Find Your Work:Break Ratio

We have all heard that taking breaks at work is crucial for mental health, physical health, productivity, and well-being. I spend a lot of time, like many of you, in front of a computer. Once I'm "in the zone," it's hard for me to look away. I tell myself to take breaks, but no matter what, I usually emerge after 3 hours of screen-staring with some nagging neck and back pain, sore forearms, watery eyes, and a headache. This discomfort then follows me around for the rest of the day, if not for the remainder of the week. So for how long should we work and for how long should we take breaks? And what is a good way to figure out this work:break ratio? 

Many of us hear that ideally, we need to take a break every hour for at least 15-20 minutes. Or to take a break every 20 minutes. That’s a lot of time and a lot of breaks! And it doesn’t work for most of us. Unfortunately, many of us, would rather forgo the break altogether rather than break for a millisecond to, e.g., look up to the ceiling to stretch our eyeballs.

So, it is important to realize that each person is different, so there is no set magical work:break ratio that works for everyone. 

Use the steps below to figure out a work:break ratio what works for you:

  1. Turn a timer on when you first sit down at your desk or begin your activity. 
  2. As you work, try to pay attention to the level of discomfort you are experiencing. At the first hint of pain or discomfort, take a note of how much time has passed on your timer. 
  3. Take the time you have on your timer and shave off 15-20% of it. For example, if you start feeling discomfort at 10 minutes, you need to take a break to change your body position every 7-8 minutes. If you feel pain at 1 hour, take a break every 50 minutes.
  4. Determine how many seconds or minutes you need during your break. Some of us may need or can only afford a couple of seconds, whereas some of us are privileged and can have 15 minutes. Find what works for you in your schedule. Just remember that one millisecond to reach up to the sky is better than nothing at all!

By using this method, I found that a good work:break ratio (in minutes) for me is about 60:2. So I usually will work for 60 minutes and then stop for about 2 minutes to stand up or look outside while doing some seated ankle rolls. Look out for following posts about examples of break time activities!

What is your work:break ratio? What do you like to do for your break?