Microbreaks: Your Secret to Success

Written by Dr. Paul Kelly, C.Psych.              April 10, 2024

Would you like to Work Less – and Get More Done?

Microbreaks can be your Secret to Success.


Table of Contents


Why are Microbreaks Your Secret to Success?

You get more done when you take regular microbreaks. Why? Your brain is designed to work hard and then recharge. It was not built for hours of nonstop focus.

Your brain needs rest periods to process information and recover. Microbreaks can help you improve your focus, productivity, and creativity.

A short break of 5 to 10 minutes is enough. Let me show you how.


3 Types of Microbreaks

What happens when you take a Microbreak? You choose to step away from prolonged periods of work, screen time, or intense concentration.

Instead, you pause and take a break. You intentionally drop your work focus and do something different for 5 or 10 minutes.

There are three types of Microbreaks: Physical, Mental, and Social. All of them are good. Let’s see which type would be best for you.

1. Physical Breaks

Do you have to sit to get your work done? If so, a physical break would be a great idea. Your body was not designed to sit for long periods of time. Fatigue and tension build up with prolonged sitting.

Your body needs to move in order to stay healthy. And your brain works better after a physical break. That’s why short physical breaks feel so good and help so much.


Man exercising as a form of physical break



How much time is enough: 5 minutes every half hour or 10 minutes every hour. These small breaks can do wonders for your energy and mental focus.

I know because it works for me. When I wrote this article, I got up and took a brisk walk every half hour. What kind of physical activity would be best for your situation and fitness level?

You could start with gentle stretching. Then try something that will raise your heart rate a bit. Moderate to vigorous exercise has more benefits than light exercise.


Microbreaks - woman skipping as a form of physical break


Which of these options would interest you?

  1. Stretching: Simple stretching exercises can help relieve muscle tension and improve flexibility.
  2. Yoga: A few yoga poses can help you get out of your head so your brain can refresh.
  3. Walking: A brisk walk, even if it’s just around your home or office, can boost circulation and clear your mind.
  4. Dance: Put on your favourite song. Dance for a few minutes to get your heart rate up. Be goofy. No one is watching.
  5. Strength Training: Hand weights, push-ups, sit-ups, or squats are great for waking up the brain and body.
  6. Tai Chi: This gentle form of martial arts is light exercise. It can be very relaxing.
  7. Jumping Jacks: If you are fit enough, try this. It will get your heart pumping.
  8. Cycling: If you have a stationary bike, give it a spin.
  9. Boxing or Shadow Boxing: Throw a few punches. Dance a bit at the same time. How does it feel?
  10. Foam Rolling: Using a foam roller for self-myofascial release. Loosen up your muscles and get out of your head for a break.


2. Mental Breaks

A mental break can also help your brain refresh and refocus. Give yourself permission to take your mind off your work.

If you are stuck with a problem, it can be very helpful to drop it for a bit. A mental break can help you get unstuck.

A mental break will be more refreshing if you do something active with your mind. That is why TikTok is not on the list. It is too passive to give you a brain boost.


sudoku for mental break


Which of these options speak to you?

  1. Crossword Puzzles or Sudoku: These mental puzzles are great for taking a mental break.
  2. Reading: Read a poem or a few paragraphs of a book or article.
  3. Mindfulness or Meditation: Focus on breathing or try a meditation app like Headspace, Calm, or Insight Timer.
  4. Coloring: Have you discovered adult coloring books? They can be very relaxing. Pick a theme or topic that interests you.
  5. Crafts or DIY Projects: Try knitting or crocheting. Molly Weasley and Hermione Granger were knitters. How about you?
  6. Playing an Instrument: Pick up a ukulele and strum a bit. It is a fun instrument for beginners.
  7. Jigsaw Puzzles: Jigsaw puzzles are great. Keep one nearby and work on a few pieces during your break.
  8. Water your Plants or Pet your Cat: Connect with living beings and let yourself enjoy the sensual connection.


3. Social Breaks

I always feel better after visiting with a friend or coworker. How about you?

You deserve to take social breaks during your workday.  We all need support and connection with other people.

Even a brief chat can lift your spirits and give you a mental break. After the break, you can refocus on your work with a fresh brain.

Let’s look at some options for remote workers and in-office workers. What would be best for you?

For Remote Workers

  1. Virtual Coffee Breaks: Schedule time to enjoy a coffee or snack while chatting over FaceTime or Zoom.
  2. Online Games: Share a quick online game or quiz. Try QuizUp, GeoGuessr, Scrabble Go, or 20 Questions.
  3. Virtual Lunch Dates: Share a meal over FaceTime or WhatsApp. You can’t try their dessert, but you can still have a good visit.
  4. Virtual Workout Break: Can you share a physical break with a friend? Maybe jump and dance together for 10 minutes.
  5. Messaging Apps: Use apps like Slack or Microsoft Teams to connect during the day.


