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Taking breaks to stay productive when working remotely

Take a break showing a desk with a pad of paper, pen, tea cup, saucer with a biscuit, Taking breaks to stay productive when working remotely at the Virtual Gurus.

Nicole Duggan

October 19, 2021

How can taking breaks actually increase productivity?

Studies show that air traffic controllers lose their ability to stay vigilant for critical signals over a prolonged period of time. It’s also been proven that breaks or task switching can re-energize you, keep you focused and spark creativity.

The consequences of continuing to run on high alert, solving everyone else’s emergencies, will inevitably catch up with us. Remember that it’s okay to devote some time to your mental health; shift gears and take short breaks at work to improve your overall wellness.

How can I include breaks in my workday?

The Pomodoro technique is perfect for creating time for deliberate work periods and breaks. Before you attempt the Pomodoro technique check out this article for tips on how to break down your projects into smaller, manageable tasks. Then group like tasks together and give this a try:

  1. Decide on the task to be done.
  2. Set the Pomodoro timer (typically for 25 minutes).
  3. Work on the task.
  4. End work when the timer rings and take a short break (typically 5–10 minutes).
  5. Go back to Step 2 and repeat until you go through three Pomodoros.
  6. After the fourth Pomodoro take a long break (traditionally 20 to 30 minutes). Once the long break is finished, return to step 2.

What can I do for my break?

Mini Breaks

Short interruption or a temporary switch of tasks can improve our ability to focus and give us the energy we need for deep thinking. Here are some ideas for short breaks, at and away from your desk.

  • Do some quick desk exercises or stretches to get your body moving like these ones
  • Watch an inspirational TED talk to get your mind off work like this one
  • Walk around the block and do a mini-photo challenge like this one
  • Can’t leave your desk? No problem, try doodling. Like this book. 

Our level of social interaction needs vary, but not having any social support impacts our mental health. Check out this resource to find out what kind and what level of social support you need. Here are some ideas for breaks that may fulfill your social need:

  • Download an app and learn a new language – join fellow learners in the forums/chats
  • Join an online book club
  • Arrange a virtual lunch with a friend or coworker

If it’s a virtual assistant community you are looking for, join us as a Virtual Gurus VA where you have access to over 300 fellow VAs from varying backgrounds and industries. Learn more here.


Stress is inevitable in our line of work. We deal with competing priorities, the ever-changing world of business with new technologies to learn, and the happiness of our clients is at stake. Taking a moment to destress is essential and if it keeps us productive – bonus! Here are some ideas to try:

  • Try an app for that! There are many free calming and mindfulness apps, like this one
  • Volunteer at a local animal shelter or cat cafe – or take your own fur-friend for a walk
  • Watch an inspiring TED talk that shines a positive light on stress, like this one.

So while it may seem like there is no time for rest, it’s actually essential that we do take regular breaks in order to perform at our best.

Get more strategies for achieving peak productivity in our free ebook, The 5 Fs of Productivity.

Nicole Duggan

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