Working From Home: Taking Breaks

Why take breaks?

It's easy to feel guilty about leaving your desk, especially when you have heavy workloads and tight deadlines. But contrary to what you might think, more hours in front of the PC does not automatically mean more hours' productivity.

According to a Trades Union Congress (TUC) analysis, while Britons employed full-time worked an average of 42 hours a week in 2018, their productivity was 14.6% less than their counterparts in Germany working 1.8 hours less, and 23.5% less than the Danes, who work over 4 hours less per week.

Graph showing productivity in European countries and effect of taking breaks

Breaks are not just important for your emotional and mental wellbeing, but current research suggests that they also contribute to greater productivity overall.

Taking breaks away from your desk allows the brain to process and retain information. When your brain is not in a 'focused' state, it relaxes into a 'daydream' type state which some studies show is where we solve difficult problems. How many times have you had an amazing idea just before you go to sleep? Or in the shower?

If you force your brain to stay in its 'focused' state, the most you are likely to achieve is burnout.

Working desk

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What should I do on my breaks?

Importantly for mental wellbeing, breaks can help you cultivate healthier habits. When you're busy and stressed, healthy habits such as eating nutritious meals, exercising, and getting plenty of sleep can take a back seat. By taking proper breaks, you can take the time to incorporate healthy habits back into your normal working day.

On your next lunch break, take the time to prepare a healthy lunch with plenty of vegetables and protein. It doesn't need to be fancy, a salad with some added nuts, pulses, and dressing would do. Or a wrap with some chicken, hummus, and vegetables. Not only does a well-prepared meal boost your energy levels and mood, but it has been shown that deficiencies in some key nutrients - such as vitamin A, B, C and E, and zinc, iron and selenium - can weaken parts of your immune system, making your body more susceptible to illness, and slower to recover.

During a break, you should try to get some exercise in. This can be anything from a 20-minute run to a 5-minute walk. Physical exercise is both physically and mentally beneficial: it helps stimulate brain activity, alleviates pain caused by sitting down for too long in one position, boosts mood, and helps defend the body against serious conditions such as heart disease. Getting outside is also beneficial for mental health. Research has shown a strong connection between time spent in nature and reduced stress, anxiety, and depression.

people running

Exercising your eyes is really important if you do a lot of screen work. Remember the rule: 20-20-20. Medical professionals recommend that you look away from your screen every 20 minutes and focus on an item at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. Doing this will reduce headaches and eye strain.

How often should I take a break?

To answer this question on taking breaks, it can help to think about your day as comprised less by hours and minutes, and more in tomatoes.

Tomatoes showing the taking Breaks Pomodoro method


It's not as outlandish as it sounds! What I'm describing is a simple method called the Pomodoro technique, which can help you focus your energy, while also giving yourself small, regular rewards.

The Pomodoro Technique was developed in the late 1980s by then university student Francesco Cirillo. Cirillo was struggling to focus on his studies and complete assignments. Feeling overwhelmed, he asked himself to commit to just 10 minutes of focused study time. Encouraged by the challenge, he found a tomato (pomodoro in Italian) shaped kitchen timer, and the Pomodoro technique was born.

It's very simple. Choose a task you'd like to get done and set a timer for 25 minutes. Give your whole attention to that task until the timer rings and then take a 5-minute break. For every 4 pomodoros (so, every 2 hours), take a longer break of 20-30 minutes.

What does a day of pomodoros look like?

9:00-11:00 (4 pomodoros)Break
11:30-1:30 (4 pomodoros)
2:30-3:30 (2 pomodoros)
4:00-5:00 (2 pomodoros)

In this hypothetical example, we are still working to a 9-5 schedule, but with more targeted breaks and less procrastination. It's worth bearing in mind that you can be flexible with this approach - if you feel like you can focus for 50 minutes, set the timer for 50 minutes and reward yourself with a 10-minute break. The key is to separate time dedicated to work, and time dedicated to relaxation.

Taking Breaks

To summarise, there are many things you can do while working from home that will both boost productivity and personal wellbeing. The key takeaway is not just to take regular breaks, but to be mindful of how you're spending your breaks. We recommend taking at least a 5-10 minute break every hour, and spending that time away from the desk, preferably going outside.

Take some exercise, even if it is some simple stretches or a short walk, and prepare some nutritious meals and snacks for yourself to power through the working (from home) day!

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About the Author

Emily Reed is an e-learning designer at Kinch Robinson. Developing our library of online e-learning courses specifically aimed at legal and claims professionals.

Posted by News Desk

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