Frequent breaks help recharge our batteries at work, and while screen-free respites are usually best, sometimes you just can’t get away from your devices–and sometimes you just don’t want to. But the good news is that tech-based or -enhanced breaks can give you some of the same benefits as the offscreen variety, if you are able to include some combination of physical movement, social interaction, and brain stimulation. Whether you’re facing back-to-back video calls or just a non-stop flurry of email, work can leave you in a screen haze unless you make a point of taking periodic, regenerative breaks.
Here are some examples of tech-based breaks that meet these criteria. Consider these alongside your yoga sessions and coffee runs for breaks that put the time between meetings to good use, so that you actually feel refreshed and restored when the next one begins:
- Get an on-screen workout. Combine gaming with movement and you have a double-duty stress buster. So take a few minutes to play a physically active game like Wii Sports, or if you prefer to get outside, chasing down a new Pokémon in the mobile game Pokémon Go.
- Sing out, Louise! Physical activity doesn’t necessarily mean a workout. A growing range of studies have investigated the physiological mechanisms that make music such a powerful stress reducer, as well as the particular benefits of group singing when it comes to creating a sense of wellbeing and “social flow.”
- Take a story break. Fire up your favorite audiobook app and pick up your knitting, do the dishes, or go for a quick stroll—all while listening to a short story or novel. No, don’t try to pack in a little more work time by listening to a business book: The whole point of this break is to combat the emotional disconnection that can set in when you’re working remotely.
- Take a conversation break. It’s not an accident that audio-only social networks like Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces have taken off at a moment when we’re cut off from the casual chit-chat of the office. Dropping in on an audio social network can give you little bit of that spontaneity: Whether you listen into a panel conversation that inspires you with fresh ideas, or jump into a smaller room for a little bit of chit-chat, an infusion of other humans can leave you re-energized, and may even give you a new angle on a project or problem.
- Beat the clutter. Research has shown that household clutter can make people depressed and overwhelmed—and if you’re working from home, you don’t get a daily 8-hour break from its impact. So pick a small decluttering project somewhere in your home, like that messy drawer in your kitchen or the pile of papers on your desk, and take ten minutes to whip it into shape.
- Tune up your brain. A 2014 study of cognitive activities that can mitigate the risk of Alzheimer’s suggested that any kind of cognitive play — cards, crosswords, checkers — is associated with better cognitive performance. Try Jeopardy, Memory Match or Song Quiz while you stretch, walk or tidy up.
There’s no rule saying you have to include your gadget in the breaks you take as a remote worker. But in those moments when stepping away is difficult — or if (like me) you really don’t want to necessarily switch off and unplug — don’t let that stop you from recharging your body and brain throughout the workday, just as diligently as you recharge your gadgets.
Samuel, E. (2021, March). Taking a Break Doesn’t Always Mean Unplugging. Harvard Business Review.