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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.

    One of the Best Goal Setting Exercises 15 Ways To Stay Focused At Work 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 April 23, 2019

    How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

    How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

    Stretch goals are a lot like physical fitness. When you adopt a physical sport such as running, continual practice leads to increased stamina, growth and progress.

    While commitment to the sport improves performance, true growth happens when you are stretched beyond your comfort zone. I know this from personal experience.

    For years, I was an avid runner. I ran with a variety of running groups in the Washington, D.C., area and in Columbus, Ohio, where I lived prior to moving to the nation’s capital in 2011.

    While I was initially fearful about slacking off on my exercise habit when I moved to D.C., running enthusiasts in the area provided continual motivation, inspiring me to lace up my shoes day after day. Much to my surprise, many of the area’s running stores (including Pacers and Potomac River Running) boasted running groups that met in the mornings and evenings. So, it was relatively easy for a newcomer like me to connect with like-minded peers.

    I was never a particularly fast runner, but I enjoyed the afterglow of the sport: being completely drained but feeling a sense of accomplishment; setting and reaching goals; buying and wearing out new tennis shoes. The sound of throngs of feet pounding the pavement in semi-unison is still enough to bring tears to my eyes. Yes, I sometimes tear up at the start of races.

    Of all the groups I ran with, the Pacers Store group that met on Monday nights in Logan Circle boasted the fastest runners. I met up with the group week after week only to be the slowest runner. It was difficult to muster the courage to get up every week and meet the group knowing what was waiting for me: sweating and watching the backs of fellow runners.

    Each time I joined the group, I was stretching myself without even realizing it. Instead of feeling like I was transitioning into a better running, for a long time I felt I was torturing myself.

    Then something remarkable happened. I went for a run with a different set of runners and noticed my time had improved. I was running at a faster pace and doing so with ease. What was once uncomfortable for me I now handled with ease.

    The reason I was becoming a better runner was because I was taking myself out of my comfort zone and challenging myself physically and mentally. This example illustrates the process of growth.

    Fortunately, we can create situations that stretch us in our personal and professional lives.

    What Is a Stretch Goal?

    A stretch goal – as authors Sim B. Sitkin, C. Chet Miller and Kelly E. See detail an article “The Stretch Goal Paradox” in Harvard Business Review[1] – is something that is extremely difficult and novel. It is something that not everyone does, and it’s sometimes considered impossible.

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    In general, you establish stretch goals by doing things that are difficult or temporarily challenging.

    For instance, when I was first promoted to a senior communications management role, I knew I needed to beef up my relationships with media personalities. I set a goal to once a month book a day of media interviews in New York City – which is home to many media outlets, including SiriusXM radio, CNN, NBC News, HuffPost, VIBE.

    This was a huge goal because it meant not only identifying the right people to meet with but convincing them to meet with me and my team. While I didn’t end up meeting the goal of doing a full day of media interviews in New York City, I met more people than I would have met had I not established the goal and instead stayed in the comfort of my D.C. office.

    It is important to note that just because you establish a stretch goal doesn’t mean you’ll achieve the goal each time. However, the process of trying is guaranteed to provide some level of growth.

    The Importance of Creating Stretch Goals

    The beginning of the year is a perfect time to assess where you are excelling and where there is room for you to grow. I typically start the year by creating a yearlong strategic plan for myself.

    I think about the things that are necessary to do and things that would be cool to do. I assess the people I should know and think through how to meet them. Then I ask myself if the goals are realistic and what would need to happen for me to achieve them.

    Over time, I have learned that there are five things I can do to set stretch goals:

    1. Get Outside of Your Head

    If I exist within the confines of my imagination, I imperil my own growth and creativity.

    If I examine my accomplishments and celebrate them in isolation of others’ accomplishments, my vantage point is limited.

    I want to be comfortable with what I accomplish, but I also want to be motivated by watching others. In some respects, stretching is about expanding your network of friends, associates and mentors. These are the people who will propel or slow your growth and development.

    Since two are better than one, I always value being able to share my progress with others, seek feedback and then map a plan for success.

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    2. Focus on a Couple Areas at a Time

    When setting goals, it is important to focus on a couple of areas at a time. Most of us are only able to focus on a few things at a time, and if you feel you are unable to tackle all that is before you, you may simply disengage.

    I see this in so many areas of life:

    When people get in debt, if they believe the debt is insurmountable, they refuse to look at incoming bills for fear of facing down the debt. Unfortunately, many businesses go awry when setting stretch goals.

