Andrea Lee - Founder & Osteopathic Manual Therapist
It’s 5pm and your workday just finished. As you begin to pack up your workstation, you realize you are really sore, your eyes feel strained, and you are exhausted. We have all had those days, and the more of these days we have in a short time, the harder it is to recover from them. Breaks can almost seem like a luxury during a busy day, and work can sometimes invade our meal time. We all know we have to take breaks to keep productivity high, but how do we incorporate breaks into our busy day, and what is the most effective style of break?
1) The problem – perception of no time in the day for a break - Despite its sedentary nature, office based work is exhausting both physically and mentally. Hours spent at a desk or screen strains the eyes, body and mind. - If we spend too long in a focused state it can start to backfire. Our mind naturally wanders when our energy levels dip. Our body craves movement and our attention falters.
2) Research on break style and productivity. - Growing research shows that microbreaks can be just as beneficial as longer breaks but without the stress of taking a large chunk of time out of our busy day. - Studies show that microbreaks can improve your ability to concentrate, reduce workplace stress, increase your happiness about your job and even help you avoid physical desk strain. - Research shows 80% of workers feel stress on the job. Although there is a lot of research on how to reduce workplace stress (change environment, step away from desk for lunch, avoid negative social situations, create ergonomic desk set up), often just the act of working for long periods creates cognitive and physical stress.
3) Importance of micro-breaks - A microbreak is defined as any short break you take in a day (washroom break, going to grab a coffee, chatting with coworkers). Some of these types of breaks can be distracting and unappealing. Purposely engaging in social conversation may have us distracted for too long and reduce productivity. - Microbreaks are not the same as distractions, they are planned brain/physical breaks which allow us to hit a reset button.
4) Workplace strain: microbreak solutions - Microbreaks can involve pretty much anything from making a cup of tea to walking around the office. - For it to be considered a microbreak they must be short and voluntary.
• Eye Strain: If we focus our gaze for an extended period of time our eyes can start to feel strained or dry. Solutions: Eye stretches (10 seconds in every direction), 20-20-20 (Every 20min stare at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds) • Anxiety or Stress Level Increase: Workplace stress and exhaustion can bring on our fight or flight response, increasing anxiety and decreasing cognitive ability. Solutions: Try breathing techniques – Square breathing. For extreme anxiety try 3x3s. • Physical Strain: Our body responds to our physical desk set up by creating contraction patterns. Solutions: Stretch, walk, move your body to counteract too much sitting. • Need for Fresh Air: Spending just a few minutes during a microbreak outside can boost cognitive function. Studies show poor circulation can drop productively by as much as 5-6%. Solutions: Take a quick break to step outside and try a breathing technique. • Dehydration: Research shows increasing water intake can increase productivity by 14%. Solution: Use glass filling as a microbreak.)
5) How to incorporate microbreaks into your day - The easiest way to take more microbreaks is to schedule them into your day. - Pomodoro technique – 25min followed by 5min breaks. - Find a time frame that works for you – use an app like ‘Be Focused’ to help remind you when to take a break. - Use Microbreaks as a reward for hitting small work goals. - Take a microbreak when you feel like you are getting tired, sore, frustrated, or distracted.
Constant workplace related stresses and strains can leave us feeling disconnected from ourselves both emotionally and physically. Incorporating microbreaks in our daily schedule will leave us feeling more relaxed, productivity will increase, and we will feel more balanced.