How Planned Breaks Can Help You Work Smarter

Know someone who needs office supplies? Share the info!

Employees in every business will approach their work differently, and it’s important to allow them to do so, in order to keep your workplace running smoothly. Some have the drive to spend hours completely focused, whereas others need to take regular breaks throughout the day to help stay on top of their task list.

There is often a fine line between taking a break and avoiding doing work, and of course, every business wants to cut down on time wasted by its employees. It’s important to know the benefits that procrastination can bring to a workforce if it is properly controlled, though, so we looked further into how planned breaks can help to actually make employees work smarter:

How Much We Procrastinate

We polled over 1,500 office workers across the UK to find out about their procrastination habits. Not just how frequently they do it, but also how they spend that time and what causes them to take these breaks.

We found that the average worker spends 52 minutes a day procrastinating, most commonly on sites including Facebook (which 57% of respondents said they use), BBC News (36%), and Twitter (30%), showing that the majority of procrastination time is spent staying informed with news. This isn’t too much of a surprise, as over the last couple of years, Facebook and Twitter have both made changes to their platforms to make browsing the news easier (through their ‘Trending’ and ‘Moments’ sections, respectively), meaning users don’t need to leave the site to find out what’s going on in the world. A further 17% of the respondents said they also checked other news outlets, such as Yahoo News and online newspapers.

How Much Do You Procrastinate?

Ever wondered what else you could do with your time? All that scrolling through websites can give your finger a serious workout, and procrastinating too much can mean you leave some serious time underutilised. Select how long you spend on social media per day using the calculator below and we’ll show you how much time that adds up to over the course of a year, as well as how far your finger is travelling thanks to all that scrolling!


Social media was high on the list of distractions with our respondents, with workers admitting to checking their accounts four times a day. When asked about their workplace social media policy and how they would feel if social media was to be banned, 44% of them said their day would worsen, and 29% even said that removing access to social media would make them less productive.

Why We Procrastinate

The biggest sources of procrastination actually come from internal problems in the workplace – 48% of people said they procrastinated because they were waiting on other people’s work to be completed before they could continue with their own. After all, isn’t it better to spend your time doing something else if you’re stuck waiting on another colleague?

Of those surveyed, 40% said they procrastinated in order to take a break and ease the stress they were feeling from work. Office workers experience a greater amount of stress than those who work from home, perhaps because the freedom of working at home allows people to take frequent breaks whenever they need one. For more information about the causes and effects of stress in the workplace, check out our helpful guide and take the quiz to see how stressed you are at work.

Why Breaks from Work Are Important

Taking regular breaks throughout a work day can have numerous benefits and make you more productive. Spending just five minutes away from a task can help both your creativity and your concentration by letting you review the work you’ve just completed. If you’re completing a lengthy report or planning a detailed presentation, you can easily lose sight of the big picture. A five minute break spent elsewhere means you can reassess what you’ve just done and see if it needs tweaking before it gets too off track.

Small breaks can reduce the risk of on-the-job accidents, helping to ensure a healthy workforce by eliminating fatigue and the possible mistakes tired employees are prone to. They’re also a great way to nurture in-office relationships, as you can take time away from a task to enquire about other people’s workloads. Devoting a little bit of time to another colleague and helping with their work can pay dividends when you’re facing a difficult task yourself in the near future.

Gemma Terrar, European HR Business Partner at Viking, weighed in on the benefits that controlled breaks can have in a workplace:

“If an employee is struggling with their work, a quick break can help them take a step back and think about their situation in a new light. Rather than trying to press on through a challenging task, doing something that relaxes them or lightens their mood can help a worker stay productive in the long-run.”

“Each company is different, but many workplaces are becoming more open to a relaxed atmosphere that encourages taking breaks when necessary. Ultimately, companies want their employees to work to their full potential, so they should consider break and social media policies that balance the downtime and productivity of a workforce.”

How to Procrastinate Smarter

It’s important to remember that procrastination doesn’t have to be wasted time – you’re simply changing the way you use your time, and, if done correctly, this can increase your productivity. Here are some smart tips you can adopt to help you stay on track:

Stay Informed

If you need to take a quick break from a lengthy task, consider browsing social media channels for key influencers or debates in your chosen industry. By seeing what’s trending in your feed you might just find the solution to a long-standing problem or a new approach to take to your work. This is also a great way to ease yourself into the day: taking stock of what other people and your competitors are talking about.

Create a Playlist

Listening to music while working has a range of benefits, from making repetitive tasks seem shorter to keeping you focussed by blocking out workplace chatter. Spend some time creating a playlist to listen to before starting a project, even if it’s just ambient noise – any time spent increasing your future productivity is time well spent.

Keep Organised

Just one look at your email inbox should tell you how organised you are. If you’re constantly searching for lost emails, or trying to find the final draft of a document, it’s worth setting aside some time to sort things into a new folder system. Version control can be a serious issue if left unattended to, and the last thing you want is to send an unproofed draft of an important document to a client.

Structure Your Priorities

Everyone loves making lists, but some people spend more time making lists than actually completing the tasks on them. Know the importance and urgency of everything you need to complete, so that if you’re feeling the strain of a high-importance job, you can take a break by completing a short, low-urgency one. Just spending five minutes noting down and assessing your work before you start your day can not only keep you on track but also mean you can tick smaller tasks off your to-do list, along with your major ones, meaning you can finish the day feeling extra productive.

Step Away from Your Desk

When it comes to starting a task from scratch, you may well find yourself in a daze, staring at a blank page, determined to wait for an idea to form. In reality, it’s far better to remove yourself from the situation, step away from your desk, and set your mind on something else. Speak to a member of another team to see how a project is progressing, grab some fresh air, or even just get the tea round in – it’s about interrupting your mind when it stalls and coming back to a task with a fresh perspective later on.

How do you stay productive at work? Do you have any tips for those looking to take a little break? Let us know on Twitter at @viking_chat