As a business owner, you face unrelenting demands throughout your day. It's a constant balancing act between managing your business, connecting with clients, and driving growth year after year. The struggle to juggle work and well-being is real, but there's a simple solution that should never be underestimated: taking breaks.
Strategic, regular breaks at work offer a range of benefits, from enhancing focus and creativity to increasing satisfaction in your work. Meanwhile, research suggests prolonged work without breaks can increase stress levels, zap motivation, and decrease overall satisfaction.
Here, we'll dive into why breaks matter and explore six practical ways to make the most of your downtime so you can achieve more without burning out.
Let's get started!
Why taking breaks matters
Balancing work and well-being can be a Herculean task for business owners. The constant demands of your business often leave you with little time for personal life, relaxation, or even basic self-care.
This imbalance can have a significant impact on your physical and mental health.
In fact, according to a study by Silver Lining and the Wells Fargo Foundation, as reported by Forbes, 46% of small and medium business owners admit that stress and mental health issues are affecting the success of their businesses. It's not that business owners are afraid of hard work; in fact, 70% of them are willing to put in long hours. However, they also recognize that their mental health struggles are not only affecting themselves but also their loved ones.
It's so important to remember that taking care of yourself is just as important as managing your business. It's easy to get caught up in the hustle of the day, but if you don't take time to look after yourself, it can have a major impact on your work.
Taking breaks is the answer. Short, well-placed breaks can work wonders in helping you reset and regain focus. It's not just about personal well-being, but it's also a smart business strategy. Entrepreneurs who prioritize mindful breaks actually experience a boost in productivity, a surge in creativity, and an overall improvement in well-being.
Tech entrepreneur Olympia LaRose tells CBNation, a blog for and about CEOs, that taking breaks “is equally important as drinking water” or taking multivitamins. “It includes the protection of my greatest asset—my time,” adds LaRose.
There's no trophy for overworking yourself, burning out, and neglecting your mental health. Instead, the real rewards come from taking effective breaks, whether they're short bursts or longer intervals. These breaks actually help your venture thrive in the long run.
7 powerful ways to improve your breaks
You’ll enjoy and appreciate your business more if it isn’t eating into your health, happiness, and time with the people you care about most.
Read on for seven simple ways to take better breaks that you can start implementing today.
1. Try a break technique like the Pomodoro method
The Pomodoro technique is a time management method that boosts productivity and focuses your attention by breaking work into intervals. This technique can enhance work quality and provide the structured breaks you need during hectic days.
The Pomodoro approach involves working for a focused 25 minutes and then taking a five-minute break — that’s one “pomodoro” (Italian for tomato). Every four pomodoros, you then take a longer, more restful break of 15 to 30 minutes.
The core of the Pomodoro method is 25-minute work sprints, but it also includes three rules aimed at helping you optimize each interval:
- Deconstruct complex tasks: For tasks demanding more than four pomodoros, break them down into smaller, more manageable steps. You’ll be surprised how much progress you make on projects when you work on them a little at a time.
- Bundle quick tasks: If you have several smaller tasks that you can accomplish in less than a single pomodoro, group them together. This approach enables you to tackle multiple minor tasks during one focused session.
- Protect the pomodoro: Once you commence a pomodoro, you must avoid interruptions, especially for activities like checking emails or text messages. To maintain focus, jot down brainstorms, tasks, or requests for later review.
If you need help remembering to take focused breaks, consider using a Pomodoro app like Pomodor or Forest.
2. Go outdoors
Set aside your phone, laptop, and other technology, and step into the great outdoors.
Even if it's just a quick walk around your local park, the act of removing yourself from work and taking in a natural environment can provide a much-needed mental reset.
Tammo Walter, co-founder of sports nutrition company Ataq Fuel, endorses the benefits of getting outside and going for a bike ride: “The simple act of going outside and breathing in fresh air can help change your perspective and daily demeanor,” says Walter. “Taking a break from my day-to-day duties by being on my bike gives me a sense of freedom and helps me build my endurance and stamina, which comes in handy when I go back to work.
Board advisor and change leadership consultant Jane Fisher notes that being outdoors in nature offers a respite from daily challenges, creating mental space to ponder ideas, gain clarity, and enhance focus. It provides a fresh perspective, fostering innovative problem-solving, creativity, and strategic thinking with renewed mental energy. Stepping away from the usual environment can even foster stronger bonds among team members, leading to improved collaboration.
3. Eat a protein-based snack
Nutrition plays a key role in managing energy levels. During breaks, opt for protein-based snacks like almonds, Greek yogurt, or hummus and veggies. These snacks provide sustained energy, helping you stay sharp and focused when you return to work.
Incorporating protein-rich snacks into your breaks can help stabilize your blood sugar levels, preventing the energy crashes that often follow carb-heavy snacks. The sustained energy from protein will keep your brain and body in peak condition for the tasks at hand.
