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20+ Productive Ideas When You Need to Take a Mental Break at Work

Productive Mental Break Ideas

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I think we’ve all been in this situation countless times: Your brain is fried and you need a mental break, but it’s not yet quitting time. While everyone needs breaks at the office, queuing up Netflix or taking a 2-hour lunch can be frowned upon by your coworkers. ????

That’s where this post comes in — today, we’re talking about productive ideas for taking a mental break at work! (This topic was actually requested from a reader in response to our last Real Women Approved post: 40+ Workplace Pet Peeves to Avoid!)

Taking a quick break when you need it most can be easier said than done, but work breaks are 1. Necessary and 2. Can actually make you more productive and efficient with your time in the long run.

In fact, did you know you should take a break every 52 minutes? According to DeskTime research, the most productive office workers take a 17-minute break every 52 minutes. Apparently, this is a powerful combination because we work harder when we know a break is around the corner; working any longer than that causes cognitive boredom; and it improves your health and mental focus. 

If this sounds like something you’d like to explore more, we’ve rounded up 20 mental break ideas that you can do at work that are productive and office-approved. These ideas are also great for freelancers and remote workers, because they are quick, productive breaks that will keep you motivated and focused to tackle the rest of your to-do list and day! 

Bookmark this post for inspiration the next time you need a mid-day work break!

20+ Productive Ideas When You Need to Take a Mental Break at Work


So simple, yet so rewarding. Going outside and getting fresh air is a nice change of perspective and a dose of vitamin D can keep stress and anxiety at bay. Try taking your lunch break outside, going for a quick stroll (even if it’s just around your building), or take make that conference call or status meeting with your boss a “walking meeting” outside! If you have Headspace (which I highly recommend!!) I love doing Headspace’s “Walking” meditations that help you relax while walking! 


Whether it’s a quick stretch, a walk to the water cooler or a full-blown workout, moving your body can do wonders for your overall productivity. Depending on your ability to get away from your desk, try walking back and forth from your car, skip up your office’s stairs or take a “walking” lunch hour. Afterward, you’ll feel less stressed and more refreshed to tackle the rest of your day.


Looking to socialize, but need a break from work? Call a friend or family member! Head to your car or take the call outside as to not disturb your office. A quick 15-minute conversation with someone close to you can boost energy levels, and it can help you feel accomplished if it’s someone you owe a call or have been meaning to catch up with.


Do you have a never-ending to-do list, but you can’t seem to cross one thing off of it? Being overloaded with tasks can be paralyzing, whether you realize it or not. When you feel like your to-do list is dragging your productivity down, take a break to create a worry list. Simply write down everything that’s worrying you, deadlines that are fast approaching and assignments that need to be completed. The process of getting it onto paper can be powerful and seeing it all listed might help you prioritize and plan better. 


Need a change of pace? Switch up your playlist! Find a new genre or album to keep things interesting during the workday. Pro tip: if your job requires a lot of writing, opt for music without lyrics or in a different language to keep you from getting distracted. (Tip: We have a Real Women Approved, best Spotify Playlists blog post!) 


When it’s time for a break, but you can’t leave your desk — clean it! An organized workspace can improve your mental state and your work efficiency. Not to mention, it reflects well on your professionalism. Don’t be the person with piles and piles of files on their desk who can never find anything quickly.


Does your desk look like you just started at your job? Or could it use some reorganization? Invest in some desk organizational pieces, like a pretty file holder or paper tray, and a picture frame or two to make your desk a happy and efficient place to work.


If it’s appropriate in your office setting, suggest your next meeting be at a coffee shop! The change of pace can do wonders for inspiration and you won’t feel guilty, because you’re still working. 


How many times have you scarfed down your entire lunch at your desk without even realizing it? Working through lunch or inhaling snacks on the run is an easy bad habit to develop. The next time you need a break, step away from your computer and slowly enjoy your snack. Looking for the best snacks for brainpower? Try blueberries, nuts, avocados, leafy vegetables, dark chocolate and green tea!


Just like skipping lunch, it’s easy to overlook hydration during the workday. Invest in a water bottle you love and commit to filling and drinking it multiple times each day. I love my Hydroflask waterbottle! Bonus- the walks to the bathroom and watercooler will get you up and moving, too! 


Get your blood moving and release tension and strain from sitting at your desk for too long with some stretching. Pro tip- set an alarm on your phone to remember to stretch every couple of hours. Check out these 17 stretches you can do at your desk via The Muse! 

12. Write away

If you’re feeling uninspired, try writing for 10 minutes straight — about anything! Write a story, write about things going on in your life, a list of things you’re grateful for, etc. Simply start writing and see it where it goes. This activity can be relaxing, a nice break from the computer screen, and it might help you come up with a great idea!

13. Do Nothing

You don’t need to do something to take a break. Sometimes, it’s best to do nothing at all to really clear your head. Need help? Try — if you move your mouse early, you have to start over.

14. Change your desktop background

You have to stare at your desktop a lot each day, so make sure it’s something you enjoy looking at! Try a photo from your last vacation, a picture that relaxes you, or a quote that inspires you. (The Everygirl releases beautiful desktop backgrounds each month!) While you’re at it, change your phone background too!

15. Find a class or conference you want to attend

Take some time to browse offerings in your area that can help you learn a new skill or grow your expertise! Whether it’s a conference that will bolster your day job or a night class that taps into a personal passion, learning outside of the office is always rewarding. 

16. Send a thank you

Whether it’s taking the time to thank a coworker for their support on a project or texting a friend for being there for you, penning a thank you note is an easy task that will leave you feeling accomplished and grateful.

17. Download Duolingo

Got a few minutes? Learn a new language or brush up on your Spanish that has been neglected since college. Duolingo is free, taught in bite-sized lessons and offers more than 20 languages! 

18. Exercise your eyes

Staring at screens for hours on end can do a number on our eyes! In fact, eyes can begin to feel strain in as little as 2 hours- yikes. When you need a mental break, take the opportunity to rest your eyes, too. Here’s a simple exercise to fight eye fatigue: 20-20-20. Every 20 minutes, focus on an item at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. Also, if you don’t already have a pair, invest in blue-light glasses! I love this brand

19. Brush up on current events

Sign up for The Skimm‘s daily newsletter of digestible news headlines, listen to a news recap podcast, like The Daily, or browse your favorite news site for a few minutes. This is a great activity after tackling your first to-do in the morning or even in the late afternoon when you’re dragging. 

20. Give your brain a boost

Have you heard of Lumosity? It’s a personalized brain training app that helps improve memory and increase focus. Each day, they create a set of games to workout your brain that takes about 5 minutes — perfect for a mental break from work! 

I hope this list helps the next time you need a break at work!

Looking for more ways to be productive? Check out 20 Little “To-Dos” That Will Make You Feel Like You Have Your Life Together