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21 Counter-Intuitive Break Ideas to Boost Your Productivity at Work

21 Counter-Intuitive Break Ideas to Boost Your Productivity at Work


    Every self-help program talks about the importance of taking a 10-15 minute break to boost your productivity.

    Breaks give us much needed time to rest our eyes, move around, stretch our stiff muscles, get more blood and oxygen flowing to our brain, to unwind and obtain a fresh outlook on complex work problems.

    There is just one problem – we often forget to take them. (Note: Going to the bathroom, grabbing a cup of coffee or checking Facebook updates does not count, as these activities hardly give us enough time to energize our body and restore our concentration and productivity.)

    As strange as it may sound, taking regular breaks throughout the work day requires discipline and a little bit of planning. Actually, the reason why so many people push themselves to the limit of exhaustion is simple – they just can not think of any interesting activities they can do, during their break time. So they end up working for 4-5 hours straight until their body offers them a painful reminder.

    If this sounds like you, here are 21 Counter-Intuitive Break ideas that help to restore your energy, sharpen your focus, boost productivity and avoid burnout at work.

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    1. Listen to a guided meditation. There are plenty of 10-15 minute meditations that allow you to trigger your creativity, let go of muscles tension and take your mind of the work at hand.

    All you have to do is put on a headset, close your eyes and enjoy peace and relaxation even in the midst of work chaos.

    2. Share your break with a co-worker. Alone, you might not always have the strength to pull yourself away from the computer, but if you have a friend taking breaks with you, it is much easier to stick with your break routine. In addition, it offers a great opportunity to bond with your colleagues and get to know them better.

    3. Step outside for a fresh perspective. Leaving a stuffy office and letting yourself enjoy the warmth of the sunlight, the coolness of a breeze and the freshness of the spring air can do miracles to your mind and body. You will come back feeling rejuvenated and ready to approach your work with new energy and a fresh perspective.

    4. Close your eyes and take 10 deep breaths. Stand up and walk away from your desk. Find a quiet place, where you can sit down, close your eyes, smile to yourself and take a few deep breaths. Imagine tension, stress and anxiety leaving your body as you breathe out, and peacefulness, positivity and relaxation filling your mind with every breath that you take.

    5. Say NO to tension headaches. Slowly roll your neck to the right noticing a slight tension in your neck muscles. Hold this position for a count of 120 (2 minutes), then turn your head to the opposite side and repeat. Enjoy the feeling of warmth and flexibility return to your neck and shoulders.

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    6. Try people-gazing. Watching people walking down the street, chatting in a nearby café, and driving by, is meditation in itself. In addition looking outside the window helps to take the strain off the eyes.

    7. Rock out to some great music. Music is a great mood changer, especially if you allow yourself to get up and move with it. Just a few minutes of humming and dancing can put a smile on your face and get your blood moving.

    8. Take a Thumb and Pinkie Brain Break. This is a great break idea if you need a quick distraction from the problem at hand to get your creative juices flowing:

    • Take your left hand and have your fingers in and your thumb up.
    • Then take your right hand and put all the fingers in except the pinkie. So in other words, your left thumb up and right pinkie out.
    • Now switch the roles of your hands. And now try doing it faster.

    Not as simple as it looked, right?

    9. Delete some tasks from your to-do list. What can be more satisfying than taking a long hard look at your do-to list and crossing off a few unimportant tasks?

    10. Eat an apple. S-L-O-W-L-Y. In the middle of a busy day, when you feel rushed, take a 2-3 minute break to eat an apple (or another fruit that you like). Just do it very slowly. Notice the flavor, the texture, the freshness. Doing something at a slow pace might feel weird, even annoying at first. But after a few minutes you feel much calmer and less stressed.

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    11. Say Thank you. Grab a notecard and your favorite pen and write a quick thank you to someone you appreciate. Then attach a stamp and go downstairs to put it in a mailbox. This simple act of gratitude will take your focus away from any pressing work problems and will put you in a good mood.

    12. Take a “No Cell-phone Walk”. Leave your cell-phone in the office and head outside for a brisk walk. Shake off apathy and fatigue. Walk even faster, raising your heartbeat and letting the excitement and the sense of freedom re-charge your mind and body.

