Not Working: It Works!

Not Working: It Works!

An Experiment in Improving Health & Productivity Through Taking Breaks

“Have you been doing any stretches or yoga?” My massage therapist asked me for the 20th time, in his soothing massage therapist voice.


I had not been doing any extra stretches or yoga. And yes, this is the same answer I’d given him every single time he asked in his patient, soothing voice every time I’d seen him for the past two years. The man has the patience of a saint.

I’ve had back and shoulder problems pretty much since high school. My body decided to have some super growth spurts that my spine couldn’t keep up with, so now I live with minor scoliosis and some muscles that have adapted to my spine’s unruly curves in a way that has caused me no end of pain.

But lucky for my massage therapist, it seems as though the 20th time is the charm for me, because this time when he asked me, I decided to make a change. I was going to start stretching regularly, just to shut him up (if nothing else).

I spend most of my work day in front of a computer, so I don’t end up moving around much. For years I’ve also labored under the belief that taking breaks meant not getting work done, getting distracted, and getting behind. In fact, the idea of people seeing me not working gave me anxiety.

“I can’t take breaks! I don’t want people to think I’m lazy!” – My Old Self

So I would intentionally avoid taking breaks or getting distracted. I wouldn’t drink water to avoid additional bathroom breaks, I learned to really zone in and ignore all background noise, and I kept my office door closed as much as possible so that friendly, chatty visitors would be discouraged to stop by. This way, I was able to sit and focus and check as many things as possible off of my precious to do lists. I also ended up being a grumpy, sore, dehydrated prune with no friends at the end of the day.

But after being gently asked 20 times if I would please just get over myself and do some simple stretches so that my massage therapist didn’t have to get break his own back trying to fix mine, I finally decided to make a change.

So the next day, I downloaded an app on my computer that automatically reminds me to take an eye-break every 20 minutes, and it forces me to take a 5 minute break every hour. It physically will not let me use my computer, so I have to get up and walk away and do something else for 5 minutes.

The first week, it was annoying. It kept making me stop doing my work in the middle of a task. By the time my forced break was over, I’d forgotten what exactly I was doing, and had a hard time getting back to where I left off. But after a few days of this, I realized that I hadn’t had a single day where I went home and my back was sore, or my eyes were so tired they couldn’t focus.

So I kept up with it!

Pretty soon, I had forgotten about being frustrated by the breaks, and started looking forward to them. I found that I was more in tune with what was going on with my body. I could feel my eyes getting tired, I could feel my shoulders getting tight, and I’d look to see how much longer before my next break.

I also learned a few little tricks to remind myself where I left off before a break so that I could jump right back in once I got back.

It was going pretty good! I wouldn’t call it “life-changing,” but it was an improvement.

But then, the fateful day came when my computer quit working. Now, I’m not a computer expert, but from what I understand, my hard drive decided it didn’t want to computer anymore, so it made a big career move into being a brick.

So I had to move to an old backup computer for a few days while waiting for mine to be fixed. Of course, this backup computer didn’t have my break reminder app on it, so I went straight back to old habits.

No more breaks.

I could instantly feel the difference. About half-way through the first day I got up to go to the bathroom, and my eyes were so tired that I couldn’t get them to focus on the end of the hall I was walking down. Not great. By the end of the day, my neck and shoulders were so sore that no amount of cracking and straining and stretching would sooth them. If that wasn’t enough, I also noticed that I was one GRUMPY MONSTER LADY at the end of the day. I was tired, sore, overworked, and stressed out.

So that’s how I realized that my stretching breaks really WERE life-changing. I didn’t understand what a big difference they had made on my overall health until I stopped doing them. Plus, it turns out that not working INCREASED my productivity. I work better, faster, and with more creativity when I take regular breaks. Which may seem counter-intuitive at first, but of course we work better when we feel good than when we are feeling tired, sore, and grumpy! I’d guess that my co-workers and office-mate also appreciate not having to work with the grumpy monster lady with bloodshot eyes who cracks her neck like an evil super villain from the movies.

It’s the kind of thing that feels so clear and so important to me now that I want to invent a time machine so I can go back in time and find my younger self just to convince her to take breaks. I can’t believe that I thought breaks were bad before.

The whole experience is starting to spill over into my non-work life too. I feel much more in-tune with my body, so now when I sit too long at a party, restaurant, on the couch, etc., I make a point to stand up and move around because I can feel my body getting sore from not moving.

If, at this point, you still aren’t convinced that you should add regular breaks to your daily schedule, then how about all of this science that proves how important it is:

NOW, after looking at a few of those, if you aren’t putting down your phone or computer or tablet or whatever you are reading this on so that you can get up and destroy all the chairs in your house/workplace, then sprint around the block, I’m personally worried about you.

So I’ll wrap up this long post now so that you can stand up, stretch, and take care of you and your body.

Take a break! Go for a walk! And if you are an employer, encourage your employees to take regular breaks. It’s a win-win!

-Eleanor Earnhart

Marketing Coordinator, Sparkling Water Enthusiast, and In the Market for a Reasonably Priced Standing Desk

All opinions expressed here are those of their authors and/or contributors and not of their employer. Any questions or concerns regarding the content found here may be sent to

Contribute to the Y

We believe that lasting personal and social change can only come about when we all work together to invest in our kids, our health and our neighbors. As the leading nonprofit committed to helping everyone thrive at each stage of life, we are uniquely positioned to take on new and long-standing challenges more comprehensively than anyone else.

Your support through the YMCA of Austin’s Annual Giving Campaign makes this possible.