Social break - 2 women on Zoom chat


For In-Office Workers

  1. Coffee or Tea Breaks: Chat while you get coffee or tea.
  2. Walk-and-Talk: Combine walking and talking. You can benefit from the physical break and enjoy your friend’s company at the same time.
  3. Lunch: I know. This is not a microbreak. Still, it would be good to share lunch with someone.


Microbreaks - 2 women talking and walking


How To Add Microbreaks to Your Work Day

I recommend that you use a timer or app to schedule your work and break time. Time Out and Stretchly come highly recommended.

You could also take breaks when your mind and body tell you you need them. Have a look at the cues below. These are things to watch for.

Most experts recommend that you use a regular schedule for working and taking breaks. Have a look below for some recommendations.

You may need a few weeks to get used to microbreaks. I encourage you to try them.

You deserve the benefits that microbreaks can bring.


Cues for Taking a Microbreak

  1. Mental Fatigue: Is it hard to concentrate? Are you making more mistakes? Then your brain needs a rest.
  2. Physical Discomfort: Do you have eye strain, headaches, back pain, or general restlessness? Then, you need a break.
  3. Emotional Changes: Do you feel irritable, stressed, or overwhelmed? Take a 5- or 10-minute break.
  4. Diminished Productivity: Do easy tasks feel difficult or take too long? Then, it’s time for a break.
  5. Clock Watching: Are you frequently checking the clock? It’s probably time to take a refresher break.


Optimal Work-Break Schedules

  • Pomodoro Technique: One popular method is the Pomodoro Technique. It suggests 25 minutes of focused work followed by a 5-minute break. Tom Hanks used this method when he wrote his first novel. I use it when I write blog articles.
  • 52/17 Rule: Many productive people work for 52 minutes and then take a 17-minute break. Try it to see how it works for you.
  • Customize Your Schedule: Listen to your body and mind. Maybe you need more frequent breaks. Or maybe you can work for 90 minutes and then break for 20. Customize your work-break schedule to fit your personal productivity rhythms.
  • Use an App to Schedule Your Breaks: Time Out and Stretchly are good for scheduling breaks. Give them a try.

The key to an optimal work-break schedule is consistency and adaptability.

Regular breaks can help you prevent burnout, stay on task with fewer distractions and get more done. Remember, it is okay to adjust your schedule if your energy is better or worse on a given day.


Microbreaks - 2 women on a walk



Challenges and Solutions

Watch out for things that get in the way of taking your breaks. When your workload is high, you might feel that you should just burn through until it is all done. Be careful with this feeling. It is still probably better to pace yourself.

Take your break every 25 minutes. Then, you can refresh and keep going with better energy and fewer errors. In the long run you will get more done, and done better, if you take your scheduled breaks.

Some managers or coworkers don’t understand the benefits of microbreaks. Show them the books in the Source section. Hopefully, they will change their mind after they see the evidence. The books explain that microbreaks help with productivity, accuracy, and creativity.

Do you forget to take your breaks? This can happen if you get caught up in your work. You might be afraid that you will lose something if you take a break. If that happens – at least stand and stretch a few times. Get the kinks out of your back.

Look out a window to relax your eyes. Rub your hands on your thighs to get the blood flowing a bit. A microbreak like this won’t cost you anything and will still help your brain to refresh.


A Personal Note

I take microbreaks when I have mental work to do. This applies to things like writing blog articles, planning professional development training for my therapists, and practicing classical guitar.

I use the Pomodoro Technique: work for 25 minutes, then take a 5-minute break. I also take a nap every day after lunch. Check here to learn more about Power Naps. I try to do my most demanding mental work in the first four hours of the day. My brain works best in the mornings.

What about you? Are you a morning person or an evening person? Learn your rhythm so you can make the best use of your energy cycles during the day. I hope that microbreaks can help you to meet your goals and give you the confidence to pursue them.



It is important to me that I give you practical and trustworthy information. That is why I personally selected and reviewed all the sources for this article. My advice is also based on my experience with microbreaks and decades of experience helping therapists and clients learn about the benefits of taking breaks. We track progress at The Mindfulness Clinic, so I know these techniques can help.

  • Loehr, Jim, and Tony Schwartz. The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal.Free Press, 2003.
  • Mednick, Sara C., & Ehrman, Mark. Take a Nap! Change your life. Workman Publishing. 2006
  • Mednick, Sara C. The Power of the Downstate: Recharge your life using your body’s own restorative systems. Hachette Books, 2022.
  • Pink, Daniel H. When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. Riverhead Books, 2018.
  • Rossi, Ernest. The 20-Minute Break: Using the New Science of Ultradian Rhythms. Tarcher, 1991.
  • Soojung-Kim Pang, Alex. Rest: Why you get more done when you work less. Basic Books, 2016.