You're up early, slogging through work-related tasks, screen-glazed eyes barely registering progress. At the end of your workday, switching from your work to-dos to personal to-dos feels like stepping from one treadmill to another, and even your patience seems to be on a coffee break.
You're not just tired. You're toasting marshmallows at the bonfire of burnout. But what if the solution is simpler than you think?
Enter micro breaks—small, manageable, and effective bits of productive rest. And if you're thinking, "What can a few seconds do for me?" consider this: Chinstrap penguins take 10,000 microsleeps daily. They last for mere seconds but add up to a whopping 11 hours of sleep. Maybe they have something to teach us about sleep quality.
Following the lead of those tuxedoed birds, let’s explore how to weave micro breaks into your workday.
What is a micro break?
Sometimes, the key to pressing ahead is knowing when to press pause. Micro breaks are 1- to 5-minute pauses where you step away from work to recharge.
We’ll review some rejuvenating activities during your break later in the article. For now, let’s discuss how they can save your day.
Why are micro breaks beneficial?
Micro breaks are the unsung heroes of workday wellness. They're like tiny warriors battling burnout, a sneaky villain caused by a chronic imbalance between job demands and resources.
This imbalance chips away at your well-being, and you’re not alone. According to McKinsey, one in four employees worldwide experiences burnout symptoms, per the Burnout Assessment Tool.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. New research shows that these mini breaks pack a punch. In the journal Plos One, researchers from West University of Timișoara in Romania examined 22 studies from the past 30 years that included workers from the US, Netherlands, China, Austria, Germany, Australia, Brazil, and Japan. They found that, while short, these frequent breaks can make people feel more energetic and less tired, no matter what kind of work they're doing.
Think of micro breaks as a multi-tool for workplace wellness that offers specific benefits like:
- Eye health: The American Optometric Association (AOA) says even a 20-second distant gaze every 20 minutes can help your eyes refocus and reduce eyestrain.
- Physical health: A sedentary lifestyle can increase your risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and mental health issues. Toss in poor ergonomics, and you've got musculoskeletal mayhem. The antidote? A Columbia University study suggests physical activity like walking during five-minute breaks every 30 minutes.
- Mental health: micro breaks also serve as vital mental health checkpoints. Stepping away from the desk for a few minutes can help clear your mind, reduce stress, and turn around a negative mood.
So, micro breaks aren't just beneficial. They're essential. And they're not just about avoiding negatives. They're about enhancing your workday quality, one snack-sized break at a time.
How do micro breaks make you more productive?
As Joyful Job Coach Juliana Dirawi writes on LinkedIn, micro breaks are a quick spa retreat for your brain. When you're neck-deep in work, and your gears have been turning for a while, your mind begins to feel like mush. Thoughts are either spinning out of control—or worse yet, not spinning at all.
By taking a break, your brain has room to breathe. Once your brain and body feel calm, you can pick up the task you wandered away from with mental clarity, creativity, and focus. It's like giving your brain a quick reboot, optimizing your mental PC for peak performance.
Better yet, micro breaks throughout your day can help banish burnout. According to a McKinsey study, many workers across the US, China, and Japan are battling burnout symptoms.
If micro breaks are a solution, how can you squeeze out every life-giving drop? Let’s get into it.
How to use micro breaks for best results
To reap the benefits of micro breaks, it helps to know how to use them effectively. The goal, UW Medicine shares, is to find activities that calm your central nervous system—a mini-vacation for your brain. Here are some ways to make the most of your micro work break:
- Stand up and take a walk to offset the effects of sitting.
- Hydrate to sustain cognitive function and maintain energy levels.
- Engage in mindfulness or meditation to reduce stress and enhance focus.
- Stretch or do desk yoga to ease tension, improve circulation, and loosen your muscles.
- Reflect on positive aspects of your day in a gratitude journal for a resilient mindset.
- Play brief mind games or puzzles to stimulate your brain differently.
- Watch a funny video clip on social media to reduce fatigue.
- Enjoy nature for a boost to your mental well-being.
The key to effective micro breaks lies within you. Set hourly reminders and choose activities that work for you, promote well-being, and offer a brief but effective pause to recharge your energy. This is a springboard for better productivity.
3 Ways to fit micro breaks into your daily schedule
You’re already putting in long hours, so you might think, “Micro breaks sound great, but where is this extra time coming from?” It’s easier than you think.
Even Stanford University encourages micro breaks because they make productivity more sustainable. After all, you’re caring for your physical and mental health. Here's how to fit these miracle moments into your day:
- The Pomodoro Technique: This time management method breaks your work into intervals like 25 minutes of focused work followed by a 5-minute break.
- Task transition breaks: Once you finish a task, set a timer for a minute of quiet, calming visualization of a positive outcome for your upcoming task.
- Timeboxing: Schedule a 5-minute break after each focused work interval to engage in relaxing activities like stretching or deep breathing.
According to Harvard Business Review, it’s beneficial to consider the time of day when deciding the length of your breaks. Short breaks are better in the morning, and longer breaks are more helpful in the afternoon because we get more tired as the day goes on and need extra time to recharge. A 10-minute break to rest outside on a sunny afternoon could have you feeling as good as new.
Keep in mind that micro breaks aim to rejuvenate your mind and body, so tailor these strategies to fit your needs and daily rhythm. Instead of the perfect cup of coffee, a pleasant micro break can give you the boost you need to power through your day with energy and focus.
Automate your break reminders with Sunsama
We've explored the power of micro breaks—those small but mighty pauses that help you sustain your productivity, balance your mental health, and keep burnout at bay. Now, let's talk about making micro breaks a seamless part of your workday when you schedule them with Sunsama.
Sunsama isn't just another to-do list—it's a quiet productivity companion. It gently guides you through your day, helping you draft realistic goals, keep track of tasks and meetings, and easily manage emails and Slack messages. All the while, Sunsama puts timeboxing front and center. This allows you to easily weave those essential micro breaks into your day. No more juggling multiple to-do and calendar apps—it's all in one place.
Whether you're a night owl who loves dark mode or needs to get into deep work with the Focus Mode, Sunsama is designed for how you work. With automation features like auto-scheduling and analytics, you can understand how you spend your time and automate task scheduling. And, if you’re in the middle of a task while using Focus Mode, you can simply hit pause to take a micro break.
Ready to refine your workday, support your well-being, ease work stress, and subtly enhance job performance with the help of micro breaks? Sign up today to give Sunsama's timeboxing feature a go and let micro breaks become a natural, calming rhythm in your workday.