Be more productive in 2017 (Day 2: Plan mindful breaks)

img_2165This week, I am sharing 5 small habits that can boost productivity in 2017. Today's habit is to start taking better breaks. More specifically, plan in your breaks so you can manage your energy, and get more done.

People, like machines that need scheduled maintenance, cannot function perpetually. Unlike machines, though, people often fool themselves into thinking they can. You know the drill: you work through lunch, but around 2:30 p.m. you find yourself falling into an internet rabbit hole. A social media alert on the phone leads to checking headlines, which leads to clicking on an ad for a sale on boots at Nordstrom's and hey! What am I doing?? Thirty minutes or more can pass. You're not working, but you're not relaxing either.

Better to monitor your energy through the day and pro-actively plan in real breaks where you know you'll need them. If you work in an office setting (i.e. you're not running around to clients or on trains/airplanes during the day), you might take a short break in late morning, a lunch break, and then do something active around 2:30/3 p.m. These breaks don't actually have to be not-work, per se. They just have to be things that get you away from your primary mode of work and add to your energy levels. So the lunch break could mean grabbing a bite with someone you're mentoring. The 3:00 break could be a walking meeting with a direct report.

If you work at home, you have more options. Some to consider: lunch with any other family members who are around, switching locations (e.g. traveling to a coffee shop), or doing a workout. I often run in mid-afternoon, especially during winter, as it's light and the time of day that's most likely to be warm(er). Since I have no colleagues sitting next to me, any subsequent smelliness/bad hair is no real matter (unless I have video calls scheduled later -- but if so, I can schedule in 5 minutes to primp).

Of course, not all schedules lend themselves to regular breaks at regular times. Still, you can decide to make general rules for yourself that will build in some down time. If a client or patient cancels, you can aim to use 5-10 minutes of that found time to catch your breath. You can decide to use the first 20 minutes of a plane flight to read a book before getting back to work. You can study conference schedules ahead of time and see which time slots feature zero panels of any interest, and plan to meet up with a far-flung colleague for a walk or coffee during that time.

Years ago, when I spent a summer working in a fast food restaurant, our breaks were tightly monitored by our manager. An 8-hour shift meant one 30-minute "lunch" (which might not happen anytime near lunch, and probably wouldn't, because restaurants are busy at lunch), and two 15-minute smoke breaks (smoking not required, but that was the idea). While there was little redeeming about that job, that break schedule was a pretty solid one — one worth considering even if you're not punching on and off the clock.

9780143109723-mIn other news: The paperback version of I Know How She Does It (with a new cover and afterward) is on sale today! You can order a copy here (has links to major retailers). This book, based on a time diary study of 1001 days in the lives of professional women and their families, argues that it is possible to have it all — you just need the right strategies. Thanks so much for reading!

Also: Have you ever wanted to track your time? You can sign up for my 7-Day Time Tracking Challenge, starting January 9. That link lets you register for motivational daily emails during the week.

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7 Responses to Be more productive in 2017 (Day 2: Plan mindful breaks)


  1. Amy Ragland says:

    I’ve started setting my timer for 45 minutes. I have to work at whatever task is at hand until the timer goes off – and then I can walk around, get a snack, chat with coworkers, check Facebook, you get the idea. I have trained my office mates to respect the timer – I’ll be available to chat when it goes off! I am so much more productive if I’m working against a “deadline,” even if the deadline is self-imposed. I work harder knowing I have break time built in!

    • @Amy- timers work well for some people, because you know you can stick with anything for a short amount of time. Eventually 45 minutes will be over. It’s very motivational.

  2. I used to have a big problem with getting lost on the internet/social media. I tried to make this break time more “productive” by focusing on commenting on blogs (instead of just consuming) which is supposed to be helpful for my own blog. However, now I’ve been spending too much of my work time on that as well. It seemed like a good idea . . .

    • @Harmony- ha, I always tell myself it’s networking too. Sometimes it is! Personally and professionally – I’ve met many great people online. On the other hand… yep. Probably wish I could get the time spent sucked into comment wars back.

  3. Megan Gomez says:

    I noticed that many of your suggestions of ways to recharge involve socializing with others. As an introvert, I often find the best way to recharge midday is eating lunch by myself with something good to read. I understand that eating with others is good for building my relationships, I just don’t find it particularly refreshing unless it’s a close friend. Just a thought for the other introverts in the crowd.

    • @Megan – I agree, and it’s good to know yourself. But if you do need to meet with a lot of people during the day, slotting them in to slightly different types of get-togethers can be helpful for breaking things up.

  4. JessB says:

    Oh, I like this a lot! I tend to be pretty casual with the timing of my breaks, and with the content – so long as I eat on my lunch break, I count that as done!
    But I’d love to be more mindful of what I’m getting done, and carve out some time to get away from my desk a little bit – maybe that doesn’t need to happen in my main lunch break, I can take a short lunch, and go for a walk later on when I feel like I’ve hit the wall.
    Love the suggestions, thanks Laura!
    Also, I just reserved your book at my library here in Melbourne, Australia! It’s great the way that your words are reaching around the world.

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