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Taking Breaks In The Working Day

Author: Lauren Coleman

I used to have a boss who was a huge advocate of lunch breaks and without fail she would leave for the canteen at 12 o’clock. Once in a blue moon, she’d eat at her desk and would always tell her team to get away from their monitors regularly. We all obliged but as the years went by and she left the company, my workload increased and I found myself frequently sitting through my lunch break. It became a rare occurrence not to spend some of my day wiping crumbs from the keyboard. (Yuk, so unhygienic – wasn’t there a study that came out suggested there were more bacteria on a keyboard than a toilet seat?!)

You may remember Dr James Levine, creator of the treadmill desk, who was credited with coining the mantra ‘sitting is the new smoking’ or when Apple CEO Tim Cook claimed ‘sitting is the new cancer’. Regardless of whether this was a dramatic and somewhat tasteless statement in order to sell more Apple Watches, the need to move during the day sprang to mind last week. My yoga instructor mentioned about a client she had a few years ago who confessed that during her eight-plus hour desk job she only left her chair to nip to the loo. Other than that she sat for the majority of the day in one position. This made me realise that the same could be said for me too.
While I exercise almost every evening, I sit for long periods during the day and the hours can race by before I rise. When I do get out of my chair I feel stiff, tense and quite sluggish. When I was in a corporate environment I might have had lunch at my desk but I used to spend a lot of time moving around the office speaking to people face-to-face rather than on the phone. Now I work predominately from home I often feel like I’m skiving if I get up to put a wash on or spend longer in the kitchen than five minutes grabbing a drink.

I know my concentration slips after an hour so I’ve been trying to schedule in more breaks for a quick stretch and to grab some fresh air. I’m intrigued as to how others with desk-based jobs manage to get themselves up and about. If I get in the zone, I can lose track of time so I think this will some serious discipline. I asked Siri to set a daily alarm every hour during the week but she couldn’t deal with the frequency!
My husband has one of those fancy stand-up desks in his office. Last week I started to do half an hour working standing at the kitchen island but I spent the whole time distracted by dishes that need putting away. Maybe all this standing will make me tidier in the long run?
I saw the ‘tomato timer‘ mentioned on a blog the other day, which alerts you after 25 minutes to take a five minute break. This is based on the Pomodora Technique, a time management approach to a more productive way to work and study. Feel free to give it a whirl. I was surprised at just how quickly 25 minutes passes.

Does anyone participate in any desk aerobics? How do you make sure you schedule regular breaks and move around during the working day?


Cushion (previous season) gifted from Monsoon

Lauren likes Paris, Prosecco and Paint Charts
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16 thoughts on “Taking Breaks In The Working Day

  1. Ummm no. Sometimes I even forget I need the loo then it gets to 4.30pm, secretaries start leaving and I’m like ‘oh shit, I haven’t moved all day’. Better to do that and be home asap to see the kids than add in breaks for no reason and add an extra 30 minutes to my working day!

    I do sometimes go for a wander around the office, do some lunges by the photocopier but that’s when my brain starts to hurt.

    1. The breaks wouldn’t be for no reason- they’d be to help your body. I guess it’s just building habits which I admit can seem rather pointless if you’re not yet feeling any ill effects from being in one position so long.

      1. I genuinely lose track of time though. The idea of having something beeping telling me when 25 minutes was up would make me lose my train of thought I think.

        I have been moaning about my body hurting A LOT recently – but I think that’s just getting older!

        1. I doubt it’s just getting older. I know plenty of folk who are active in their 60’s without a creak. I suppose scheduling in movement doesn’t need to be every 25 mins. Even every two hours could be beneficial to do some stretches. We’ve got an atrium at work that I’ve recently been nipping off to (never anyone there) and do some stretches on the bars, mainly for my back and shoulders. Makes an enormous difference.

          But I think the reminder is important, otherwise as you know, the day just wizzes by.

  2. I reeeeeeally feel it in my back if I don’t get up and move around a bit during the day when I’m at work. I think it’s partially that it’s such a contrast to the days I am at home with the kids when I am dashing about all day.

    I find I am much more productive if I step away from my screen reasonably regularly and I whilst I rarely take a proper lunch break I try to always go for a 20 minute walk so my back isn’t seized up by the end of the day.

    I figure stepping away from my computer regularly and taking a short walk makes me more productive in the long run than having to call in sick eventually because I have done my back in!

    1. You are so right Fionnula, getting away from the screen is much more productive in the long run.

  3. Thanks Lauren, you’ve just reminded me I had a load in the machine that needed drying!

    I’m also pretty awful about taking breaks and getting up and moving about during the working day, but have a few good habits I think help. 1. If I get up to make a drink I always do a few stretches too, whilst waiting for my tea to brew or the coffee to filter through. 2. I try to take at least 30 min off completely at lunch, if not a full hour.

    The recent good weather has seen me spending my lunch break in the garden, taking my food out there and maybe doing a bit of weeding. I’ve also realised that it’s time I could be prepping my some veggies for dinner or lunches for the rest of the week (which, given that I enjoy cooking is a nice way for me to spend some time, and has the bonus effect of healthy food just being there, ready, waiting on days when I don’t have as much time).

    1. Yes to the weeding Rebecca! Think I’ll do a bit in my lunch break too. And good idea on reappropriating time too.

  4. Thanks Lauren,

    You gave me the push I needed to get myself to the gym for my lunch break today! Working from home is not helping my sciatica and walking the dog/gym/hanging out washing breaks are so needed! I still get more done than I do at the office because of the lack of chat with colleagues.

  5. My fitbit alerts me at ten to each hour if I haven’t done 250 steps that hour. So I’m supposed to jump up and go for a walk, but sadly I often just ignore it. I’m currently on a secondment, and feel much more desk based in this role than in my permanent one, even though they’re both admin roles!! I do have a sit-to-stand desk in my permanent office though, and that did make a difference. I often have good intentions to go for a lunchtime walk, but I only have a 30 minutes break so that I can finish earlier, and I too often find myself doing life admin jobs (or if I’m honest catching up on here, or social media) that I don’t go. My three year old often asks me what I did today, and when I say I sat at my desk all day, even to eat my lunch, she is horrified!! Out of the mouth of babes…

    1. I know, Amy it’s all fine saying we’ll take breaks in principle but when the work comes in I feel guilty nipping away from the screen! Hope you get to take a break today.

  6. Lauren I absolutely swear by the Pomodoro method! The short 5mins breaks every 25mins breaks are just long enough to wipe the counters/sort washing/put on a load and the longer breaks (half an hour every four ‘pomodoros’) are perfect for hanging up laundry or doing those dishes. I also try to throw in some stretches, downward dogs and squats (good for counteracting shortened hip flexors from sitting) into the breaks too.

    I am at my most productive and the house is at its cleanest, without sacrificing one for the other, when I pomodoro. The free online version is a bit iffy so I tend to use the app on my phone but switch on airplane mode to avoid distractions. Also good for a break from the old social media…

    It’s also perfect for me as I procrastinate and suffer from anxiety so I convince myself to just do ‘one’ pomodoro which then tends to get me into the swing of things. I believe the method was developed for computer programming- they found 25 minutes at a time was the optimum length for concentration. And I am all about working smarter not harder!

  7. Wow seeing so many people chained to their desks makes me so glad I quit the 9-5 even after 13 hours on my feet or contorted into all sorts of positions.

    Take a break, no one is going to die if you are away from you desk for 5 mins ladies

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