Most of the time I’m pretty lucky to be doing work that I’m really excited about, but that also means I’ll find that after a few hours straight I’m a bit fatigued and start running low on energy and motivation, even if I am genuinely interested in what I’m doing. Not only am I better able to refresh my energy by taking short breaks throughout the day, I am also better at tracking my focused work time and I rarely find that I’m any less motivated to jump back right in when my breaks are over. I should add a disclaimer that I do work from home, and most of my work happens to pretty independent, but these concepts applied just as much when I worked in an office.
How Often to Take Breaks
This really depends on how you feel, but I suggest experimenting with the different lengths for a few days to see what works for you. It didn’t take me long to realize that I prefer the standard 25 minutes on and 5 minutes off. When I tried longer, I found that I wasn’t able to truly stay focused for much longer, and I’d often feel restless to go grab something or I’d start to wonder what was happening on social media. Sometimes I will even shorten things to shorter work sessions if I want to use the break and the timer to switch up tasks.
How to Track Time
The first few times I tried this method out, I was using my phones timer app and I quickly grew annoyed with having to change the length of the timer and set a new timer every single time I transitioned. When you are only taking a five-minute break that transition alone could take 5-10% of your time. I quickly found an app specifically for Pomodoro time tracking called Focus Keeper. This app and many others will track how many cycles you’ve been through and is easy to adjust if you need to pause or change the amount of time for the timer. With Focus Keeper I really value knowing how many cycles I’ve been through is essential for me if my schedule has drifted away from top-of-the-hour start times.
This is the app I currently use. The functionality is basic, but I was able to adjust the lengths of the various timers, set goals for how many cycles to go through, and I really love that I’m able to adjust the length of the timer if anything goes astray I need to add or subtract time from a work session or break. This app also offers minimal stats on how you’ve done with the app, but I personally don’t find this type of info very valuable.
Flora is a pretty cool app because it uses the theme of growing a tree during your work sessions. You can even opt to pay money if you break your work session and the app partners with an organization to plant real trees. After you’ve completed a work session a tree is added to your forest. You can even sync to focus with friends. The only reason I don’t really like this app as much as the other is that I can’t adjust the time, and it also forces you to stay on the app during the work session.
Other Apps & Chrome Extensions
I’ve lightly tested all of these iOS apps, and loved some of the various features, like visuals for completed work sessions and the ability to label and tag the tasks you’ve completed. The Chrome extensions are also worth checking out if you do your work in a browser and don’t want to cut back and forth to a different device, but they are limited in their functionality.
- Block & Flow
- Be Focused
- Focus To-Do
- Workflow Timer
- Marinara: Pomodoro Assistant Chrome Extension
- Strict Workflow Chrome Extension
What to Do With a Short Break
I do work from home, so a lot of the things I do might not be available in an office, but even when I was in the office I would still prioritize hydration and nutrition at regular intervals throughout the day. I keep a 24 oz water bottle at my desk, and I wind up refilling almost every break when I stick with my timer. This also means more bathroom breaks, but I welcome the chance to get up and move around a bit. I’ll also grab a snack. I was amazed at how much better I was at staving off a midday energy crash when I actually had somewhat healthy snacks to eat throughout the day, and if they are pre-prepared and pre-portioned it’s even easier to incorporate it.
- Refill Water
- Grab A Snack
- Walk Away From Your Desk
Even with all of that I usually still have a minute or two to spare. I’ll opt to put something away, move a few dishes into the dishwasher, lightly straighten out the bed, smother my dog with affection, stand in front of a sunny window, catch up on a text from earlier, lay on my bed, sit in silence, breathe, or even end my break early and get back to work. I try to be careful to not overcommit during these breaks though. There has been more than one occasion where I get caught in the middle of making food or doing the dishes, and though I don’t mind not being in my chair when the alarm sounds, I don’t like having it go off when I know I’m halfway through a task and suddenly feeling rushed.
- Tidy Something Up
- Close Your Eyes
- Check In With Loved Ones
How This Helps With Work
Avoiding Sluggishness in Energy
No matter how excited I am about my work, I find that pure enthusiasm only gets me so many hours into the workday before I start feeling the weight of all of the mental work and the physical stagnation. It’s so easy for me to resist the idea of taking a break when my timer goes off, but I know that if I continue to work, I will start to feel fatigued at some point and my work will slow, or I’ll opt to take a break that isn’t as effective as it would have been hours earlier.
Get Back To Work With Motivation
Most people think that it’s ideal to finish a task completely before taking a break and moving onto something else. For certain tasks, doing anything but completing the task could be dangerous or ill-advised, but for most tasks the consequences of stepping away are minimal, and you might actually find some surprise benefits. When I take a break at the end of a task, I’m returning to a task that hasn’t even begun, and it can feel like it takes a lot more energy to get back into work and to switch gears into a new task. However, when I walk away from something I’m really excited about, I take my break and enjoy the moment to think, and then I jump right back in where I started. This does require a small bit of time and attention to note where you are in your progress if you are taking a longer break, but I’ve noticed that I don’t have a problem remember where I was after just a few minutes away from my desk.
Less Distraction During Work Sessions
When I give myself permission to take care of myself for five minutes, it makes it a lot easier to commit to 25 minutes of focused work. So often I’d sit down and get started and realize that I was really thirsty and my water bottle was empty, so I’d get up and fill my water bottle, but then I might notice something needs to get put away and I just take care of that, then I wind up checking on a personal thing and before I know it, it’s been 30 minutes and I haven’t done anything. If I can spend less than five minutes getting workspace ready for focused work time, I can tell myself that anything else can wait until the next break. This also helps when I’m itching to browse the internet for something random I just thought about. And of course, I don’t even care that much about what I wanted to look up, I was just trying to get some instant gratification.
Track Your Work Time More Effectively
I really love what I do and I am really invested in feeling like I’ve done something great at the end of the day, but somehow no matter what I actually get done, I’m always wishing I could spend just a little more time to get something that much closer to completion. Many times I’ve gone ahead and done just that, but somehow the task list just grows and I wind up that much less energized to make dinner and be a functional human being in the evening and I still don’t feel like I’m quitting on the note I wanted. While I don’t think a timer is going to solve that problem, I now try to stick to a metric of giving my best effort during the hours I did work. If I just sat down and took random untimed breaks, I’d feel less confident that I was really bringing my A-game during the workday.
This structured schedule also helps me be a lot more mindful of how long tasks take me throughout the day. I don’t necessarily track the end and start times of various tasks, but I can better estimate whether or not I’ll be able to get to something in the work session I’m in or if it will be one or two more out. When my afternoon is feeling endless, I will realize I only have so many more work sessions to go and I was hoping to get X, Y, and Z in before the end of the day, so I better hustle or prioritize my tasks differently.
Most of the time breaks feel like a distraction from our work, but if we’re honest with ourselves those breaks are going to happen regardless of us planning them and why not leverage the power that comes from stepping away from the task at hand.