at the same time. 
  • Break up your work hours with running errands or doing laundry. This will force you to get out of the house and move around. Plus, you’ll get the satisfaction of getting other things done besides work. 

Make a cup of tea

Not only does a cup of tea provide a relaxing break in your day, but it has numerous health benefits to boot. From green tea’s antioxidants to ginger tea’s digestive properties to chamomile tea’s stress relief, a cup of tea is the perfect antidote to a hectic work day.

Plus, your tea break will force you to get out of your chair and start walking around. You might even find yourself socializing with a coworker in the kitchen or bump into someone you can volley ideas with — all the more reason to leave your desk!

And if you freelance, take advantage of working from home and break out your favorite mug and tea blend. Use your tea break to clear your head and recharge.

Do stretches at your desk

Another simple and effective way to maintain your health is to do stretches throughout the day. Avoid carpal tunnel and straining your back and shoulders by doing any of these stretches at your work desk or at home. 

  • Place your right hand on the top of your head and gently lean your head to the right.
  • Hold the stretch for ten seconds and feel a nice stretch on the side of your neck.
  • Repeat this stretch on the other side.
  • Place both hands on the back of your head and gently tilt your head down, with your chin towards your chest.
  • Hold for a few seconds and feel a nice stretch on the back of your neck

Quiet your mind

We all know that meditation is good for you, but we can’t always find the time or the privacy to do it in the office. As an easier alternative, here are some things you can do to quiet your mind at work:

  • Take a few moments to look away from the computer and close your eyes.
  • Do simple breathing exercises to release the tension in your body.
  • Find an empty room and just gaze at a point on the wall, relaxing your eyes.
  • Ask your company if they can organize a meditation hour for employees. Feeling ambitious? Organize your own meditation hour and invite your coworkers. 

For those working from home, you can do a short, ten minute meditation exercise on Headspace. Bonus: you don’t have to worry about feeling self-conscious around co-workers!

Eat lunch outside

If I had to pick just one of these health checks, I would make eating lunch a priority. (Sadly, I spent too many lunches in my cubicle, slumped over a computer.) 

Not used to taking lunch breaks? Make it a point to schedule at least one lunch break in your week. Commit to leaving the office and eating lunch at a place that is not in your building. Ask a co-worker or friend to meet you. Or bring along a book or magazine you’ve been meaning to read. Avoid looking at your phone and enjoy the meal that you are treating yourself to. You’ll return to work feeling nourished and re-energized. 

Everyone’s work environments and schedules are different so experiment with any of these options and see which ones suit your schedule and needs. These are all simple and doable actions that you can start doing today.

Now go ahead and take that break!