    13. Read a magazine or a book. Pick a read that has nothing to do with your area of work or the latest news. Give your brain the pleasure of not to thinking, being stressed or making decisions.

    14. Re-waterize yourself. First drink a full glass of water. Second splash some water on your face: warm to relax, cold – to wake up and energize yourself.

    15. Make animals of the clouds. This is a great exercise to entertain your children, but it is also a great game you can play alone as it helps to tap into your creative potential and distract your mind from upcoming deadlines or customer complaints.

    16. Pick up the pace. If you feel yourself tired and sleepy, deliberately pick up the pace, and try to move a little faster than usual. Type faster. Speak faster. Read faster. Make decisions faster. And, of course, go home sooner.

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    17. Laugh off the tension. You can start by simply saying, “Ha, ha, ha.” and keep repeating it, until you are really laughing. A few minutes of a good belly laugh help to get rid of tension, relax a lot of involuntary muscles and increase blood circulation.

    18. Stretch out stiffness. Getting up from your desk to do a set of sun salutations or this might not be an option if you work in a room full of people. But it does not mean that you should deprive yourself of the pleasure of stretching your body and getting some exercise. Try a simple stretching exercise.

    • Plant your feet firmly on the ground, lift your arms and look at your palms.
    • Stretch your spine for about 30-60 seconds, gradually increasing pressure, as if you were trying to touch the ceiling with your fingers.
    • Relax, lower your arms and feel the energy moving up your spine.

    19. Do something artistic. Write a short, funny poem and dedicate it to your co-worker. Draw a picture for your kids. Take a few photos of your surroundings. Let your creative side shine!

    20. Unclutter your desk. A great way to take a much needed break, while looking “busy” is to unclutter your desk. Not only is it relaxing, it also helps to activate productive energy flow.

    21. Juggle. Learning to juggle isn’t particularly difficult and it could be a great exercise to take during a break (maybe not in the office itself, but in a place, where balls flying left and right will not bother anyone). Juggling requires fine muscle control, timing and concentration. But most importantly, it is fun!

    (Photo credit: Office Worker Holding Clock in Front of Face via Shutterstock)

    More by this author

    Arina Nikitina

    The author of "Real Goal Getting guide" and she is on a mission to help people achieve goals, and keep focused and motivated.

    15 Ways To Stay Focused At Work One of the Best Goal Setting Exercises 11 Things Overachievers Do Differently How to Turn Yourself Into A Powerful Leader 21 Counter-Intuitive Break Ideas to Boost Your Productivity at Work

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    Last Updated on November 18, 2019

    How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

    How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

    Everyone of my team members has a bucketload of tasks that they need to deal with every working day. On top of that, most of their tasks are either creativity tasks or problem solving tasks.

    Despite having loads of tasks to handle, our team is able to stay creative and work towards our goals consistently.

    How do we manage that?

    I’m going to reveal to you how I helped my team get more things done in less time through the power of correct prioritization. A few minutes spent reading this article could literally save you thousands of hours over the long term. So, let’s get started with my method on how to prioritize:

    The Scales Method – a productivity method I created several years ago.

    How to Prioritize with the Scales Method

      One of our new editors came to me the other day and told me how she was struggling to keep up with the many tasks she needed to handle and the deadlines she constantly needed to stick to.

      At the end of each day, she felt like she had done a lot of things but often failed to come up with creative ideas and to get articles successfully published. From what she told me, it was obvious that she felt overwhelmed and was growing increasingly frustrated about failing to achieve her targets despite putting in extra hours most days.

      After she listened to my advice – and I introduced her to the Scales Method – she immediately experienced a dramatic rise in productivity, which looked like this:

      • She could produce three times more creative ideas for blog articles
      • She could publish all her articles on time
      • And she could finish all her work on time every day (no more overtime!)

      Curious to find out how she did it? Read on for the step-by-step guide:

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      1. Set Aside 10 Minutes for Planning

      When it comes to tackling productivity issues, it makes sense to plan before taking action. However, don’t become so involved in planning that you become trapped in it and never move beyond first base.

