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Micro-breaks can re-set our brains, improving both productivity and wellbeing

A look at micro-breaks; what they are, what part they can play in our productivity, with some tips to build them into our working day.

This month saw the commencement of the  largest UK study to date into whether workers can be as, or more, productive by working fewer hours whilst retaining their original remuneration. It therefore seems a pertinent time to consider our wellbeing v productivity levels, not only of our working week but our working day.


Do breaks play a part in improving our productivity?

It’s widely accepted that external breaks (those which happen outside of our working hours); such as taking annual leave, having weekly days off, and not working every waking hour each workday, help protect us from burnout and assist in restoring our energy levels.

However, many of us are perhaps guilty of taking less notice of the role internal breaks (those which happen during our working day) play.  Although they may not be as widely researched as their external counterparts, studies have shown they can have considerable benefits.  From reducing stress, to helping sustain our performance to the end of the working day.  They can even reduce the recovery time we need from the energy we expend during our time at work.

The most obvious internal break is the lunchbreak.  We all have experience of what works best for us in terms of how we ideally spend it to feel the benefits of fully disengaging from work and rejuvenating ourselves for the afternoon ahead.  But for those who, for a multitude of reasons, find their ideal lunchbreak often escapes them, all is not lost.  Evidence suggests we should all be building regular micro-breaks into our working days.


What is a micro-break?

As the name suggests it’s a short break, but a break you take voluntarily and away from your workstation.  There is a belief that your enjoyment of the break may be an essential element of its success.

Taking regular micro-breaks throughout the day have been found to benefit not only our productivity but also our wellbeing.  Although how we choose to spend our micro-break may dictate whether it is our physical or mental health which benefits more.  For example, we know sitting too long at a computer can result in tension to our neck muscles.  If ignored this can lead to pain by the end of the day.  Taking a regular micro-break to get up, move away from our desk and do some stretches can both reduce discomfort before pain sets in and help increase concentration on our return.  Equally, sharing a laugh with a colleague or looking at a cartoon may help improve mood and again help our concentration on return to work.


5 Tips to help build micro-breaks into our working day

  1. Book breaks into your calendar, you are far more likely to include these short ‘rest and recover’ times if you get an alert to ensure they are being treated as seriously as your next meeting or project.
  2. Work with colleagues and encourage each other to ensure micro-breaks aren’t missed and become more widely accepted as short times well spent.  If others enjoy doing the same activity for their micro-break as you, group momentum will make them easier to stick to e.g. climbing up and down a flight of stairs, even if working remotely you can encourage each other to go.
  3. Get into the habit of taking a couple of minutes at the end of each task to re-set and celebrate your achievement, rather than rushing your brain onto your next priority.
  4. Be aware of your position and activity throughout the day.  For example, if your work includes a lot of computer work, rest your eyes from your screen by following the 20-6-20 rule.  Every 20 minutes, look at something 6 metres away for 20 seconds.  Getting up and people gazing from a nearby window will break both a static position and re-set your brain.
  5. Practice a certain activity for a micro-break at a set time each day. E.g. try including the Japanese Rajio Taiso routine in the early afternoon to ward off feelings of a mid- afternoon slump.  Japanese children learn the “dai-ichi” routine from a young age, and Rajio Taiso routine is broadcast daily on national radio.  It is used across generations and, as seen in this short video, the 3-minute routine is ideal for workplaces.  You may benefit physically from the stretches or mentally from laughing trying to co-ordinate yourself ... or both!


Many other mental health, resilience and wellbeing tips are available on our website – please have a browse to find some that work for you.


This tip appeared in our Summer 2022 newsletter.  If you would like future editions of our quarterly workplace wellbeing newsletter sent directly to your inbox, please sign up here

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