Most people tell you that it takes a lot of discipline to work from home and that you are going to have all these distractions at home, which you don't have in the office. Sure most offices don't have a PlayStation, but in my opinion, we take this "you need discipline" thing a little bit too far.

I don't think the biggest problem is peoples discipline when it comes to working remotely. I believe that you can't thrive at remote work when you can't plan your breaks right. There are very few people in this world, if any, who can work focused for 8 hours straight. When you do not plan your breaks right, you will be more open to distractions as a result of less focus.

In my experience, even though I was encouraged to take breaks and plan in my own time, the first few weeks I had this feeling of guilt whenever I took a 20-minute break to walk the dog in the middle of the day.

The office vs working remotely

When you work from an office, you have many tiny breaks. Especially if you work in an open office environment, people come over to your desk to have a chat, you'll have a conversation with the person at the coffee machine, and every day around 12:30 pm you'll have your lunch break with everyone in the office.

When you work remotely you don't have a person coming over to your desk, you won't meet anyone other than your dog at the coffee machine and you don't have to take that lunch break. As a result, you find yourself in the same position after 8 hours, but are you still getting work done? Or did you get lost in that Youtube playlist?

The problem is when you feel like you need to take a break you can experience this feeling of guilt;

"Everyone is working and I am going to walk my dog?"
"What if someone needs me right now?"
"What will other people think if I don't respond to that urgent email because of this 20-minute walk?"

Spoiler; nobody cares. Everyone is working on their own thing and if a question would be urgent, they'll call you. What if they call you during your walk? They'll ask to have a look as soon as you're back at your desk. The only thing they care about is that you take a break once in a while to deliver your best work.

Tips for taking breaks while working remotely

  1. Most importantly think about your health; "Sitting is the new smoking". It's tempting to work on that awesome project all day, but plan in the time to stretch, workout or go far a walk.
  2. When you are stuck on a task for 15 minutes, watch a Youtube video or grab your guitar. It will surprise you how often you'll get a eureka moment after coming back from that small break.
  3. If you are in charge, make sure that taking breaks during the day is encouraged.
  4. If you don't feel comfortable taking a break, talk about it with your team. Working remotely is something you all do, so you probably won't be the only one having this problem. Figure it out together.
  5. You can also try the Pomodoro technique. This will help you determine when it's time to work and when it's time for a break. I love the simplicity of having this tool in my browser tab.
  6. Still not comfortable? When did you use to have breaks in the office? Keep those for some weeks and experiment with moving those time blocks around. Have lunch at 1:30 pm instead of 12 for instance. Find out Whatever works for you.

For me taking breaks frequently helped me to get rid of that feeling of guilt. Please, take frequent breaks. It benefits your productivity, but most importantly it's good for your health. Remember that people would rather have you take brakes then not being able to deliver your best work.