The Fine Art of Laziness: How taking breaks makes you more productive

In this blog, learn the craft of strategic laziness to get more out of doing less.

Get more out of doing less

Whether it’s by excelling at your job, juggling multiple hobbies, or hitting your PR at the gym, we are constantly encouraged and rewarded for productivity. It seems like this busyness, both in and out of the workplace, is the mark of an ambitious person.

So how the heck can we keep this up?

The trick is laziness, which means taking breaks throughout the day to keep your brain tip-top. This in turn, makes you overall more productive. Today, we’ll dive headfirst into the topic of breaks and productivity and share:

  • The relationship between being lazy and productivity
  • The importance of breaks and the science behind it
  • The different types of breaks and three tips on how to make your breaks count
  • Some time management techniques (hello pomodoro method!)

Let’s get straight into it!

Why laziness equals productivity

To say that laziness equals productivity might seem like a total paradox. But if you allocate certain times of the day specifically for the purpose of laziness, like in the form of either long or short breaks, both your health and work will profit.

An interesting way to think of it is like a classic HIIT workout, or high intensity interval training. Runners, for example, improve their endurance by combining short bursts of intense exercise with periods of rest or lower intensity exercise. But without these breaks, they of course wouldn't be able to manage the sprints with full intensity.

The same works for your brain. You have to periodically charge your mental battery in order to manage the high-productivity ‘sprints.’

Build these two types of breaks into your working schedule for utmost productivity:

1. Microbreaks

A microbreak is any short break you take during the day, like standing up to stretch, making another cup of coffee, chatting with a coworker, etc.

You might be thinking, okay that sounds more like a distraction than a break. But there’s a psychological phenomenon called Troxler Fading, which states that continental attention to a stationary object can cause it to disappear from your sight. (You’ve probably seen these optical illusions online, where you stare at a central dot and after a few seconds, all other background imagery, colors, or shapes fade away). And research finds this same thing can happen when we focus too much on a single task.

When you take microbreaks, you impose a small interruption in focus which keeps your mind sharp and alert. Just a few microbreaks throughout your day and have such a powerful impact on your productivity!

Here are some activities you can do during your micro break:

  • Meditate, take a breather
  • Stretch
  • Take a stroll around the office
  • Get some fresh air
  • Refill your water bottle
  • Make a cup of coffee or tea
  • Chat with a coworker
  • Text your mom back
  • Doodle
  • Freshen up in the restroom
  • Grab a snack

2. Long Breaks

Long breaks are just what they sound like, a long break. The duration depends on the person, but between 30 minutes and an hour is the typical length of time. This is your opportunity to completely disconnect from all your work obligations and relax.

Need some lunch break ideas?

  • Fuel your mind with healthy food
  • Go on a lunch date
  • Take a walk and get outside
  • Hit the gym or do a home workout
  • Listen to a podcast
  • Run errands
  • Get creative with an art project
  • Take a nap

An important thing to remember is what you do during a break can have just as much of an impact as taking the break. And that’s where laziness comes into play.

In order to get the most out of your breaks, you have to completely and totally commit to being lazy. That means not accepting work calls, checking your Slack, responding to emails, etc. Allow yourself the time to do something to get your mind off your obligations. Your productivity levels will thank you!

Benefits of taking a break

In addition to increasing your productivity, breaks have some other advantages too, like preventing fatigue, decreasing stress levels, and improving health.

  • Less stress -  a relaxing break can return your mental function systems to their baseline, helping to reset your mood and reducing stress. Recovering from stress restores your energy, alertness, and motivation.

  • Better health - researchers claim that people who take breaks to do something they enjoyed reported fewer health symptoms, such as headaches, eye strain, and lower back aches.

How to take breaks without losing your stride

Here are some quick tips to keep in mind during your next break!

1. Resist the urge to pursue the internet

We’ve all done it, gone down an internet rabbit hole. Watch a quick YouTube video about cats and suddenly you’ve watched hours of content ranging from cranberry farming to how to install a greywater system in your house. If you really want to take advantage of your breaks and stay productive throughout the workday, try and limit your screen time in general. You could even substitute a tv-show with a podcast or a new Spotify playlist.

2. Quality over quantity: Take lazy breaks to the extreme

Just because you’re taking a break doesn't mean you’re actually taking a break. If you can’t manage microbreaks throughout the day, make sure your long breaks are of utmost quality. Be super lazy and take a midday nap, play a game, or workout. And don’t let any emails or work related assignments take it from you! The point is to find a way to relax and decompress from your work before you have to get back into it.

3. Make taking breaks a priority

Sometimes life gets in the way of our breaks, it’s inevitable. But there are ways to try and prevent that from happening, like scheduling your breaks, making them public, and actually taking them! If that means blocking off a time in your calendar or changing your status to ‘unavailable,’ then do it!

Many workers feel guilty for taking breaks at work because they are worried that their boss might see them in a negative light. But you are entitled to a breather. And in the end, your break benefits everyone.

Balancing breaks and productivity

After you’ve accepted that breaks are essential to productivity, you might wonder how you can best incorporate them into your work schedule. There are many different methods out there, here are some of the most popular ones!

🍅 The Pomodoro technique

This method has a funny background story: while in college, Francesco Cirillo was having a difficult time staying focused when studying for exams. So he set a 10 minute timer for intense study time. He actually used a tomato timer (pomodoro is tomato in Italian!) and found the technique extremely effective. He later went on to write a book about his experience and the method was born! Here’s how it works:

Step 1: Choose a task

Step 2: Set timer for 25 minutes

Step 3: Work until the timer goes off

Step 4: Take a 5 minute break

After every 4 timer resets, take a 15-30 break

⏲️ The 52-17 Method

So this strategy is pretty self explanatory, for every 52 minutes of work take a 17 minute break. Sounds like a pretty random time ratio, right? A productivity tracking software called DeskTime collected the daily computer-using behavior of 5.5 million users to find the highest usage ratio of ‘productive’ applications in various lines of work. They calculated an average time of productivity and that’s where the seemingly random numbers came

Step 1: Set a timer for 52 minutes

Step 2: Work until the timer runs out

Step 3: Take a 17 minute break

If you like to work in longer chunks, or have a project that requires more time to get into the flow, this 57-17 method might work best for you!

⏰ Three 90 minute blocks

Say you have a project deadline and you need more productive time than you actually have, then this technique might work for you. The idea is that you schedule three 90-minute blocks of time throughout your day (a total of 4.5 hours) to get your most important work done. That means setting your slack status to unavailable and really concentrating on the task in front of you.

If you work an 8 hour day, that still gives you 3.5 to arrange other meetings, take breaks, and get other things done. Although it requires a lot of planning, this is a perfect way to quickly and effectively complete a task while still prioritizing your mental and physical health.

Step 1: Schedule your 90 minute blocks and create a timer

Step 2: Work during the allocated time slots

Step 3: Take a break

As you’ve read, there are many methods (and even more!) on how to divide your time and schedule breaks to increase productivity. But of course everyone is different, so try these out for yourself and make any alterations you need to make it work best for you!

Go be lazy

We hope this blog helps you take advantage of all your well-deserved breaks. If you're interested in learning more about productivity, go ahead and check out our other blogs on the Inside Scoop!

🍦 Related topics you may be interested in:

1. Scope of work 101: Definition, Examples, and Template

2. Everything you need to know about milestone planning