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The benefit of micro breaks (the Mountain of Dread part III)

When was the last time you took a break? I don’t mean a vacation. I mean a 5-20 minute break during your work day? 


During my 5th year of teaching, I learned the true meaning of “burnout”. I spent most of Sunday dreading Monday. The week was a grind. I limped into the weekend with no energy to socialize. 


Have you ever been there? 


Welcome to Part III of the Mountain of Dread blog series. Ready to conquer the final stage of that dreaded task? Here’s a recap of what we’ve learned so far: 


  • The Mountain of Dread is an emotional mountain we must climb when we procrastinate 

  • Step 1: climb the mountain by managing the emotion(s) that cause procrastination 

  • Use the I.A.M. Method

  • Step 2: Start the task by using a tool to build momentum 

  • Body doubling is a powerful technique 


What if body doubling isn’t enough? What if, while descending, you encounter obstacles? 


when we should take a break versus when we do take a break

In this blog post, I teach you how to handle obstacles that arise while descending the Mountain of Dread.


Let’s finish this hike! 


What would a hiker do? 

An experienced hiker expects the trek down the mountain to have difficult sections. They know the uphills are short and much easier than the initial climb. 


Awareness is key. It allows them to manage their energy levels and maintain motivation. The same is true for completing a dreaded task. 


When a hiker faces an incline while descending a mountain, they take a break. They take off their backpack, find a rock to sit on and eat some trail mix. 


What is a micro break? 

Micro breaks are short, intentional breaks taken during a work day or while completing a task. They prevent fatigue while boosting focus and motivation. 


white male with long, dark hair, standing in front of a green background, wearing a black jacket

How often should you take micro breaks? 

Everyone is different. Try out these strategies and determine what is best for you.


Pomodoro Method 

25 minutes of work followed by a 5 minute break. Repeat 4 times. Then, take a longer, 20 minute break. Repeat as many times as needed. Pomofocus.io is no-cost, virtual pomodoro timer that I love!


the pomodoro method

52-17 Rule 

If 25 minutes of work feels too short, try the 52-17 Rule: 52 minutes of work followed by a 17 minute break.


52 minutes of work, 17 minute break


What should you do during a micro break? 

An effective micro break has 3 ingredients:


  1. get up and move away from your workspace

  2. light exercise (outside if possible) 

  3. a reminder that your break is over 


I tested 5 different breaks during my workday to find out what works best. Here’s what I learned:


❌ Scrolling LinkedIn or Instagram didn’t work. 

The micro break flew by and my brain was going 100 mph when I returned to work. No surprise here.


❌ Sending 5 emails didn’t work. 

This required too much executive function. I ended up being more drained than before my break.


❌ Watching YouTube didn’t work. 

I got sucked into a 30 minute surf video and forgot to return to work. Oops!


✅ A short walk worked! 

I learned from my YouTube failure and set a timer on my phone. When I returned, I was able to refocus quickly. 


✅ Skating around my driveway worked!

This was the best one. It was a lot of fun and inspired creative ideas.


Summary 

Micro breaks prevent burnout and help us maintain motivation. The Pomodoro technique or the 52-17 Rule are powerful, evidenced based strategies. Through personal experimentation, I discovered effective breaks have three ingredients: moving away from your workspace, light exercise, and a reminder to return to work. Distractions like social media may hinder focus, making it difficult to refocus. 

 

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About the Author

Eric Kaufmann, M.Ed is a Professional Educational Therapist and Certified Executive Function Coach. He is the Co-founder of UpSkill Specialists, an online adult executive function coaching company designed to guide adults in overcoming disorganization, procrastination, and productivity roadblocks so they can unlock their potential. Eric is also the founder of Elevate Learning Solutions, an Educational Therapy practice located in San Clemente, CA, that guides students with neurological differences toward becoming independent and confident students and self-leaders.

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Upskill Specialists was founded when two former special education teachers turned executive function coaches decided that adults need tools and coaching to improve their workplace skills and feel confident and empowered. Our mission is to ensure every adult with EF challenges has access to high-quality coaching services. 

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