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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

Take Five: 51 Things to Do When You Need a Break at Work

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Gary Burchell/Getty Images

When you work hard, it’s important to take a few breaks throughout the day. But let’s be honest: Is 10 minutes of scrolling through Facebook really a break?

We’ve pulled together a list of better ways to take five, 10, or 15 at the office. Whether you want to rev your energy, do something productive, or just totally check out for a few, try these ideas for a well-spent break.


  1. Try doing some desk stretches to reverse that computer hunch.

  2. Head outside and walk two laps around your block or building. Too cold outside? Get the same energizing effect by walking up and down a few flights of stairs.

  3. Offer to go on a coffee run for the whole office. You’ll get the caffeine you need—plus some serious brownie points with your team.

  4. Need to make some phone calls? Step outside or into the conference room and do them while walking back and forth. The combination of movement and chatting will be a boost of energy before you head back to your desk.

  5. Take a quick, 15-minute nap (in your car or somewhere else where no one can see you). You’ll feel much more awake and ready to get back to the grind.

  6. Find some inspiring stories to read to get you motivated and excited. These TED Talks are a great place to start and will get you revved up to do just about anything.


  1. Check out Lumosity: The free online exercises are designed by neuroscientists to improve core cognitive functions, including memory, problem solving, and attention.

  2. Head over to your Pocket (or whatever else you use to save articles to read for later), and catch up on some of those articles you’ve been meaning to read. You’ll get a nice break—and maybe even learn something you can apply when you get back to work.

  3. Watch the seven to 10 minute opening sequence of a late night show from the night before for a quick news recap and a quick laugh.

  4. Grab some brain-boosting snacks to nibble on. Blueberries, black currents, leafy greens, and nuts have all been shown to help your brain function better.

  5. Keep a non-work book in the office to read from on short breaks. It’ll feel good to not stare at a computer screen for 15 minutes, and a great book can be totally inspiring.

  6. Write something! Crank out a blog post. Check out Alexandra Franzen’s awesome list of topics to get you thinking), pen a short story about the happenings in your office, or hey, even get started on that novel you’ve always wanted to write.

  7. Download the language learning app Duolingo and take a lesson or two. Even if you don’t remember much more than “cerveza, por favor” from your high school Spanish class, the app will have you easily increasing your international vocabulary in just a couple minutes a day.


  1. See if a cube-mate needs a break, too, and go grab coffee or have a walking meeting. For bonus points, use the time to pick this person’s brain on something you’ve been thinking about, whether it’s dealing with a difficult client or going back to grad school.

  2. Spread some office cheer and send a co-worker a funny e-card.

  3. Step outside and call your mom, dad, grandparent, sibling, or other family member just to say hi and see how the day is going. They’ll appreciate it.

  4. Send an email to your 10 closest co-workers, asking for the best joke they’ve ever heard. Buy coffee for the winner.

  5. Send a thank you note to someone who’s helped you out recently—your assistant who’s gone above and beyond or a co-worker who proofread a report for you. It doesn’t even have to be something big—in fact, bonus points if it’s not.

  6. Recommend two of your favorite professional contacts on LinkedIn. Not sure where to start? Think about the one thing you most enjoy about working with them or something they do better than anyone else you know, and talk about that.

  7. You have time to spare, but what about your colleagues? If any of the other departments are in an all-hands-on-deck phase, help out. Your colleagues will definitely appreciate it (and hopefully return the favor next time you need some extra help).


  1. Organize your smartphone. Take a few minutes to delete any apps you never use, sort your latest photos by event or date, and file apps in folders. Shift any apps you use daily to the front screen. And hey, why not update your background photo while you’re at it?

  2. Pick one project that’s on your plate, and do a 10-minute brainstorm on it. Head to a conference room, grab a stack of Post-its and a marker, and let your brain get to business.

  3. It’s a good idea to update your online passwords every so often, and a slow afternoon is a great opportunity. Best practice is to create a phrase that combines upper- and lowercase letters, numbers, and at least one special character. Try not to use the same password for your email and all your social networks, and keep track of the new passwords using a tool like 1Password, PassPack, or Password Genie.

  4. Actually take time to go through your office drawers. Clear out old gum, pens that don’t work, un-bent paper clips, and anything else that you don’t need.

