7 Ways to Take Rest Breaks at Work, Inspired by Bay Area Corporate Retreats

Posted on May 12, 2017

I have a friend who swears by her mid-morning upside down break. Every day at 10am, she gets up from her desk, goes over to the couch, sits, swings her feet up and around so her legs rest against the back of the couch, and lets her head hang upside down past the front edge of the seat. She says she has done it so many times that it’s like coming home, and she immediately lands in a place of calm retreat. Her breathing naturally slows, and no matter what was going on before the break, she can ease into a smile.

My friend is really committed to this daily break time—as brief as it is. She even tries to fit it in during busy weekends as she’s rushing around the Bay Area to drop kids off at swim practice and birthday parties and to tend their community garden. If she absolutely has to schedule a work meeting during the 10 o’clock hour, she’ll reschedule her 7-minute upside down time for a little earlier or later. Regardless of what the inverted relaxation is doing for her, she’s giving herself a gift just by recognizing and standing by her need for time out.

The Broad Benefits of Taking a Break at Work

Work breaks aren’t just about our personal well-being (though, that would be enough); they actually can make us more productive and focused during our work time, and they help us maintain perspective on our goals. When we’ve been staring at the same project for hours, or just the same computer screen, eventually we lose interest and disengage. Disengaged work is not our best work. No matter how in-the-zone we feel, we have only so much capacity for extended concentration. Once we fill that capacity, not only are we more prone to distractions, but we’re also less capable of reining in our scattered condition because, well, the mind has run out of managerial battery power.

There’s no trick here to upgrading our attention capacity and overriding our burnout. Instead, the objective is compassion for our undeniable humanity. We need to get to the point of believing that periodic breaks are actually in the best interest of our work—this is true of those precious 15 minutes here and there throughout the workday, just as it’s true of overnight corporate retreats that help employees decompress, bond with their coworkers, and reconnect with the company’s culture and collective goals.

Rest Breaks at Work Are Like Mini-Retreats from the Corporate Rush

We’ve been hosting retreats for Bay Area corporate businesses, including Google and LinkedIn, for years. And we’ve distilled some of our best retreat activities down into mini retreat opportunities you can dive into on a more regular basis. Yes, we’ve tried all of these ideas out for ourselves and are now setting calendar reminders to help us commit to mini retreats every day. Can you commit to trying out one of these refreshing activities before the end of the day?

  • Breathe: Step away from your desk and breathe intentionally. If you’re focusing on your breathing for a bit, then you’re not focusing on work. Plus, you’re replenishing your brain’s supply of oxygen and ridding your lungs of stale CO2. Sit or stand or lie down—it doesn’t matter where, as long as you’ve retreated from your workspace. Close your eyes and imagine a triangle. As you breathe in, trace your attention along one line. Then, breathe out, tracing along the other two edges of the triangle. Encouraging your exhales to be longer than your inhales has a calming and centering effect. Alternatively, you can check out this simple animated video that guides you to breathe in as the shapes evolve, breathe out as they devolve.
  • Twirl: Step away from your desk and grab the hula hoop hidden in the corner. Spend some time twirling it around your middle, first in one direction, then in the other. You’re getting your heart rate up, you’re engaging your mind in a very different kind of activity, and you’re even loosening up your spinal column and limbs that have been immobile or forced into repetitive movements all day. (Company-wide hula-hoop tournaments at retreats are fantastic.) Extra benefit: a break like this gives you the chance to feel like a kid in the midst of your hectic workday.
  • Puzzle: Step away from your desk and spend some time with a game. If you spend all day interacting within a digital workspace, it can be really refreshing to take your break with a tangible activity. If you have some empty table or even floor space, you can keep an active “gameboard” going for mini breaks throughout the day. Single person card games like Solitaire or Set work really well for this setup, or you could opt for a traditional puzzle that you keep in place and build up day after day.
  • Stretch: Step away from your desk and loosen up your body. This could be as simple as taking a walk—outside or even just around the inside of your building. Get the blood flowing and your breath moving. From head to toe, focus on stretching out different parts of your body, especially those that spend a lot of time or stuck in repetitive movements during the workday.
  • Create: Step away from your desk and do something creative. If you like to draw, keep a sketchpad or working project handy. If you like to write, spend some time just letting your thoughts flow. Singing and dancing count here too. Whatever creative activity will capture your attention and your enjoyment is the one you should take time out for. Chances are good you’ll return to work with that creative energy behind your renewed productivity.
  • Connect: Step away from your desk and call up a friend or family member just for a chat. Of course, their mini retreat from work may not coincide with yours, but you can leave them a message, effectively reaching out with a different part of you than the one that was working hard a moment ago. You could also keep some stamps and stationery around to connect to write to people on your break—and to connect to that old-fashioned style of communication that requires us to slow down.
  • Declutter: Step away from your desk and find something to organize or tidy—perhaps your purse or briefcase. Or perhaps you want to finally break down and organize the big office collection of tea bags, alphabetically. Another great option for your break is to declutter your mind. If you’re already familiar with a meditation practice that works for you, take some time out for that. Otherwise, you can search for some guided meditation recordings online. Here’s a surprisingly challenging exercise that asks you to do absolutely nothing for 2 minutes.

If you haven’t already reached your concentration capacity, you probably noticed a pattern in our mini-retreat list: Each activity requires you to step away from your desk! You can even go sit down somewhere else—just be sure to get some physical distance from the work. Disengage from the doing—trusting that it will be there when you return—and make some space for being. I might find relaxation and enjoyment in a particular kind of mini-retreat, and you might need something very different, but there is an option out there to suit your sensibilities, guaranteed. In the end, the act of committing to that break is just as important as how we spend the break time. More so, because we can’t have the break without that dedicated compassion.

For ideas about how you and your colleagues can step up your commitment to self-care and a healthy capacity for productivity, get in touch with us. At Kennolyn, we make space for diverse objectives for the Bay Area corporate families that retreat to our vast mountain hideaway.

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