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How do you take breaks throughout the day?

peter profile image Peter Kim Frank ・1 min read

I've been working from home a lot more often recently, and without the commute and normal hum of office activity and side-conversations, I've been having a hard time stepping away from the computer.

I'm confident that I'll be substantially more productive if I can break up my work in the right way, but I've been finding it difficult to build the right habits and reminders.

So, how do you break up your work throughout the day? How often do you take breaks? And what do you do during them?

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Lindsey Kopacz

I use my pomidoro timer to take breaks (25 minutes work and 5 minutes break). And I actually take breaks when the buzzer goes off.

I usually do the following

  • Drink a huge drink of water as I usually forget to drink water when I am deep into coding
  • Take a stroll around the office.
  • Take a few deep breaths (mostly because I am an antsy person, this really helps me!)
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Matt Del Signore

How do you deal with taking a break when you're deep in a problem? That was always my problem with pomodoro, I'd be deep in a problem and the timer would go off.

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Lindsey Kopacz

This is tricky because it depends on the personality type. I personally have no problem getting back to it after my break is over because 5 minutes is so short. If it were longer (like 10-15 minutes) I may have a lot more trouble with it.

Sometimes I find that when I do take the break, even when I am deep in a problem, the "fresh" start actually helps and I start hitting the ground running. My intent is always to get back to it after my break, and I am pretty good at it!

It's hard to tell if this is just who I am (personality) or if it's actually my mindset.

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Lindsey Kopacz

I will say though, even if you don't take the full break like I do...we could all benefit from taking a few breaths and remembering to drink water :D

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Max Ong Zong Bao

Pomodoro technique is awesome, been using it since last year to work on my daily task.

The notifications for pomodoro apps, can help in reminding you to take a break when you have a earpiece.

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Lindsey Kopacz

Yeah, I have one on my desktop at work!

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morgana

Something that helps me here is not to divert your attention on your breaks to anything that requires concentration e.g. striking up conversations with co-workers, thumbing through emails, social media etc. Doing something like a short walk or getting some water like Lindsey suggested helps your subconscious keep working at the problem while the working memory gets a break.

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Mario See

Changing up the time in pomodoro to 45 minutes of work and 15 minute breaks works for me. Adjusting it to your work style could help prevent untimely breaks when trying the conventional 25/5 split.

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Lindsey Kopacz

Yeah I've totally heard of this too! Whatever works best for your productivity 😃

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Pritesh Usadadiya

same here, pomodoro has never worked for me.

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Rogue Halo

Yeah I can see why that's annoying cause if I take a break from coding through the middle of a problem, then come back, I lose my "Train of Thought"

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Peter Kim Frank Author

Thank you! I'm also going to give your Working Remotely post a fresh read later today 🙏🏽

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Dmitry Yakimenko

Here's a tip: have some kids. I have two and breaks happen naturally, probably more often than I'd like.

But on a serious note, invent a routine where you need to go somewhere. Run some errands. For small breaks I prefer to go to the kitchen to make a tea. It takes about 10 minutes, so it's a good mini break. For a long break I do something around the house or go outside to get groceries, fix the bike or whatever.

I used to think it's really bad to break up the work day. Now I think the opposite. It's much better for me to work in two or three intervals throughout the day. I feel more productive to break up the computer stare time.

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matt24ray

Wow this totally clicked with me. I just need to change my mindset of kids being a 'distraction' to kids being a 'break'. I'm gonna try to think about it that way! :)

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Mac Siri

I'm using a standing desk at home. I can only stand for so long. If my body starts to get tired from standing, I'd take this opportunity to bum around relax by sitting down for a bit. So it's similar to pomodoro but instead of fixed time, i depend on my leg's fatigueness.

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Nick Taylor (he/him)

I work in the basement so getting water/coffee means leaving the dungeon. Here's my list:

  • Weather permitting, walk around the block (I'm currently not walking the walk on this one, but the weather hasn't been the best and I just got over a torn calf).
  • Eat lunch at your kitchen table, not your desk.
  • Get up and stretch two or three times an hour.
  • One thing I've tried is the pomodoro clock, but I find sometimes I'm just in a groove that it doesn't make sense to stop.

I'd also be hypocritical if I said I do these all the time, so I'll phrase it as these are things I strive to do when working from home.

Now that my calf is healed, I'm going to see about gym sessions at lunch as well.

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Anurag Mathur 

I split the type of tasks into (1) Reading, and (2) Coding.

For every 25 minutes of active reading, I take 5 minutes of eye break, and drink a glass of water, get up and stretch.

For every 45 minutes of coding, I take 15 minutes of break which includes a drink of water, followed by a small walk.

In both scenarios, every alternate break, I would just take a 10 minute break to calm down and breathe.

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C.S. Rhymes

I have a Fitbit which has an activity reminder if you don’t do enough steps each hour. It reminds me to stretch my legs and get some more tea or water. I try not to have too much coffee, a max of two per day.

