Work - taking mini breaks

Why is it important to take breaks?

It’s important to take breaks because sitting in the same position for a long period of time, or doing repetitive tasks, can cause a range of conditions such as:

  • eye strain
  • back pain
  • repetitive strain injury (RSI)
  • tense muscles
  • tiredness
  • stress

Taking short breaks every hour or so can also stop you from making mistakes when carrying out a repetitive task.

Research shows that the body follows a pattern called ultradian rhythms. These are cycles where the energy levels in your body slowly decline over 90 to 120 minutes. At the end of the cycle, the body needs time to recover. Signs that you're reaching the end of the cycle include:

  • difficulty concentrating
  • feeling hungry
  • feeling tired and yawning
  • feeling restless

It’s important that you take a break before you start to feel uncomfortable, even though it may be tempting to keep working, as this can cause your performance to deteriorate. When work takes over, you can lose your sense of work-life balance and feel guilty when you’re not working. Over time this can lead to exhaustion and anxiety. Left unchecked, this can cause lack of sleep and unhealthy habits, such as drinking more alcohol and smoking. This could lead to serious and long-term health conditions including depression. By taking breaks you’re allowing yourself time out to help you refocus and continue working without letting it overwhelm you.

How mini is a mini break?

The quality of your break is more important than how long it is. In fact, as long as your attention is diverted from the work you were doing, just a few minutes can be enough.

As a longer, separate break, Working Time Regulations state that you should be taking 20 minutes of uninterrupted time if your working day is more than six hours. Make the most of this by going for a walk or jog outside in the fresh air – this is good for both your physical and mental wellbeing. It’s important that you take this break during the day – not at the beginning or end.

Taking breaks helps to stop unhealthy working habits in their tracks. You may feel that you’re wasting time by taking a break, but you will easily make it up as you’re likely to work more effectively afterwards.

Think of taking mini breaks as a time to renew your energy reserves. This will help with your performance at work throughout the day.

What should I do on my break?

There are a number of things you can do on your break. Some examples are listed below.

  • Get up and go and speak to colleagues rather than phoning or emailing them.
  • Make a drink – it doesn’t have to be tea or coffee, fill up your water bottle or make a herbal tea.
  • Take the opportunity to use the stairs if you need to go to a different floor.
  • Listen to a soothing song or piece of music.
  • If you have a break-out area, take a piece of work to do there for a change of scenery.
  • Get together with your colleagues for a quick crossword session during a quiet period.
  • Practise some simple stretches or relaxation techniques that you can do at your desk or standing up (see Office relaxation)