    In “The Stretch Goal Paradox,” Sitkin, Miller and See note:

    “Our research suggests that though the use of stretch goals is quite common, successful use is not. And many executives set far too many stretch goals. In the past five years, for example, Tesla failed to meet more than 20 of founder Elon Musk’s ambitious projections and missed half of them by nearly a year, according to the Wall Street Journal.”

    Goal-setting is like a marathon, not a sprint. It doesn’t all need to happen at the same time, and pacing is extremely important if you want to get to the finish line. It is better to focus on a couple goals at a time, master them and then move on to the next thing.

    3. Set Aside Time Each Year to Focus on Goal-Setting

    When I was a managing director for communications for the Advancement Project, I spent the first part of every year facilitating a communications planning meeting.

    The planning meeting began with the team members assessing the goals the team had established in the preceding year, and whether those goals were realistic or not. If we failed to meet certain goals, we broke down why that happened. From there, we brainstormed about possibilities for the current year.

    For instance, one year we set a goal of pitching and getting 24 opinion essays published. This was audacious because no one on the eight-person team had the luxury of focusing exclusively on editing and pitching opinion essays to publications around the world. We would need to focus on pitching in between the rest of our work.

    We hit this goal within the first eight months of the year. Remarkably, in total, we ended up getting 40 opinion essays published that year, which was an indication that our original goal was too low. We upped the goal to 41 the next year, and amazingly, we hit 42 published opinion essays or guest columns.

    From this experience, we not only learned what was feasible, we also learned the power of focus.

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    When we focused as a team on getting the commentary on our issues out in the public domain, we were successful. The key in all of this is that there was a ton of discussion around which goal we’d pursue and why.

    Equally important, as a manager, I didn’t set the goals alone; the team members and I established the goals collaboratively. This ensured buy-in from each individual.

    4. Use the S.M.A.R.T. Goal Model to Set Realistic Goals

    S.M.A.R.T.

    is a synonym for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. For the sake of this article, the realistic portion of the acronym is most important.

    While you want to set audacious goals, you want to ensure that they are realistic as well. No one is served by setting a goal that is impossible to accomplish.

    Failing to meet goals can be demoralizing for teams, so it’s important to be sober-eyed about what is possible. Additionally, the purpose of setting goals is to advance and grow, not depress morale.

    For instance, my team would have been discouraged had I begun the year asking it to pitch and place 40 opinion essays if we didn’t already have a track record of placing close to two dozen essays.

    By using the S.M.A.R.T. formula, we were able to achieve all that we set out to do.

    5. Break the Goal up into Small Digestible Parts

    I am a recovering perfectionist. As a writer, being a perfectionist can be counterproductive because I can fail to start if I don’t see a clear pathway to victory.

    The same is true with goal-setting. That’s why I join Lifehack’s fellow contributor Deb Knobelman, Ph.D., in noting that it is critically important to break goals into bite-sized chunks.

    When I had a goal of doing daylong media meetings in New York City, I had to think through all the barriers to achieving that goal and all the steps required to meet the goal.

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    One step was identifying which reporters, producers and hosts to engage. Another step was writing a pitch or meeting invitation that would capture their attention. Another step was thinking through the program areas I wanted to highlight and the new angles I could offer to different reporters.

    Since reporters want to cover stories that no one else has written, I needed to come up with fresh angles for each of the reporters I was engaging. An additional step was thinking through who from my team I’d take with me to the various meetings.

    I was clear that, as a talking head, as public relations reps are sometimes called, I needed the right spokesperson in order to land repeated meetings with different outlets.

    A final step was thinking through what I needed to bring to each meeting and which reports, videos and testimonials would buttress our claims and be of interest to media figures.

    As I walked through what was needed to bring my goal of doing daylong meetings to reality, I realized that not only was the idea within reach, but I was excited to tackle the challenge.

    From that point until now, I have learned to break down goals into smaller parts and tackle the smaller parts on the path to knocking the goal out of the park.

    The Bottom Line

    These are my recommendations for setting stretch goals, and there are a ton of other resources to support you in the workplace and in your community.

    For instance, LinkedIn’s Lynda.com platform has a wonderful suite of leadership development videos, including ones on establishing stretch goals. This is a paid resource but may be worth the investment if you lead a team or want to invest in tools for your own growth and development.

    Featured photo credit: Avatar of user Isaac Smith Isaac Smith @isaacmsmith Isaac Smith via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Harvard Business Review: The Stretch Goal Paradox

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