Do you have a break list? I’m thinking maybe this is one list missing from the many lists you HAVE created. Let’s look at what a break list actually is and why it ought to be an essential part of your healthy living toolkit.

You probably have a to-do list. Now it’s time to create a “break list.”

After it’s created, give it attention, and treat it with equal respect with all the many other lists you use. Each day, alongside your list of tasks to complete, meetings to attend, and pending deadlines, make a list of the breaks you’re going to take.

How many per day, you ask?

Start by trying three breaks per day.

List when you’re going to take those breaks.

Make note of how long your breaks will last.

Choose what you’re going to do in each break you take.

If you need reminders, put the breaks into your phone or computer calendar and let those pings keep you on track.

Remember: What gets scheduled gets done.

It’s fun to create a menu for yourself of the different break options. For instance there are restorative breaks.


Breaks are effective in both combatting the trough of energy slumps and boosting your mood and performance.

You’ve even got a break list ready to go. But what sort of break should you take? There’s no right answer. Just choose one from the following menu or combine a few. See how they work for you and then design the breaks that work best.

Micro-breaks: A replenishing break need not be lengthy. Even breaks that last a minute or less work well. Researchers call these “micro-breaks”. Don’t underestimate them because they can pay dividends.

Consider these:

1. The 20-20-20 rule

Before you begin a task, set a timer. Then, every twenty minutes, look at something twenty feet away for twenty seconds. If you’re working at a computer, this micro-break will rest your eyes and improve your posture, both of which can fight fatigue.

2. Hydration

You probably already have a water bottle by your side. Get a much smaller one. When the smaller one is empty, walk to wherever your water source is and refill it. Three benefits to this micro-break: hydration, motion, and restoration.

3. Movement

Wiggle your body to reset your mind. This is one of the simplest breaks of all. Stand up for sixty seconds, shake your arms and legs, flex your muscles, rotate your core, sit back down.

Moving breaks are an excellent choice. Most of us sit too much and move too little. Build more movement into your breaks.

Some options for movement breaks:


Take a five-minute walk every hour. Five-minute walk breaks are powerful. They’re feasible for most people. And they’re especially useful during your energy and trough slumps.


You can do Yoga poses right at your desk, whether at home or in an office.

Using a chair you can do rolls, wrist releases, forward folds for relieving tension in your neck and lower back, limber up your typing fingers, and relax your shoulders. This may not be for everyone, but anyone can give it a try. Just stick “office Yoga” or “chair Yoga” into a search engine.


Can’t NOT put this on this list of options! Start with two a day for a week. Then four a day for the next week and six a day a week after that. You’ll boost your heart rate, shake off cognitive cobwebs, and maybe get a little stronger.

Nature breaks

Study after study points to the replenishing effects of nature. And people consistently underestimate how much better nature makes them feel.

Walk outside. If you’ve got a few minutes and are near a local park, take a stroll through it. If you work at home and have a dog, take the lucky pup for a walk.

Go outside! If you’re at work and there are trees or a bench nearby, sit there instead of inside.

Pretend you’re outside. Maybe the best you can do is look at some indoor plants or the trees outside your window. Research suggests that will help, too.

Social breaks

Don’t go it alone. At least not always. Social breaks are effective, especially when you decide the who and how.

A few ideas:

1. Reach out

Call someone you haven’t talked to for a while and just catch up for five or ten minutes. Reawakening these “dormant ties” is also a great way to strengthen your network.

Use the moment to say thank you via a note, an e-mail, or a quick visit to someone who’s helped you.

Gratitude, with its mighty combination of meaning and social connection, is a mighty restorative.

2. Schedule it

Plan a regular walk or visit to a cafe or weekly catch-up session with colleagues you like. A benefit of social breaks is that you’re more likely to take one if someone else is counting on you. Or go Swedish and try what Swedes call a fika. This is a full-fledged coffee break that is the supposed key to Sweden’s high levels of employee satisfaction and productivity.

3. Don’t schedule it

If your schedule is too tight for something regular, buy someone a coffee one day this week. Bring it to them. Sit and talk about something other than work for five minutes.

