February 13, 2017

Take Five: How to Take Strategic Breaks to Boost Productivity

Here’s a stat for you: In a recent Zipcar survey of mid- to large-sized company employees, 69% of respondents reported taking breaks during the workday, yet only 38% felt refreshed and rejuvenated afterwards. So, what’s the deal? We talked to our Training and Development Manager, Nacie Pereira, to find out how to take a break and make it count. For a deeper dive, check out Zipcar’s whitepaper: The 5 Habits of Happier, More Productive Workplaces.

Nacie (pictured right) takes a break to touch base with a colleague in person.Nacie (pictured right) takes a break to touch base with a colleague in person.

What do you do (or not do) during your work breaks?

During work breaks, I try to at the very least stand up from my chair and stretch. Walking around is even better. I have friends on different floors that I try to visit for a few minutes, or if the weather is conducive, I will take a quick walk around the building or run a quick errand. I try not to bring my phone with me on my breaks if I can help it, unless I'm calling a friend or family member to say hello. I think it is important to allow yourself a few minutes to step away from all screens, if only to give your eyes a break!

How do your work breaks affect your productivity?

It depends on the day. Somedays, getting up and taking a break is a huge productivity boost – and helps me clear away the cobwebs and refocus! Other days, when I'm in a flow state, a work break may be less productive. I think that strategic breaks are more important than breaks as a blanket rule. If you are churning through material, there is no need to take a break, but if you are losing focus or feel how hard you're churning, then you should step away.

Try timing your work breaks for 5-10 minutes.Try timing your work breaks for 5-10 minutes.

Do you use any tools to help facilitate a more efficient work break?

Just my watch! As noted above, I try to keep digital tools out of the break process to give my mind/eyes a chance to rest. A good break should be 5-10ish minutes. If you feel like you need more than that, I recommend re-evaluating what you're working on. Can you switch to a new type of task? What's blocking your ability to focus?  

Where do you typically spend your work breaks?

I like to roam around, doing what I call "my rounds," where I get a chance to follow-up with folks on small things, see what's new in people's lives, or just share a silly moment with someone. I'm grateful to be in a role that intersects many departments, so I get to maintain ongoing discussions with folks doing a range of things!

How often do you recommend employees take breaks from their work?

I believe in strategic breaks. This means that you take a break when you feel you need one, but don't be beholden to them. This requires a certain level of mindfulnessthe ability to recognize when you're in a great flow state versus a fidgety, exhausted state. Some days you may need 7 breaks, other days you may need none. Listen to your mind, sense of momentum, and level of exhaustion. Then act accordingly!

Weather permitting, take your break outside or go for a quick walk.Weather permitting, take your break outside or go for a quick walk.

How does your company create an environment where taking breaks is encouraged?

Years ago, I worked at a company where visibly sitting at your desk was a really important thing. People noticed if you got up, how many times, etc. At the end of the day, people would just sit and wait for the first brave person to leave! Zipcar isn't like this at all. Our flexible environment makes it so people can work at their desk, work in the cafe, work in a conference room or in one of our little nooks. We are so connected virtually (via Slack, email, IM or Skype) that being in your seat isn't that important. Zipcar is also very good about treating people like people; our culture knows people need to eat, get coffee, stretch their legs, run errands, or work remotely. There is a great amount of trust amongst us all that we're doing our best and getting our work done, and because of that trust, there is no need to judge or restrict breaks. 

When do you decide to take a break from your work?

If I've stared at the email I'm trying to write for a half hour, if I feel myself being willfully distracted, or if I feel like my brain is running in 40 places at the same time, I get up and take a break. The next step when I get back to my desk is usually to remind myself why I'm doing a particular task, or to make a to-do list if I'm feeling overwhelmed. 

What do you usually hope to get out of your work breaks?  

A fresh pair of eyes or a refocused attitude!

How do you ensure you aren't distracting other employees when you're on a break?

I try to be mindful of other people's body language. If they're in the zone, I won’t interrupt them, maybe just wave. I also try to spread out my roaming so I don't continue to distract the same folks. 

When taking a break, how do you separate yourself from your work?

I try to leave my technology at my desk, or at least keep it in my pocket.

About Nacie Pereira

Nacie Pereira is the Training and Development Manager at Zipcar, who is passionate about facilitating growth and helping professionals at all stages of their careers learn the skills they need to advance. She is also a published business author, keynote speaker, and career advisor.

Learn more about Zipcar for Business.