Take Deliberate Breaks When You Work
Less. Better.

Working time is commonly conceived as a time frame with no distractions. When you work, you are supposed to be as efficient as you can, to not let anything get in your way until you finish. It is widely known that some enterprises even block access to common distractions so workers do not waste their time, but this does not seem to be a real solution to the problem.

Contrary to this model, deliberate breaks can contribute to boost productivity while allocating time for those distractions, which, in some way, are needed by our brain to maintain our focus.

Why Deliberate Breaks?

Breaks are great. But I feel guilty taking too many of them. — John P. Trougakos

Deliberate breaks provide you with time to do things that are not strictly work-related and let your brain rest. Removing, at the same time, the guilt of distractions. Here, tasks and activities not related to work have their own span of time to happen.

Task Driven Blocks

My working hours are [usually] structured in fifty-minute working blocks and five-minute breaks, with the remaining five minutes as a buffer—which allows to slightly extend work or break blocks if needed.

Before starting to work, you should write down the tasks needed to get done and estimate how many hours you need for them. During working blocks, commit to switch off all your potential distractions, leave aside the non-work related stuff and capture them into a list to get done in the next break.

A Flexible System

The system I use is an adaptation of Francisco Cirillo's Pomodoro Technique®. After using it for a while I found that, for myself, one-hour blocks with five to ten-minute breaks in between work pretty well. You should find how the system better works for you. Let others know how you are working so they do not interrupt you in your working blocks –groups can even synchronize their work and break intervals so that interruptions are minimized and breaks are shared in between team members.

Breaks are breaks.

It’s not just a matter of being well rested. None of us can work flat-out, without breaks. — Ellen Galinsky

Breaks are periods of time to stop working on the main task, to let your brain rest. Anything unrelated to the main task you are performing will be understood by your brain as a break—this is why a break can be from doing exercise, to read Twitter or to procrastiwork1 on a side project.

Usually, the best thing you can do for having an actual break is doing anything different to the main task. If you work involves using the computer, do not use it during the break. If you work involves physical activity, do not exercise during the break. You get it.

Give It A Try

To be able to see if this method works for you: just try it. If you do so and find it useful, I would be glad to hear about it. Back in 2013, I started developing Everfocus for iOS, an app that allows you to control your work and break blocks.

  1. Working on something that isn't mandatory to postpone doing something mandatory. The term was coined by Jessica Hische, who even did a beautiful poster about it stating that “the work you do while you procrastinate is probably the work you should be doing for the rest of your life.” 

November 24, 2013