Kristen Ghergich

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5 tools to help you time your much-needed breaks

You’re probably aware that getting up to move around throughout the workday is a healthy habit. But are you actually doing it?

As it turns out, knowing is not the same as doing—especially now that so many of us are working from home and don’t have officemates nearby to remind us we’ve been sitting for hours. A 2021 survey by Tork (a workplace hygiene company) suggested that 39 percent of people rarely, if ever, make time for a lunch break even when working remotely.

That same survey found that 94 percent of employees realize that taking a break makes them feel happier, and 91 percent of them said that, even though they were working from home, they were logging as many (or more) hours as they had in the office.

Yet, 22 percent of people in the study felt guilty—or like they were being judged—for any break time they took. Women, in particular, reported skipping breaks. And even when they stepped away from their desks, they were more likely than their male counterparts to tackle chores around the house. Keep reading to learn why you may want to make more time for breaks during your workday, and learn about tools that can help you schedule them.

The benefits of breaks

A groundbreaking 2011 study suggests that taking strategic breaks, even briefly, throughout the workday actually increases productivity because it boosts your ability to focus on a task.

The pomodoro technique is a popular time-management system that’s been around since the late 1980s. Developed by Francesco Cirillo, it’s based on the belief that taking a five minute break every 25 minutes (with longer breaks every four pomodoro intervals, so, after 100 minutes of work) leads to the highest productivity. Each time you finish a pomodoro, you get to mark your progress; you can also take note of how often you had to fight the urge to go off task.

Now, while a hard and fast rule to follow may be appealing, it’s important to keep in mind that one interval may not fit all. In fact, the productivity app DeskTime published research in 2018 that suggested the most productive people take 17-minute breaks every 52 minutes.

5 tools to help you time your much-needed breaks

Clearly, it’s in the best interest of workers and their managers to carve out time for regular breaks, but it’s important to not only follow the intervals, but to understand why these methods work. Essentially, with these intervals, and any other dedicated work/break interval methods, it only works if you dedicate to a task while you’re working and then free yourself from that task during a break. So, if you sit down at your computer—whether for 25, 52, or another set number of minutes—the first step is to decide which task you’re working on, then put your focus on that task for the full interval. Time in your seat doesn’t count—it’s time spent focused on the work that matters.

When you take a break, give it your full focus, too, whether you’re walking, stretching, watching funny cat videos, or grabbing some coffee, water, or snacks. From your brain to your body to your eyes, fully leave work behind for a few minutes so you can come back refreshed.

Tools to time your breaks

If you’re sold on the idea of taking strategic breaks, a number of tools can help you stick to a schedule.

  • Timers and buzzers: When Cirillo created the pomodoro method, the Italian named it as such because he had a tomato-shaped timer. In Italian, tomato is pomodoro. Your timer doesn’t have to resemble a fruit or vegetable, of course. But having a timer of some kind makes it easy to set and stick to your planned intervals.
  • Online timers: If you’re on your computer or mobile device anyway, an online timer may be a simple, seamless way to stay on track. Pomodoro-specific timers like Tomato Timers or Pomodoro Timer work great. Or you could go with something more customizable, like Timer Tab or Online Timer and choose your intervals.
  • Time tracking apps: Using an app like Be Focused or Toggl Track may give you the ability to not only maintain a schedule, but track the work you’re getting done, which can help you identify your most productive times of day (and when you’re more likely to procrastinate).
  • Browser extensions: Users of Chrome have several extensions they can try, each with a different focus like improving posture, encouraging movement, eye health, and more. Break Timer, Eye Rest, Mindful Break, Move It, and Posture Minder can all facilitate brain breaks throughout the day.
  • Wearable technology: Many of us already wear a smartwatch or other smart device daily, and it’s generally a cinch to program those to buzz with a reminder to move at set intervals during the workday.

Ready, set, break!

Whatever interval you choose—and whichever type of system you use to keep yourself on schedule—remember that breaks are beneficial for productivity, so when you take time away from your tasks, enjoy it fully! Then, when you sit back at your desk, you may be surprised by how much you can accomplish during your next interval.

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