Mental Health Connecticut notes that eating protein also contributes to improved brain functioning. In one study involving a group of adults grappling with depression, approximately one-third of participants experienced a remission of symptoms when they began eating a diet rich in produce, fish, and legumes. According to the findings, protein-rich foods enhance neurotransmitter function—essential for emotional and cognitive well-being and sustained energy.
See: The Best Foods To Help Boost Your Productivity As An Entrepreneur
4. Let the mind wander
For many business owners, 'taking a break' often ends up as just a change of scenery while they continue thinking about their tasks.
So when we say take a break from work, we mean it!
Make sure you give yourself a proper break from mentally demanding work, and give your mind the chance to wander. When you let your mind roam, the default mode network (DMN) takes over, giving your prefrontal cortex a well-deserved rest.
This network in your brain becomes active when you're not focused on a specific task. It's responsible for those introspective moments, such as reflecting on the past or future and considering different perspectives. But it's not just for daydreaming! Combined with other brain networks, it plays a vital role in sparking new and creative ideas.
Letting your DMN take charge during your break time could be just what you need to forge new mental connections and trigger the breakthroughs you need.
5. Protect your eyes with the 20-20-20 rule
It's not just our brains that need breaks when we're working hard.
In today's world, computers are essential tools for so many of us in our professional lives. However, working on a computer means that our eyes are constantly moving back and forth as we read, or up and down from keyboard to screen. This continuous focusing and refocusing can strain our eye muscles.
Unlike reading from a book or a piece of paper, computer screens have contrast, flickering, and glare, which can further tire our eyes.
And when we're engrossed in our computer work, we tend to blink less frequently, which can cause our eyes to dry out. This can lead to a range of uncomfortable symptoms, such as blurred vision, eye irritation, and even headaches and back pain. It's what's known as computer vision syndrome.
To combat eye fatigue, try the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break to look at something 20 feet away. This simple practice is a quick and easy way to alleviate digital eye strain and improve overall visual comfort.
Beyond the 20-20-20 routine, there are more simple strategies to safeguard your eyes during your work day:
- Adjust your workspace lighting. Your computer screen should be the brightest element in the room, with surrounding lighting that’s either reduced or turned off completely. By creating an ambient setting, you reduce the contrast between your screen and the surroundings, alleviating strain on your eyes.
- Minimize glare. When one area of your screen is significantly brighter than the rest, your eyes struggle to adapt, leading to increased fatigue. To counter eye strain, you can invest in an anti-glare screen cover, clean your screen routinely, and avoid sitting too close to a window.
- Optimize your workspace for eye comfort. Take a look at your workstation setup. Are you staring down at a laptop screen or craning your neck to view a monitor? Both scenarios lead to eye strain and fatigue. For proper ergonomics, UCLA Ergonomics advises positioning the center of your screen 10 to 20 degrees below your forward gaze.
6. Five-minute workout breaks
With all the demands and distractions of modern entrepreneurial life, if you're looking for excuses not to work out, you'll find plenty. But if you're looking for reasons to get fit, you'll find even more. There are countless benefits to exercising regularly, from improved mental and physical health to increased energy and focus.
One of the most common barriers to exercise and fitness is a lack of time, but if you can carve out as little as five minutes in your day, you can use this as an opportunity to get the blood pumping. At the end of the month, you’ll have racked up 150 minutes (or two and a half hours) of physical activity that you wouldn’t have had otherwise.
7. Take a quick nap
Find a quiet space, set an alarm for 20 minutes, and enjoy a power nap during your breaks. Research suggests that short naps can significantly boost productivity and creativity, improving alertness, memory, and cognitive performance. Even a quick 15-minute snooze can recharge your brain and enhance your problem-solving abilities.
According to research from the Better Sleep Council, catnaps can help sustain and improve cognitive performance. In one study, 87% of respondents who took daytime naps reported feeling refreshed afterward.
Although participants said their workday naps last around 29 minutes, the Better Sleep Council recommends targeting 15 to 20 minutes as a napping goal to avoid feelings of grogginess and disrupted nighttime sleep. As for when to nap, 2 p.m. appears to be the sweet spot that’ll align with your natural circadian rhythm, your body’s internal clock.
Bonus tip: Take micro breaks
By definition, micro-breaks are short—no more than five minutes—and simple ways to break up repetitive work and give you a mental or physical boost for when you return.
Whether it’s walking to the kitchen to make a hot drink or eat a healthy snack, stepping away from your desk to look out a window (which is also a great opportunity to do the 20:20:20 rule!), doing some light stretches to relieve your back and neck muscles, or walking over to a colleague’s desk instead of emailing or Slacking them, these little moments of respite may be all you need to rejuvenate and refresh your mind again.
What's the bottom line?
Breaks are not a luxury, they are a necessity.
As a business owner, it's crucial to make time for regular breaks—not just for your overall well-being, but for your professional productivity, too. Allowing yourself to walk away from your work for short periods of time can help you to stay motivated, focused, and energized.
Breaks can also reduce stress and allow you to come back to your work with fresh ideas, helping you be more creative and productive in the long run.