      My recommendation is to give yourself a specific time period for planning – but keep it short. Ideally, 10 or 15 minutes. This should be adequate to think about your plan.

      Use this time to:

      • Look at the big picture.
      • Think about the current goal and target that you need/want to achieve.
      • Lay out all the tasks you need to do.

      2. Align Your Tasks with Your Goal

      This is the core component that makes the Scales Method effective.

      It works like this:

      Take a look at all the tasks you’re doing, and review the importance of each of them. Specifically, measure a task’s importance by its cost and benefit.

      By cost, I am referring to the effort needed per task (including time, money and other resources). The benefit is how closely the task can contribute to your goal.

        To make this easier for you, I’ve listed below four combinations that will enable you to quickly and easily determine the priority of each of your tasks:

        Low Cost + High Benefit

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        Do these tasks first because they’re the simple ones to complete, yet help you get closer to your goal.

        Approving artwork created for a sales brochure would likely fit this category. You could easily decide on whether you liked the artwork/layout, but your decision to approve would trigger the production of the leaflet and the subsequent sales benefits of sending it out to potential customers.

        High Cost + High Benefit

        Break the high cost task down into smaller ones. In other words, break the big task into mini ones that take less than an hour to complete. And then re-evaluate these small tasks and set their correct priority level.

        Imagine if you were asked to write a product launch plan for a new diary-free protein powder supplement. Instead of trying to write the plan in one sitting – aim to write the different sections at different times (e.g., spend 30 minutes writing the introduction, one hour writing the body text, and 30 minutes writing the conclusion).

        Low Cost + Low Benefit

        This combination should be your lowest priority. Either give yourself 10-15 minutes to handle this task, or put these kind of tasks in between valuable tasks as a useful break.

        These are probably necessary tasks (e.g., routine tasks like checking emails) but they don’t contribute much towards reaching your desired goal. Keep them way down your priority list.

        High Cost + Low Benefit

        Review if these tasks are really necessary. Think of ways to reduce the cost if you decide that the completion of the task is required.

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        For instance, can any tools or systems help to speed up doing the task? In this category, you’re likely to find things like checking and updating sales contacts spreadsheets. This can be a fiddly and time-consuming thing to do without making mistakes. However, there are plenty of apps out there they can make this process instant and seamless.

        Now, coming back to the editor who I referred to earlier, let’s take a look at her typical daily task list:

          After listening to my advice, she broke down the High cost+ High benefit task into smaller ones. Her tasks then looked like this (in order of priority):

            And for the task about promoting articles to different platforms, after reviewing its benefits, we decided to focus on the most effective platform only – thereby significantly lowering the associated time cost.

            Bonus Tip: Tackling Tasks with Deadlines

            Once you’ve evaluated your tasks, you’ll know the importance of each of them. This will immediately give you a crystal-clear picture on which tasks would help you to achieve more (in terms of achieving your goals). Sometimes, however, you won’t be able to decide every task’s priority because there’ll be deadlines set by external parties such as managers and agencies.

            What to do in these cases?

            Well, I suggest that after considering the importance and values of your current tasks, align the list with the deadlines and adjust the priorities accordingly.

            For example, let’s dip into the editor’s world again.

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            Some of the articles she edited needed to be published by specific dates. The Scales Method allows for this, and in this case, her amended task list would look something like this:

              Hopefully, you can now see how easy it is to evaluate the importance of tasks and how to order them in lists of priority.

              The Scales Method Is Different from Anything Else You’ve Tried

              By adopting the Scales Method, you’ll begin to correctly prioritize your work, and most importantly – boost your productivity by up to 10 times!

              And unlike other methods that don’t really explain how to decide the importance of a task, my method will help you break down each of your tasks into two parts: cost and benefits. My method will also help you to take follow-up action based on different cost and benefits combinations.

              Start right now by spending 10 minutes to evaluate your common daily tasks and how they align with your goal(s). Once you have this information, it’ll be super-easy to put your tasks into a priority list. All that remains, is that you kick off your next working day by following your new list.

              Trust me, once you begin using the Scales Method – you’ll never want to go back to your old ways of working.

              More to Boost Productivity

              Featured photo credit: Vector Stock via vectorstock.com

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