Why Don't I Feel Rested After a Break at Work?

Productive work breaks—the dos and don'ts of managing energy.

Posted Sep 18, 2020

For the third time in a row, Bill used up most of his time in our coaching session to talk about how anxious and overwhelmed he was feeling. A senior executive in a large transportation company, Bill normally had a very calm demeanor, to the extent that others sometimes perceived him as remote or disengaged. But now, week after week, he was finding himself reactive and overwrought.

My first thought was, “Well, of course!” Almost everyone I’m talking to these days, both personally and professionally, is reactive and overwrought. By now we’re all exhausted from the uncertainty, sadness, fear, and relentless accommodations we are making as we try to navigate through the crisis. It seems endless. This is the world we’re living in.

Nonetheless, it was my job to help Bill get a grip. He was leading one of the few areas of the business that was performing well during the pandemic, and the company was depending on him and his team to continue generating revenue that would keep the company afloat.

Source: Pexels

Building relief into the workday

Bill is an athlete who knows the importance of managing his energy for peak performance by taking regular breaks. So I asked him: What he was doing on his breaks? His answer—checking his online news sources. About every 45 minutes throughout the day, Bill was turning away from his work for a few minutes to check the news.

That is a lousy way to take a break. It doesn’t provide relief, or amusement, or nourishment, or company, or even a little movement. I know Bill is not alone—many, many people are checking the news much more often that they used to, almost compulsively. And the news is pretty grim most of the time. It’s not going to help Bill, or you, regain composure or reach peak performance.

Building more productive work breaks

So, we talked about what else Bill could do during his short breaks, and he came up with this list:

  • Play a video game
  • Run on my treadmill
  • Step outside
  • Talk to my wife and/or kids
  • Listen to a short podcast
  • Get a drink of water

Bill has set himself the goal of checking the news just twice a day, morning and evening, and experimenting with these other activities during his break. I’m confident that when I talk with him next, he’ll be feeling more effective and calm.