  5. Upgrade your inbox by downloading some Google Labs. (Our personal faves? Canned Responses and Auto-Advance.)

  6. Unsubscribe from 10 newsletters in your inbox. That daily deals newsletter you haven’t actually read in six months? Get it out of there. The store email list you never signed up for but somehow got on anyway? Gone. Anything you haven’t read in a month or more? You probably don’t need to be getting it every day.

  7. Spend a few minutes renaming and organizing your files. Your future self (who doesn’t have to spend five minutes looking for that document when the boss is watching) will thank you.

  8. Outsource something. Whether it’s finding a nearby grocery delivery service or having a pro tinker with your PowerPoint presentation, free up some time in your schedule to do something you really love.


  1. Spend some time on Pinterest! But instead of looking at tasty recipes or crafty DIYs, think about boards you can create to inspire your career. Think: creative resumes you love, work outfits that are sure to impress, and awesome companies you want to work for one day.

  2. Stalk some of your contacts online to see what they’ve been up to recently. Did one of them publish a book? Totally re-design a website? Give a great talk at an event? Get caught up on their lives and then shoot a couple people an email congratulating them.

  3. Better yet, take a look at your LinkedIn feed to see what your connections have been posting about. Comment and congratulate anyone with news or new jobs. You never know when you’ll wish you stayed in touch with someone.

  4. Sit back in your chair and daydream for a few minutes. We’re not talking about warm beaches or exciting vacations—instead, think about where your career might take you two, five, even 10 years from now. Do you want to be in a more creative role? Have a job that lets you travel? Start your own business? Don’t focus on what’s possible or what you might have to do to get there—just allow your mind to wander.

  5. Following LinkedIn influencers is an awesome way to soak up career wisdom from people who have had major success themselves. Head on over and follow a few.

  6. Spruce up your LinkedIn profile. You never know when it might come in handy.

  7. Find a class you want to take or conference you want to attend, and then sign up for it (or make a plan for how you’ll save up for it). Bonus points if you convince your boss to foot the bill.


  1. Do nothing for two minutes. No, really: forces you to sit, relax, and gaze at a beautiful photo to really clear your head. The second you move your mouse away? You fail and have to start all over.

  2. Stressed about something? Type it into The Thoughts Room at the Quiet Page Project and watch it fade into the stars.

  3. Pick a new desktop background—an inspiring cityscape, a motivating quote, or your favorite vacation spot. In fact, pick a few, and rotate them out every month or so.

  4. Head to your favorite coffee shop and treat yourself to a peppermint mocha, a chai tea latte, or any other warm drink you really love. Actually sit and savor every sip of it.

  5. Browse National Geographic’s photography archives and get lost in another part of the world for a few minutes.

  6. Take out a notepad and pen and write for a few minutes. Don’t worry if nothing brilliant comes to mind—even just writing down your feelings or what you’re grateful for can be incredibly relaxing.

Downright Distracting

  1. Tap into your imagination and add some fun, inspirational ideas to your life’s to-do list, using a digital organizing tool like Evernote, Google Docs, or Bucketlistly. Need some inspiring fodder for potential bucket list additions? Check out, Life’d’s ultimate bucket list, and Tumblr’s bucket list tags.

  2. Get lost in Buzzfeed. Enough said.

  3. Make your ultimate work playlist to help you power through the rest of the day. Think about songs you can really jam to, but also about songs that won’t distract you from your work. (For example, if you need to do a lot of writing, go for tunes without lyrics.)

  4. Change-up your desk accessories to immediately make your cubicle feel very very cool.

  5. Read this incredibly awesome cover letter (that no one will ever actually send).

  6. Head over to The Oatmeal and laugh at some seriously quality online comics.

  7. Paint a Picasso-worthy work of art. No, really! Try it!

  8. Head to the supply closet and pick out a few new office supplies. Or, do some online shopping and treat yourself to something nicer than your boss would probably spring for.

  9. Make a beautiful sculpture out of items in your office, like this paper clamp tree.

  1. Challenge a co-worker to a chair race. Need we say more?

Bonus: Next time you need a break at work, pick a number between one and 51 and do whatever corresponds with that number. Chances are, you’ll feel much more refreshed than if you spent five minutes scrolling through social media.