Mental gear-shifting breaks

Our brains suffer fatigue just as much as our bodies do. That’s a big factor when you’re in an energy slump.

Give your brain a break by trying these:

1. Meditate

Meditation is one of the most effective breaks (or micro-breaks) of all. Check out material from UCLA (, which offers guided meditations as short as three minutes.

2. Controlled breathing

Have forty-five seconds? Then do this: Take a deep breath, expanding your belly. Pause. Exhale slowly to the count of five. Repeat four times.

It’s called controlled breathing, and it can tamp down your stress hormones, sharpen your thinking, and maybe even boost your immune system and all in under a minute.

3. Lighten up

Listen to a comedy podcast. Read a joke book. If you can find a little privacy, put on your headphones and jam out for a song or two. There’s even evidence from one study on the replenishing effects of watching dog videos.


Sometimes it’s not possible to pull completely away from an important task or project to take a restorative break. When you need to plow forward and get a job done even if you’re in the trough, that’s when it’s time for a break that combines a time-out with a checklist.

Here’s how to plan it:

If you have a task or project that will need your continued attention and focus, find a place in the middle of that task to schedule a time-out. Then take a look at your break checklist and choose which one you’ll use. Plan for that time-out by creating a break checklist and then scheduling the time out. Having breaks in your schedule will make them more difficult to ignore!


Anders Ericsson is “the world expert on world experts. He’s a psychologist who studies extraordinary performers. Ericsson found that elite performers have something in common: They’re really good at taking breaks.

In Ericsson’s research, one factor that distinguished the best from the rest is that they took complete breaks during the afternoon (many even napped as part of their routine), whereas non-experts were less rigorous about pauses. We might think that superstars power straight through the day for hours on end. In fact, they practice with intense focus for forty-five to ninety-minute bursts, then take meaningful restorative breaks.

You can do the same. Pause like a pro and you might become one.

Let’s turn our attention to napping. Napping is a powerful break choice that will get you through the trough. You’d think we all already know how to take a nap. That’s not the case though, so I want to make sure you have the best and most current information on napping.

Here’s the latest science-based way to take a nap.


Here are the secrets of a perfect nap. Just follow these five steps:

Find your afternoon trough time. The Mayo Clinic says that the best time for a nap is between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. But if you want to be more precise, take a week to chart your afternoon mood and energy levels. You’ll likely see a consistent block of time when things begin to get off track. For many people this is about seven hours after waking. This is your optimal nap time.

Create a peaceful environment. Turn off your phone notifications. If you’ve got a door, close it. If you’ve got a couch, use it. To insulate yourself from sound and light, try earplugs or headphones and an eye mask.

Down a cup of coffee. Seriously. The most efficient nap is the nappuccino. The caffeine won’t fully engage in your bloodstream for about twenty-five minutes. Drink up right before you lie down. If you’re not a coffee drinker, search online for an alternative drink that provides about two hundred milligrams of caffeine. (If you avoid caffeine, skip this step)

Here’s what to do next!

Set a timer on your phone for twenty-five minutes. If you nap for more than about a half hour, sleep inertia takes over and you need extra time to recover. If you nap for less than five minutes, you don’t get much benefit.

Naps between ten and twenty minutes measurably boost alertness and mental function, and don’t leave you feeling even sleepier than you were before. Since it takes most people about seven minutes to nod off, the twenty-five-minute countdown clock is ideal.

And, of course, when you wake up, the caffeine is beginning to kick in.

Repeat consistently. There’s some evidence that habitual nappers get more from their naps than infrequent nappers.

If you have the flexibility to take a regular afternoon nap, consider making it a common ritual. If you don’t have the flexibility, then pick days when your energy and focus are really dipping, when you haven’t gotten enough sleep the night before, or the stress and demands of the day are weightier than usual. You’ll feel a difference.

Hope this information on the power of taking breaks, as well as the power of napping, helps you think through and plan for those times during your day when your energy slumps. We all have energy slumps and we all can become much better at getting through them and coming out the other side refreshed and ready to take on the day!

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