Benefits of the Microbreak

When you’re itching to stop working.

Posted Feb 03, 2020

Vladimir2366FA, CC 3.0
Source: Vladimir2366FA, CC 3.0

When working, there are moments you’re itching to take a break. That often occurs when you’ve been sitting a while, maybe 30 to 90 minutes, and your body is telling you that need to move. It may be tempting to take a long break but having a list of favorite few-second to few-minute microbreaks can enable you to derive most of a long break's benefits quickly.

Here are examples:

  • 5 seconds: One deep breath, exhaling slowly while rotating your neck.
  • 10 seconds: Get up and stretch. Perhaps rub your calves.
  • 1 minute: Walk around, look at something or someone pretty. Say hi. Or walk a flight of stairs. If you’re working at home, clean a toilet, throw in a load of laundry, etc.
  • 5 to 10 minutes: Go to the break room; chat while standing. Phone a friend or family member; walk while talking. If you’re working at home, do a little housework. Take the dog for a short walk.

When a microbreak isn’t the answer

Of course, sometimes the reason you feel you need a break is that you’re facing a task you find odious or difficult. Sometimes, a microbreak can help, for example, enabling you to view the problem with fresh eyes. But other times that doesn’t work—after your microbreak, you’re still tempted to avoid the task. In such cases, it may help to begin with the task’s first few-second part, or even if it’s not the first part, an easy, fun part. Then do another few-second part. Often, that’s enough to build momentum. If you don’t know where to begin or how to structure the task, is there someone you could ask? Or might a Google search provide a clue?

You might also feel you need a break because you’ve reached a task’s hard part. In that case, you might try the one-minute struggle. You're more likely to tackle it rather than to procrastinate if you tell yourself that you’ll struggle with it for just one minute before deciding whether to give up, find help on Google or from a person.

Bigger solution needed?

Of course, if you're chronically stressed or tired, microbreaks or similar quick-and-dirty approaches may be insufficient. Might you need any of the following?

  • A change of job description. If you regularly find your job's tasks odious, too difficult, or too easy, can you change them, with or without your boss's permission?
  • A change of job. Is the workload expectation too great? Your boss or co-workers too stress-inducing? If so, is it realistic to start looking for a better-suited job?
  • Addressing a personal problem: Do you need to better address a relationship, physical health, or mental health issue?

Fortunately, microbreaks, which tend to be easy and pleasant, can often significantly improve your life. To that end, make a list of your favorite microbreaks, perhaps one or more of the above or, better, your own ideas. Keep the list on your desk. One just might cure your itchiness.