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Organizing Your Breaks While Working Remotely: Why, When, and How

June 23rd, 2022
Working from home sometimes feels like a dream... but did you know that it can also trigger feelings of guilt?

At first, the concept of remote work seemed like a dream: no more wasted time commuting to work, an easier way to plan and organize our schedule, and of course, an opportunity to wear comfortable clothing while coding, testing, or even virtually meeting with our team.

As we implement the concept of working remotely from our own homes (and lives), we realize there's a lot to define and put into practice to take advantage of this concept that can be interpreted as "the best of both worlds".

It's clear to all workers that the warmth of our house should not interfere with our work results. However, without supervision, it can be a very difficult task to measure the level of our productivity. And since companies have encouraged employees to work from home, the lines between our personal and professional lives have been blurred.

Working from home can trigger feelings of guilt

At least two surveys shared by the Guardian reveal that workers are spending more time at their desks and facing a bigger workload than before the Covid pandemic, and that’s because working from home can trigger feelings of guilt. The majority of workers feel constantly worried about their productivity and fear losing their jobs. In addition to that, 6 in 10 employees feel guilty for taking any break during work hours (even if it’s to care for their children or even themselves).

That's a consequence of a phenomenon called "work from home guilty" which translates into the fear that a worker has of not being productive because he/she is out of the office - despite there's plenty of evidence on the contrary.

Breaking free from a 9 to 5 culture doesn’t mean you are not productive. When you are busy all the time, you might feel like you are doing a lot, but - in the end - you will make less progress. 

This productivity guilt is also called “time anxiety” and it’s the belief that your time is precious, and you don’t want to waste a minute of it. People who have this type of anxiety often fill their days with many activities to feel productive. However, this behavior can also impact an individual's physical and mental health.

Did you know that stimulus’ overload is decreasing the ability to concentrate while it’s at the same time threatening creativity and reasoning?

According to MIT neuroscience expert Earl Miller:

The human brain evolved to always seek out new information, but because it first developed in a radically different environment where there was much less information available, it's programmed to focus on just one thing at a time. It can't manage the flood that exists today. It's a perfect storm, resulting in a decreased ability to focus".

To help you manage your breaks, in this article, we’re going to cover why it is important to take breaks, how you should take breaks, and which timings (working vs resting) you should consider in order to obtain the best results in terms of health and productivity. 

Why are breaks important?

Taking a break has a direct impact on boosting productivity" - Psychology Today

Breaks are part of an individual's well-being, and it is humanly impossible to stay focused for eight straight hours. Without timeouts, it's harder to concentrate, and a simple task can take longer than it should on a normal occasion. In addition to that, it is an opportunity for the brain to switch off from work. Yes, you read that right. If breaks don't serve as a real pause from work, you’ll just keep accumulating stress. It is essential to step aside and mentally disengage from your work, only then you can refresh your brain for what’s yet to come.

The benefits of taking breaks during your working day:

  1. You'll have more energy and be productive during the day;

When you’re tired from a day of working hard, your brain feels exhausted. This can likely lead you to procrastinate on other projects you’ll be developing the next day. Therefore, unless you have to deliver a project tomorrow, there is no point in not taking breaks today.

  1. You'll be more focused and able to analyze problems better;

Taking breaks refreshes the mind. According to Psychology Today’s research, the “aha moments” come more often to those who take regular breaks. Who has never had a brilliant idea while taking a shower…? Right? Breaks do have a purpose.

  1. You'll be less stressed and anxious.  

Our body can only handle short bursts of stress. When stress is triggered repeatedly and regularly, it turns into chronic stress, and it can be the beginning of health problems. Taking breaks during your workday can prevent the need to take a break from work in the future.

How should you take a break?

Taking breaks from work is essential, but so is knowing what to do at those times, otherwise, the effect of stopping the workflow may not be psychologically beneficial.

