How to take better breaks when you work from home

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Let’s be honest. The vast majority of us do not bill every minute we spend in the office.

Personally, I aim to bill 6 or 6.5 hours out of an 8-hour day. That’s on a good day.

So where do those extra hours go?

Well, admin tasks, for one. Marketing, as well. Lunches and coffees out. Bathroom breaks. Snacks (so many snacks).

But that doesn't account for all of it.

As I said, we’re being honest here. For me, there's also a fair bit of social media scrolling, online shopping, news reading, and general unproductive surfing.

None of this really contributes to my health, well-being, career development, or general happiness.

But we still need breaks. We’re not machines. (Unless I’m on a tight deadline, in which case I am a MACHINE).

According to science, human beings require a break every 52 minutes in order to stay productive. Working for longer spans can result in less focus and diminishing returns.

So breaks aren’t the problem per se. But often, what we’re doing on those breaks could use some improvement.

Since I work from home, I have a lot of freedom when it comes to breaks. I didn’t feel I was making the most of that freedom.

So I decided to make a list of enjoyable but worthwhile break activities.

I wrote the list on a post-it note and stuck it next to my computer monitor.

I had three criteria for a worthwhile break. The activity had to be:

  1. enjoyable,

  2. capable of being completed in under 10 minutes, and

  3. either a) good for me, or b) good for my career.

Here's what I came up with.

1. Meditate

This is a great one for transitions. Like when I just sent off a big assignment and my brain feels fried. Or I just got off a stressful call and can’t seem to focus on the next task.

Sometimes I’ll do a 5- or 10-minute guided meditation. Other times, I’ll just close my eyes, take three deep breaths, and think about the attitude I want to bring to my next task. (I got that one from the amazing Brendon Burchard).

If you are like me and need a little guidance for longer meditations, you can try an app (I like Calm) or even a youtube video. Often I’ll just search youtube for what I need - “short meditation on calming anxiety” or “10 minute gratitude meditation” or whatever I’m in the mood for. Probably not what the ancient Buddhists had in mind but it works for me!

2. Stretch or light exercise

This can take any form. Sometimes I’ll just stand up and do 30 squats or a couple of quick stretches.

At the moment, I’m working through the exercises in Overcoming Poor Posture by Steven Low and Jarlo Ilano. It’s very good if poor posture is an issue for you.

3. Text a friend or family member

This is a know-your-audience type of thing. I only text people who I know would appreciate a mid-workday text. Usually it involves sending a cute picture of my toddler to my parents.

4. Walk around the block

This one’s not getting much attention from me now that it’s December. But in the warmer months, walks are great.

When I’m on these walks, I always seem to have some sort of minor or major breakthrough on an issue I’ve been struggling with. Apparently, it’s scientifically proven that people have more creative breakthroughs while performing monotonous tasks. A super smart lawyer I used to work with spent hours pacing the office halls for this very reason.

5. Read a legal book or blog

This is good if you don’t want to get up from your desk but also don’t want to read mindless crap.

At the moment I’m reading The Law of Judicial Precedent by Bryan Garner et al. I may write a review when I’m done.

Often I’ll take this time to catch up on Eugeen Meehan QC’s newsletters and skim the recently posted judgments on the BC Supreme Court and Court of Appeal’s websites.

And how’s it going so far?

Great! I'm definitely spending my break time more productively, and I feel happier at the end of the day. On days when my billings are a little low, I still feel good about having meditated, connected with a family member, gotten some fresh air, etc.

Are all of my breaks of such quality? Well, no. I am still embarrassingly up-to-date on celebrity gossip. But as in other areas of my life, I am striving for good, not perfect. 🙂