Career Development

Taking Breaks From Remote Work During COVID-19

May 21, 2020

Many people who normally work in an office setting surrounded by colleagues are now working remotely because of social distancing. These guidelines were set by the Centers for Disease Control, or CDC, to slow the spread of COVID-19. Working from home has many advantages, particularly for slowing virus transmission during a pandemic.

To make the most of this time working remotely, however, it's important to balance work time and break time effectively. In this article, we discuss why taking breaks when working from home is important, as well as how and when to take breaks throughout the day.

Related: COVID-19 and Your Job: Tips and Actions to Consider

Reasons to take breaks when working remotely

Taking breaks while working remotely is essential to productivity. Breaking up the remote workday, particularly during the outbreak, can improve your health and quality of work. Here are some of the benefits of taking breaks while working remotely:

  • Energy boost: Breaks, particularly those that engage the body or mind in an activity unrelated to your work, can provide you with higher energy levels.
  • Increased motivation: After a break, you might feel more motivated to continue working on your assignments.
  • Improved problem-solving: After stepping away from a work-related challenge and resting, it may be easier to find a solution to any issues you're facing.
  • Renewed focus: It's easier to focus on a task when it's new. Stepping away renews your work ethic and allows you to approach your work with a refreshed mindset.
  • Healthier mind and body: You can use breaks to exercise or rest, both of which improve your mental and physical well-being.
  • Improved sleep: Taking productive breaks from work throughout the day to eat well and exercise can improve your sleep at night, which helps you work better during the day.
  • Better productivity: Productivity tends to improve when you take short breaks. Rather than losing focus during a long stretch of work, you'll be more productive with scheduled breaks.
  • Increased work-life balance: With increased productivity and beneficial breaks, you'll feel better when you log off for the day and shift your focus to your personal life.
  • Higher alertness: Maintain alertness throughout the day by breaking up computer screen time with breaks.
  • More creativity: After a break, especially one in which you pursue a creative endeavor, you may find your work-related innovation has improved.
  • Improved memory: Breaks give your brain time to process new information, so you might find you have better recall when you take work breaks.

Related: 5 Time Management Strategies to Fine-Tune Your Focus

When to take a break from work

Consider taking breaks and logging off from your computer at these points in the day:

  • When you need to focus
  • When your eyes are tired
  • When you've met your daily quota
  • When the news cycle distracts you
  • When your kids need interaction
  • When it's mealtime
  • When it's beautiful outside

When you need to focus

If you need to focus on a project, logging off from your work chats and closing your email can be a good way to gather your thoughts. When you're in an office setting, it's easy to close your door, put on headphones or indicate to your coworkers in some other way that you're busy. Online, however, colleagues can message you at any time, which might disrupt your workflow. Logging off gives you the privacy to focus completely.

When your eyes are tired

If your eyes start to feel dry and tired, take a break from staring at your computer screen. Screen-free breaks can help you refocus mentally and allow you to rest your eyes. Consider a walk around the block, calling a friend for a quick check-in conversation, taking a nap or having a meal or snack.

When you've met your daily quota

It's easy for some remote workers to continue to check their email, work chats or add notes to projects once they've met their production quota for the day. This is especially true during COVID-19 when people are spending more time at home. Turn your computer off when you're done for the day so you can focus on rejuvenating your mind and taking part in family activities or other hobbies.

When the news cycle distracts you

News updates on the COVID-19 pandemic are constantly on TV channels, websites, social media and cell phones. If you find yourself distracted by a news update, take a short break to read the latest and then refocus on your work. If the news is consistently distracting you, consider silencing alerts on your phone, closing any tabs on your computer that are not related to work and turning off the TV while you work.

When your kids need interaction

If your kids are home from school or daycare while you're working remotely, take breaks when your child needs you. Dedicate some time to playing with them, answering questions or having a conversation with no distractions. Balancing remote work and full-time childcare is new to many people, so give yourself some grace as you and your family learn how to balance work and family in the house.

Related: A Parent's Guide to Working From Home With Kids

When it's mealtime

If possible, eat your meals away from your workstation. Take the time to rest your eyes, eat with your family, or catch up with a friend or family member over the phone or video chat. It can be easy to eat at your desk and continue working, but mealtimes are a great time for everyone to reconnect and take a break together from your individual pursuits.

When it's beautiful outside

Fresh air and sunshine can improve your mood, renew your focus and give you an energy boost. If you find yourself staring out the window, take a break for some outdoor time. Take a chair outside and rest in the fresh air or take a walk around the block.

Break activity examples

Remote workers, particularly those new to remote work because of COVID-19, should plan to take breaks during their workday. Pandemic social distancing measures might mean that you have children out of school or daycare and a partner or roommate also trying to work from home. Breaks can help you balance all these elements.

Breaks should have a focus to help you make the most of your time. Some examples of good breaks are:

  • Breaks that are different from your work: For example, if you're an accountant working with numbers on a computer for work, consider reading a paperback, cooking a meal or taking a walk around the block for a break.
  • Breaks that entertain you**:** Because so many events have been canceled due to COVID-19, many artists are providing content for free online. For example, if you're a dancer, search your favorite company or dancer on social media to see if they're providing any live classes. Many local fitness studios are doing the same.
  • Breaks s**cheduled in advance**: If possible, plan ahead of time for regular breaks throughout your workday. If you have kids at home, consider the best times for you to work and for you to interact with them during the day. Stick to your schedule as best you can to maintain your productivity and meet your family's needs.
  • Break a**ctivities that are purposeful and enriching:** Make the most out of your break time by choosing an activity that benefits you, whether in your personal life or career. Consider what type of break you need, and choose how to spend your time accordingly.

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