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katy lavallee

+1 for Fitbit. Only problem is often when the reminder comes up I tell myself "just a couple more minutes" and then forget about it :P

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Ankur Biswas

I actually use 47/13 rule to take breaks throught the day. As the name suggests, I focusedly work for 47 mins and then take 13 mins of break. In breaktime I usually take walk or have coffee or try to solve someone else's problem or have a conversation with someone. I'm not yet perfected this technique, I'm still try to develope it.

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Tero Y

My watch pings me when I have sat still for an hour. I get up and walk around for a minute or two, usually getting a glass of water.

I try to walk to have lunch as often as possible (I have a couple of places ten minutes away) to have a longer break in the middle of the day.

When in the office, I take a couple of coffee breaks (around 15 minutes) to chat with coworkers. When working from home, I often take the dog out for a short walk in the afternoon.

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C.S. Rhymes

I initially misread this, thinking you have lunch as many times per day as possible. 😄
But I definitely agree about going for a walk at lunch time.

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Tero Y

Lunch as many times per day as possible does sound awesome though.

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hrishikesh1990

Working from home, I lose track of time very easily with the constant silence. A timer does the trick for me. I use the 'Take A Break' chrome extension - simple yet very effective. Keeps reminding me every 15 minutes to take short breaks. These breaks are as simple as blinking my eyes, stretching my arms or staring outside the window :)

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Nick Shoup

Pomodoro timer. I too work from home a lot and I find taking a break regularly and getting some movement in helps me. Often times on lunch I use some free weights, or I do something cardio friendly to get my blood moving. This is something I was never able to do at the office. Also, I really enjoy taking a stroll around my neighborhood weather permitting.

I think the most important thing for me is to get away from the computer for a few minutes periodically.

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Vitali Pomanitski

I work from time to time.

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Neil Syiemlieh

I use a pomodoro app (this one is my favourite) that sets 25 minutes of work with 5 minute breaks. I also installed a pullup bar at my room door. Having it conveniently nearby makes it much easier to remember to get some exercise

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Matt Del Signore

I take regular coffee breaks, usually once every couple of hours. It's a nice short walk to the coffee machine. If I'm reaaaaally stuck on a problem I'll go out and buy a coffee and walk around a bit. That usually helps clear my mind. especially if it's a nice cold winter day.

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Robin Kretzschmar

I tried various things like pomodoro timers, screen timeout software and other techniques.

What worked for me in the end is a combination of the following:

  • get up at the same time and start working at the same time every day I work from home
  • Only have coffee on my desk. Need to walk to the kitchen for a glass of water regulary
  • Doing laundry (starting the washing maschine after getting up and setting an alarm for when it is done). => I need to put the laundry in the tumble dryer then, so this means another screen break
  • preparing my meal ~1h before I take my lunch break or if it can't pre prepared, going early for lunch and cook. No ordering food
  • Eating in the kitchen and not at my desk (this one is important)
  • Going for a cup of coffee with friends during the day (if possible to arrange with schedule)
  • Walking through the room during meetings and if it involves screensharing, I try to stand during the call and not to sit. Makes it easier to walk away for a couple of minutes right after hanging up.
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Joshua Colvin

I take walks at times when focused work is going to be interrupted anyway. This is usually before or after morning standup, at lunch, and late afternoon when my kids get out of school.

I was listening to podcasts or audio books while walking but found that having no inputs was more beneficial. Leaving my phone at home also makes it easier to ignore slack during breaks.

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Shaun McWhinnie

Not advocating it as a sensible thing unless you can put the time and flexibility aside that owning a pet requires, but if it fits your lifestyle get a dog.

My partner and I both work from home and the tendency is to absolutely headsdown at problems which was becoming an issue with getting enough exercise during the day, and longer term with becoming totally burnt out on projects.

It can be frustrating at times when he wants to go out or needs walked just before meetings, but having the enforced exercise during the day - a half hour at 11am, and another at 4pm -- has improved my sleep schedule and forced me to be more mindful about how I plan my day, how I organise my time with my team, and how my time is best spent.

Plus Whisky is cute af and makes weekends way more fun.

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Michael Tharrington (he/him)

As a person who is pretty new to remote work, I can totally relate to this!

I'll typically take a big break in the middle of the day and do something active paired with a small lunch (I snack pretty frequently during the day, but keep my snacks downstairs, another trick to get me up and down a few times). The physical activity keeps my stress down and it's a nice change of pace. Also, I find if I don't move my body around enough, I get really sleepy toward the end of the day. A midday workout is often what I need to get that extra jolt of energy!

Another tip that I use for myself is to keep on a schedule. I'll take my lunch/gym break some time within the window of 12-2. I leave a little flexibility there depending on how much work I have going on, but this is generally when I like to take my extended daily break.

