How To Master the Mental Break During The Workday

While it’s true that these days it’s difficult to unplug from work, I would argue that it’s equally as difficult to unplug from distractions. Oftentimes when I have good intentions to get down to business and do something (like write this article), I “treat” myself to breaks and end up in the deep, dark hole of the internet.

Clearly, there is a happy medium here, and I may not being doing it right. It made me wonder, what do effective mental breaks look like in 2017? Is it taking a five-minute Facebook break? Or is it stepping away from the screen entirely?

mental break

After some poking around, I found some helpful tips on how to make the most out of break time and reinvigorate motivation. While everyone is different, here’s some suggestions for how to best take a break in our “always-on” society.

Mix up lunch time

I usually eat at or around 12 pm. By this point in my career, my body is very in-tune with my schedule. By 11:30, my body starts to warn me that it’s ready for some nourishment (usually displayed through embarrassing growls). By 11:45, I’m looking at the clock and starting to seriously disrupt whatever work I’m doing.

So what should you do instead? Mix up your lunch hour. Sure, it’s great to have a schedule, but if you prioritize your day by to-do lists and tasks instead of setting off blocks of time to follow a regimented schedule, you’ll get much more done. Start your morning by setting a realistic goal to hit before lunch time, and reward yourself with a break at lunch once that goal is accomplished, whether that’s at 11:30 am or 1 pm.

Regardless of when you have lunch, you should do your best to take an actual lunch break. Studies show that working through lunch actually hurts productivity.

If you have to have a #saddesklunch, find another time to take your “lunch break”

Hey, it happens. Sometimes deadlines creep up or something needs to get done ASAP and you find yourself working through lunch at your desk. Just because “lunch” is over doesn’t mean you can’t still take your lunch break when you have a moment to catch your breath.

Try going for a short walk (outside, preferably, but inside works too) or sneak in a mid-day workout once your schedule frees up.


I kid myself by pretending that checking Facebook is a “mental break”. Sure, it can be entertaining, but generally, Facebook is distracting more than it is a true break. This year, I’ve been trying to unplug more often and take time (even if it’s five minutes) to be a little more mindful.

And if you don’t want to unplug, there’s an app for that, of course. There are plenty of ways to add meditation into your daily routine.

Take advantage of “surprise” breaks

Am I the only one who feels personally victimized by their PC? I swear, Windows hates me and strategically plans to force restart my computer when I’m in the middle of finishing something important. However, these “unplanned” breaks often cause workers to be more productive. Unexpected breaks have been shown to improve accuracy and productivity by 15% to 20% over planned breaks (like the aforementioned lunch break at 12 pm every day). So the next time your computer freezes or a meeting gets canceled, try to take advantage instead of getting annoyed.

Make it social

If you can, try to utilize the buddy system during break time. Social ties in the workplace can boost productivity, and also help give you a sense of belonging and purpose. Here at aSweatLife, we’re big believers in the motto that #EverythingIsBetterWithFriends – whether that’s at the gym or in the office. Next time you need a mental break, take the opportunity to see if anyone else in the office does too.


In an age of a million distractions and 24/7 access to work, it’s important to work harder, not smarter, which also means taking breaks seriously and making them a priority. In addition to these ideas for mental breaks, you can find other resources for stress relief and mindfulness here.

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About Cass Gunderson

Cass hails from the southwest suburbs as a proud White Sox fan and a graduate of University of Illinois. By day, Cass is a full-time student at the University of Chicago's Booth Graduate Business School. Before deciding to throw away all her money to go back to school, Cass worked for a private equity firm that buys technology companies. Raised as the youngest in a family of older brothers, Cass grew up a tomboy and remains active in sports. To her mother’s satisfaction, Cass learned how to embrace her feminine side in college and has developed an interest for fitness activities that require spandex as opposed to knee-length basketball shorts. In her spare time, she runs a lot because it is cheaper than paying for real therapy. Cass has completed four marathons and one ultramarathon (she claims she'll never do this to herself again, but that's TBD). She can still be found on the basketball courts in Lincoln Park wearing knee-length basketball shorts.