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Small Breaks for Big Productivity!

Updated: Jun 27

Small Breaks for Big Productivity

Your To-Do List is looming…

You reach deep for your resolve and tell yourself with a stern internal voice…

“I’m going to power through this… and knock off these 5 items in the next three hours before I move.”

Positive talk, right? 

Well, contrary to popular belief powering through your workday without pause is not productive – in fact, it's counterproductive and can lead to burnout.

But how can we build in breaks for the time we have available?

The actual question should be  “Do I have enough available energy to get through the time available?”

After all, you don’t want to sit down to a task and feel all burned out and spent that you can barely do the job, let alone your best.

So, managing energy is the name of the game, and how can we effectively do this? By building in regular breaks!

Regular breaks help us…

  •  Manage energy

  •  Maintain capacity

  •  Be productive

  • Prevent burnout

  • Self-regulate

  •  Interact well with co-workers

  • Avoid being reactive and irritable

  • Harness better creativity

  • Problem Solve better

Creating Time To Pause?

Yes, we need to be mindful and disciplined in making space for and actually taking breaks, and, of course, disciplined in ensuring we return from these breaks effectively. Let’s take a look at a few strategies we can use…


Break The Belief!

Many people, (me included) believe that there is no time for a break when there is a LOT to get through. By virtue of the fact that you are human and not a machine, you realize that we can’t afford to not have breaks.

Batch It and Catch Up!

“Research shows that work takes 50% longer when we are constantly switching tasks” (HBR - and I have a whole blog dedicated to why multitasking is a myth (Unpopular Opinion – Multitasking is a Myth!). As tempting as it might be to quickly sneak in an answer to a SLACK message or respond to an email (6 Tips to Avoid the BLACK HOLE of Your Inbox), this is hacking away at our productive focus. Then, to compensate, we try to make up for this lost time by working faster – creating more stress, pressure, and ultimately frustration. 

Use time blocking to respond to messages, focused work, and focused breaks (The Art of Time Blocking and Making It Work For You).

Minimize Meetings:

We stick to a default when it comes to meetings of either 30- or 60-minute blocks. Do you really need 30 minutes? The tendency is that if you are given more time, you will find ways to fill it. If you shorten a meeting to 25 minutes and stick to it, everyone will be encouraged to manage time effectively and efficiently. You will also encourage everyone, yourself included, to be prepared for the meeting and not turn emails into meetings. The 5 minutes you shaved off the meeting… Well, get up and stretch, decompress, hydrate, and grab a healthy snack. When you anticipate something positive, this reduces stress and shifts your perspective.

Hold Your Ground:

Wherever possible, try to respect the allocated time for a meeting or scheduled activity. If you are not in control of the meeting or activity, communicate your hard stop upfront (if you have one, of course, or have a considerable amount of work to get through), setting the right expectation. You will be doing everyone attending a solid  not to mention avoiding the stress of the knock-on effect a meeting that runs over has on the rest of your productive day.

Bio Breaks:

This is something I picked up from a colleague from Germany; he calls them Bio Breaks. We call them bathroom breaks — but what we can do is build up the habit of incorporating frequent “Bio Breaks,” which are not limited to going to the bathroom, but perhaps it can mean we use 5–10 minutes to meditate, move, stretch, correct posture, and just in general take care of our body’s needs for a few minutes because the body keeps score. (Sticky Habits!)

Leverage Tech:

Use your calendar (Manage Your Calendar Like A Boss!), Asana, or the alarm on your phone to nudge you to take breaks. This can be particularly useful during the time of day when energy takes a natural dip – which is said to be around 3 pm. Use this time to physically move about, or if you work from home, take a power nap – or invest in meditation, yoga, or prayer. This is making the most of your circadian rhythm.

As a virtual assistant, I find it very tempting to power through work most of the time, and also, when I do take a break, I find it hard to come back to work and productivity. This is because I don’t build in enough breaks for myself – as I have learned.

There are many great blogs we have written on how to effectively take breaks and focus, and I have listed these for you below. Perhaps you can invest in a break and go through one or two you find interesting…

Take a break! Stay Productive!!


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Written by Tatum De Souza


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