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Rachel Soderberg

I like to use Pomodoro timer as well, but I don't always use it as a break timer. Sometime's it's simply a replacement for my biological clocks saying "drink water" or "go pee please!" since I tend to ignore things like that (like Lindsey said).

On days where I don't use the Pomodoro timer I still follow a Pomodoro style where I work awhile, stop and context switch for a few minutes, then get back to it. I'm pretty sure I'm far more productive on Pomodoro days though.

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Anna Simoroshka

I am really bad at it. If I am deep in the problem, nothing works: my watch vibrates at the end of the hour, I ignore it, a timer in the browser goes off, I just close it. Water is too close and somebody already made coffee. There is nowhere to walk in the office without disturbing other people.

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Katie Adams

Though I wish I had the luxury of working from home, alas, I do not. I'm an IT technician in a boarding school, working varying hours approximately between 7 am and 4:30.

During term-time, when things are more hectic, I get one break aside from lunch at about 10 o'clock, in which I escape to the staff room for a piece of fruit or a biscuit and a cup of tea. I think this break is really effective because I can talk to members of staff outside my department. It's nice chatting with the Psychology teachers or the PE staff about the news or weekend plans. However, if they start asking me to fix their problems whilst I'm clearly not working (as some staff members are known to do), then I'll hide away in one of the other, lesser-popular break rooms with a book (my current read is Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, which I'm thoroughly enjoying and would recommend). These breaks are about 20 minutes.

Outside of term-time, things are luckily more relaxed. The whole team takes their break together in these instances, again in the lesser-known Housekeeping break room. Cup of tea. Biscuit. Nonsense nattering about holidays and TV from last night. These vary from 20 to 30 minutes, once at 10am and again at 3pm.

In either case, I think getting away from a screen is crucial. Real, human interaction or peaceful quiet time is equally important - simply whichever tickles your fancy more.

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Steve Robertson

I got pretty good using a Pomodoro timer in the office recently, after a spell of burning myself out staring at my screen for pretty much 8 hours straight.

I found getting up and walking out the back of the office round the garden area they have, then back to my desk was exactly 5 mins.

I'm still having issues using Pomodoros at home strangely. I need to keep trying but I seem to get too focused on work and forget about it.

Listening to records is a good shout, but even then I don't always remember to get up and change sides. Need to try harder!

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Bruce Axtens

Usually its the need to go to the bathroom that finally propels me out of my seat. I drink a lot of water, some tea and a little coffee during the work day and my kidneys still work quite well despite my advancing years.

On those days when I eat more than one meal a day, lunch is a much looked forward to break.

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Paresh

short break (5-10 mins) every hour, this excludes lunch break :)

What do I do during those breaks?

  • Talk to family members.
  • Read a short blog or article.
  • Sing a song!
  • Talk to self.
  • Check Twitter feeds.
  • Think about content I want to publish on DEV ;-)
  • Generate ideas about changing the world!
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morgana

I feel like Lindsey nailed it already.

Bonus: "Deep Work" and "A Mind for Numbers" are two fabulous books I had recommended to me about how our brains work, productivity, and time management.

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Jesse M. Holmes

I keep a guitar next to my desk to help me shift gears when it's time to work on something different. It also gives my fingers something to do while I think.

I'm still relatively new to remote work, and reading all of these comments has been a great help!

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Frederik Dumazy

I like to split up my tasks for the day into smaller subtasks that take around 30min (could be 10, could be 60). I write those on little post-it notes and hang them on the wall next to me.
I take one, start doing it and when I'm done, I have a moment to see if I want to take a water/coffee break or take on another one.

I hang all finished post-its to each other. Seeing the line of notes gives a feeling of satisfaction and helps me say when I deserve a longer break (like 15, 20min).
I tend to keep those groups for the rest of the week, so it's easy to reflect what I've done when as well 😅

Mostly I work in 3 groups: morning, afternoon, evening. Between those I take a long break (at least an hour). I would eat something and go for a walk or do some exercise

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Michel Renaud

I usually listen to vinyl records when working from home. This forces me to get up every few minutes to change sides or switch records. Otherwise I might forget to get up, and pay dearly for it later (lower-back issues from too many years of office work).

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Quentin Sonrel

It depends. When all is good, I don't take breaks at all and just work... And when it's shitty times, I sometimes take a break from my breaks to work a bit.

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scottshipp

I should take more breaks than I do. I like to take walking breaks.

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Steve Layton

I find I don't take enough breaks lol. But when I do I usually will go for a short walk outside the office (unless the rain is really coming down).

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Tomer Ben David

Working in a sky scraper I find it much harder to take breaks to get some air outside the procedure of getting out and in is too time consuming and inside the building

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Wesley Keener

Grab some water/soda/coffee, listen to podcasts, bug co-worker friends who're on the opposite side of the building.

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Ahmad Awais ⚡️

I tried everything but nothing worked. So I either take one break per day or just don't take any breaks. I know that's just a bad practice — so help me god.