Many researchers believe that drinking coffee, eating unhealthy snacks, making an online purchase, or simply checking up on social media, can increase our fatigue rates. However, a good break - one that can have positive effects - should have the following characteristics:  

- Be different from what you do all day. 

- Something that makes you happy, that produces joy in you. This feeling will cancel out the stress and anxiety that work can cause.

Here are some examples of good breaks: 

  1. Work. Walk 5 minutes. Work.

As the title of a New York Times article suggests, taking a few movement breaks will help you concentrate.

Standing up and walking around for five minutes every hour during the workday could lift your mood and combat lethargy without reducing focus and attention.”

  1. Meditation & Mindfulness

Meditation is well known to be an excellent way to lower anxiety and boost brain activity. You can practice it whenever you feel stressed.

  1. Power nap

According to a study published in Nature Neuroscience, a 30-minute nap between work can make you feel refreshed and energetic. However, if you sleep for more than 45 minutes, but not long enough to go through a full sleep cycle, it will be counterproductive.

  1. Healthy snack

According to Business Insider, yogurt; almonds; fresh or dried fruit; apples and peanut butter are the best items to snack on while taking a break. They give you the nutrition you need and prevent you from gaining weight.

When should you take a break?

Well, as you know by now, periodic breaks are good for you and your productivity, but with the hustle and bustle of everyday life, it's not always easy to know when to take a break from work.  In that scenario, the best thing to do is schedule part of your day for those moments! 

When should you be taking your breaks then?

There are a lot of opinions on that matter:

  1. A break once every hour

After a long period of time doing the same task, your focus will inevitably be lost. As a result, efficiency in tasks won't be the same. According to University of Illinois psychology professor, Alejandro Lleras:

The brain registers constant stimulation as unimportant. A break once every hour will make the brain detect and respond to change."

  1. A break every 60 to 90 minutes

Glucose is crucial to keep the mechanisms of the body working in order. You may know glucose by another name: blood sugar and it's spent by the brain every 60-90 minutes. After that time, the person feels more tired. In addition to that, you get a shot of dopamine (the “feel-good” hormone) every time something pulls you in another direction, that's why our brain loves distractions. So, according to Inc. Magazine, a break every 60-90 minutes, will make you more productive - because the brain has already had a chance to recharge.


3. 17 minutes break for 52 minutes of work 

Concentration is like a muscle, it can't be in constant saturation otherwise it will burn out, and the recovery time will be longer. Employees with high productivity rates usually take many breaks. According to Desktime, working well doesn't necessarily mean working for long hours. This way of thinking is called "the 100% dedication theory" and means that during the 52 minutes of work, you are totally dedicated to accomplishing tasks. Then, you take a 17-minute break, and completely disconnect from your job. This type of break allows the body and the brain to rest completely. So when you return to work, you will have the ability to truly concentrate and be productive.


4. 25 minutes followed by a 3 to 5-minute break, and then a 15 to 30-minute break every 90 minutes

The Pomodoro Techniques, created by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s, consists in using the kitchen timer to take breaks from work. The idea is to avoid working for long periods without taking a short break. This way of taking breaks not only refreshes the brain but also minimizes the effect of external factors that can disturb concentration. That allows the person to concentrate 100% during working time.

Organizing Your Breaks While Working Remotely: Final Thoughts

Switching from working in an office to working from home can't make you forget one of the most important things to maintain focus: taking breaks.

Nowadays, home workers take shorter lunch breaks, work while their sick, and stay "always on". This unhealthy relationship with work might grow and turn into an obsession about staying in work mode all the time, because you get stuck in a cycle of "it's never enough”.

The only way to avoid that is self-care: prioritize brain reset, create work boundaries - because taking a break and relaxing can also be productive if you use that time to eat a healthy snack, get some fresh air, check on your family, or meditate.

With all these options available, take a minute or two and evaluate them, see what suits you better. Because according to Forbes, taking breaks can literally save your life. And you should see breaks as a priority, not a reward for completing your tasks. 

You must live a healthy work-life balance, and to do that...give yourself a break!

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