Monday, August 12, 2013

15 Tips for When You Need a Break From Work

Hello, new and returning readers!  It's been an extremely busy summer for me - at work, and in my personal life.  It's evident to you when it's been almost a month that I haven't posted here.  Yikes!  All my busy-ness has been for great and good things, so that's exciting and fun, yet I still needed a break.  So, I went on vacation somewhat last minute.  The photo above is where I spent a splendid time, probably one of the best in my life!  That was the "backyard."  :)  And because I'm having trouble adjusting back to normal life, I
thought I'd extend the vacation by posting advice about taking a break!  Sure, sure... I still have about a half dozen unfinished blog posts and questions to answer, but I hope you will agree with me that A blog post is better than NO blog post.  So, the 15 tips are below...

1) Nap in your car during lunch

If you're really tired or sick, but must be in the office, take a nap in your car during your lunch break.  And don't sit in the driver's seat and recline, sit in the back seat and sprawl out by laying across the entire seat.  It helps if you are in an underground parking structure with less foot traffic, a lot of jackets to act as pillows or blankets, tinted windows/window shades, or sunglasses so people can't see your eyes.  Set your cell phone alarm so you give yourself enough time to wake up, get out of the sleepy daze, and be functional when you return to your desk.

2) Sit in the bathroom

For the super uber busy EA, the restroom is a great place to buy yourself some time to breath.  If you're lucky, there's not a phone in the restroom or you're not expected to answer your cell phone from there.  Put the seat cover down, sit, cradle your head in your hands, and just rest your eyes.  Or go sit on the steps in the stairwell, or the supply room.

3) Vent to a friend

Sometimes you just need to find your work BFF and vent and bond.  Don't gossip or share confidential things, but you get my point...  Nuff said.

4) Switch

When I need a break, sometimes I switch to an easier task where my goal is to do something, anything, as long as I am productive.  When my brain is fried and I don't think I can think straight anymore, I like to file, clean my office/paperwork, do stupid things like tape down all 4 sides of receipts for expenses, or follow up on the less important things, write up my do list for the next day, figure out where I will get catering for next week's lunch meeting and pick menu items, or other similar items that need to get done, but not urgently.

5) Make a plan/sit/write/figure it out

Sometimes when I'm stuck and need a break, it's because I'm lost.  I have so much to do and my mind is racing that I need to rein in the stress.  If you sit down and strategize for the extra 5 or 10 minutes you will get a  lot more done because you will know how to prioritize, what info you need, and have a sense of direction.  EAs are taught to multitask, juggle, and go a million miles an hour, but you can only do that for some tasks.  There will be times when you just need to focus on what's most important until you can tend to the items on your to do list.

6) Lock your office, door, blinds, and send calls to vm

I realize this may not apply to some EAs, but if you have the luxury, lock your office, door, blinds, and send calls to vm even for 5 minutes.  This break from ringing phones, a constant stream of visitors, pinging emails, and all sorts of stimuli will allow you to breathe, sit, and "meditate" for 5 minutes.  Or you can hunker down and plow through that last little bit to get things done.

7) Start at the end

When I am working on a data entry project, reconciling info, or something equally long and tedious, I like to start at the end.  For some reason this seems to make it better.  Perhaps because I trick my mind into thinking I got a lot done when I start at the end and go toward the beginning.  Sometimes I also then switch to the beginning so the middle is all that's left or I jump around.  Seeing a scattered set of items I've finished makes it visually look as though I got a lot done and just have a little left here and there.  Visually tricking your brain like this makes it less taxing and daunting.

8) Eat a snack

Sometimes when I have trouble concentrating it's because I'm hungry.  Until I'm full, I can't do anything.  Visit your break room.  I also stock my drawer with nuts, toasted seaweed, chips, cookies, and mini meals like canned soup, etc.  You can take a short break to only eat or eat while you work.  Either way, it should do the trick.

9) Go for a walk

Whether around the block or stepping out for 15 minutes, a walk will make you feel invigorated, but not tired.  Going with co-workers will make it more enjoyable and a great way to bond.  Try not to talk about projects or deadlines though as that will defeat the purpose.

10) Change something

The key here is to change your environment, mental state, physical state, or emotional state.  Maybe allow yourself a couple minutes to text hello to your loved ones, check Facebook for a few minutes, or just daydream.  The change to something new/else is what provides relief.  I've read so many articles about how internet surfing for ten minutes makes employees more productive.  

