“Work smarter, not harder” is not a new concept, but it’s one of the most difficult life hacks to apply, especially when you live in America. The United States is one of the only countries that doesn’t cap the number of hours employees can work a week. Which means most of us are clocking in 40+. And it’s not just bad for the body. It’s bad for business.
Stick with us to learn why you need to work less and how to work less. We’ll also throw in some fun and relaxing ways to take a break, boost productivity, and get more out of your day.
Why Work Less? So Many Reasons…
First, there are the physical benefits of taking a break. Studies show that the more light activity breaks you take in a day—like standing up and stretching—the lower your waist circumference, triglycerides, and plasma glucose levels. (I’m sure your health coach has told you all about the dangers of spending too much of your days sedentary so I won’t go into detail about that here.)
Then, there are the mental benefits you get from taking regular breaks throughout your workday.
Your eyes get a rest, more oxygen flows to the brain, and you come back to your tasks feeling more:
You’re also better able to handle stress and problem solve, are more satisfied with the work you do, and more in control of your moods and emotions.
With all those benefits, why in the world would you NOT take breaks and work fewer hours?
Perhaps you’re drowning under deadlines and feel like there’s just no way to come up for air. Or maybe you still can’t help feeling guilty?
Try this on for size. Americans work 137 more hours a year than their Japanese counterparts, 260 more hours than British workers, and 499 more hours than the French. Whatever country you live in, you’ve earned your breaks. So let’s take them!
How to Work Less
Research suggests that focus improves when we take brief breaks as opposed to hunkering down for long stretches. We encourage you to experiment with what works best for you. As general guidance, you can take a 5-minute respite every half hour or so, and then give yourself a good 20-minute hiatus every few hours.
The Pomodoro Technique vs. Flow State
The Pomodoro Technique is a popular time management system you might want to try. You schedule your workday into 25-minute segments with 5-minute intervals (pomodoros) in between. After about 4 rounds (2-3 hours), take a 15-20 minute intermission.
In theory, you’ll work with more urgency, since your time is allocated into 25-minute interludes. It also helps to cut down on procrastination and distractions and prevents burnout. It forces you to give yourself a rest, which, as we all know, isn’t easy.
That being said, the Pomodoro Technique isn’t applicable to all work efforts. It’s great for tasks that are tedious and done by rote, but for more creative endeavors like writing, design, or high-stakes problem solving, a break every 25 minutes can make it impossible to maintain a flow state.
A flow state is the state of being fully immersed in your work. It’s that feeling when time slips away and you just can’t stop. The ideas keep coming. When engaged in work of this nature, it’s best to let yourself flow. When you start to feel stuck or distracted, then that’s the time to disengage and give yourself a nice, long break.
How long is too long before you need a break? No one really knows the sweet spot. Because that sweet spot changes day to day and task to task.
But there have been some interesting findings. DeskTime, a productivity app that tracks employees’ computer use, collated data to get insights into the behaviors of the most productive workers. Turns out the highest-performing 10% work on average 52 minutes at a time and then break for 17 minutes.
Find your sweet spot with the work breaks below.
21 Work Break Ideas to Inspire
For shorter work breaks, try the following:
- Close your eyes and take some deep breaths
- Flip through a magazine
- Listen to music
- Have a healthy snack
- Drink some water
- Look out the window
- Call a friend
- Organize your desk
- Stand up and stretch
- Do a 2-minute microworkout
- Look out the window
If you’re looking out the window, make sure you’re looking at something pretty. Scientists had 150 college students take a break and either look at a concrete roof or look at a flowering meadow green roof. Guess which students made fewer errors and could concentrate better when they got back to work?
If you’ve got 15-20 minutes on your hands, give one of these breaks a try:
- Listen to a guided meditation
- Take a walk outside
- Snap some cool photos
- Do a crossword puzzle
- Watch something funny...and laugh!
- Run up and down the stairs
- Take a nap
- Create a Pinterest board
- Close your eyes and daydream
- Color: Here’s a good coloring book for stress
Everyone Needs a Break Today
Whether you spend your days at a desk, at a construction site, or at home taking care of your kiddos, you need more than just a break today...you need several. For the sake of your mind, body, and soul, please take one. So you can continue to do great work in the world.