11) Take a day off or more

If you can afford to go on vacation for a week or two, great - TAKE IT.  It will do you good whether you staycation, go play tourist, or play beach bum somewhere.  And if you can, take extra days off BEFORE and AFTER your trip so you can prep/pack before your trip and regroup/unpack/unwind when you return.  If you can't take a vacation, call in sick, take a mental health day, or personal floating holiday if your company offers those.  

I recall reading an article where a company had a policy that an employee MUST take a 2 weeks of vacation a year and those 2 weeks MUST be back to back.  This way it really forced the employee to unplug, unwind, and truly take a break from work and relish it.  I think that's a fantastic idea!  

12) Light candles

If you are allowed real candles at work, light those, preferably scented ones.  If you can't have real candles at work, get the fake flickering light candles.  For some reason, lighting a candle or two while I work adds a relaxed atmosphere to the office setting.  The smells and flicker add an element of nature and it reminds me of a spa.  This basic distraction makes me feel indulgent and pampered as I work.

13) Play music

When I'm doing really boring office work or even heavy duty stuff, I like to play music.  When I'm doing the mundane stuff it's pop, party music, or anything I can sing a long to under my breath.  The music doesn't have to be loud either, just loud enough that you have to barely hear it.  When I'm doing heavy duty work, I like to play classical music.  It helps me concentrate and get into the flow of everything.

14) Spray Febreze or perfume

Much like lighting candles, when things get stale for me at work, I like to spray Febreze or perfume.  Be careful if your work has a no perfume policy in case folks have allergies.  Febreze is a good compromise that will lighten the air and atmosphere but not linger too long in scent.  Much like opening a window, a new scent or fresh air helps.

15) Get a drink

Treat yourself to coffee, tea, soda, boba, a smoothie, or if you are allowed to drink the last hour at work on Friday by cracking open a beer, enjoy it.  I have co workers who will take a tea break every day at 4pm without fail.  So schedule a short break for yourself.  The act of making or ordering your drink is a good way to step away for a few minutes and take a breather.

And in the end, if you really need a break, just go home after you worked your 8 hours.  When I am past my limit it will take infinitely longer to do a task so I've learned to go home, come back refreshed, and the same task is so much easier the next morning.  Sometimes I will "bring work home" with me in case I feel like working after I eat dinner.  It makes me feel less guilty, but I realized I always took it home, but knew I didn't really need to do it that night.  Sometimes I will go out for a nice dinner then come back to the office to work another hour or two to log OT hours.  When your body needs a break, pay attention to it.  If you can't take care of you, you can't take care of your tasks and responsibilities.  

***New “rule” - when you ask me a question for anonymous advice and I answer it, could you write an anonymous comment so I know you read the post?  You can just write “Thx!” or something!  :)

As always, I usually tweet any new posts I have. And anyone can email me questions and I respond only via this blog, not to your personal address. It usually takes me 5-6 days to answer.

I also write over at under Hollywood Executive Assistant.


  1. This is a great collection of tips. Thank you for posting it. I work at a hospital (Executive Assistant to the CMO and VP of HR) and am fortunate to have access to the hospital's Spiritual Care Center. It is a quiet place for patients, staff, and visitors to pray or meditate or be alone with their thoughts. Best of all, no one would dare interrupt a person who is in there. I slip in for a few minutes several times per week. It is a welcome respite.

    1. The Muser at Musings of a High Level Executive AssistantAugust 16, 2013 at 11:21 AM

      Ann - I am so glad you like this post! Thank you for being a reader! I wish my office had a Spiritual Care Center. Quiet rooms, privacy lounges, nap rooms, are a great way to re-energize instead of going home for the day if you feel a bit under the weather. To have somewhere to take your 1 hour break and two 15 min breaks in total quietness is a great employee perk and benefit.

  2. I love your ideas for breaks at work. I realized while reading it, I do some of them (the music one I always do, also the getting a drink). I hadn't thought about candles.

    I also love you mention boba. I shouldn't be surprised, given the area you are in, but here in Denver, I mention boba and I get funny looks. >.>

    Thank you!


    1. The Muser at Musings of a High Level Exec AsstOctober 15, 2013 at 3:46 PM

      CS - Thank you for the comment. Glad you are enjoying my blog and are finding it useful! I love boba!