Welcome to the Positively Living Podcast. I’m your host Lisa, and in today’s episode, I am sharing the power of the pause as an effective productivity and wellness tool. You’ll learn the multitude of ways taking intentional breaks can boost your productivity and come away with ideas on how to incorporate this practice into your daily routine.

Why the Simple Act of Pausing Will Make You More Productive

In today’s hustle-happy world, productivity too often looks like constant action, which too often results in being busy versus productive. There’s a feeling that we “can’t stop, won’t stop,” and honestly, we don’t dare stop because if we do, we’ll miss out or not make the cut. 

I know how easy that is to feel, but I want you to stop and question because, in an ironic twist, this belief that we must constantly push can actually block us from the very thing we want. 

Adding insult to injury, that constant push not only doesn’t help us be productive, it puts us on a path to burnout instead. That’s why I speak out against hustle culture. I’m not anti-work and or anti-achieving. Quite the opposite. 

But I believe there’s a better way to do it, which is what this entire podcast is about. 

Part of that better way includes pausing. 

What Does it Mean to Pause?

Pausing for productivity means deliberately stepping away from your work, effort, or routine. The word suggests that this is temporary and likely for a short period, but the length of time can vary. 

The point of pausing is to give your mind the space it needs to process, rejuvenate and/or reset. Pausing allows you to come back energized, receive information differently, and troubleshoot more effectively. 

There are so many benefits to pausing. When you disengage from your tasks to rest, recharge, refocus, review, and make decisions, you change how you show up when you return. 

Benefits of Pausing

Four significant ways you show up differently when you practice pausing include:

  • Improved Focus: Pausing helps sustain your attention span over longer periods. It’s like hitting the reset button for your mind, combatting decision fatigue, and allowing you to return to tasks with renewed attention.
  • Enhanced Problem-Solving: Stepping away from a problem provides your brain with the space it needs to unconsciously process information. I’m sure you’ve experienced this before, where you feel stuck, walk away, and when you return, the solution comes to you. This is also likely why I solve the world’s problems while in the shower or driving my car.
  • Higher Quality Output: Regular breaks prevent rushed, subpar work, often riddled with mistakes. Conversely, by taking time to pause, you can keep the quality of your work higher, especially when you factor in other elements like enhanced problem-solving.
  • Reduced Stress: Pausing triggers the relaxation response, reducing the production of stress hormones. This not only contributes to better mental health but also prevents the negative impact of chronic stress on productivity. 

*One quick side note and caveat about stress: We actually need some stress to be productive. 

The Yerkes-Dodson law indicates that you reach your peak level of performance with an intermediate level of stress. When you graph this, it’s an inverted U shape. This means that either extreme won’t work. No or low stress won’t help you be productive, nor will chronic stress. So when we think of pausing, we focus on reducing chronic stress, which is unfortunately quite common.

The Science Behind Pausing

We know we show up differently when our brains are fresh and not distracted, but how about a little science to back this up? 

Scientifically speaking, our brains work in cycles of focus and rest..or they need to, even if we don’t want it that way. We have limits, especially mentally. Continuous mental work without breaks results in cognitive fatigue, which diminishes our ability to concentrate, solve problems, and generate creative ideas. 

The only thing continuous work will boost is the potential for mistakes, which is decidedly unproductive. Taking breaks allows your brain to recover and recharge and enables something called the Default Mode Network to activate. 

The Default Mode Network is a function of the brain where it’s awake but not engaged in the outside world. It’s called wakeful rest, and you experience it when daydreaming and mind-wandering. 

While it’s common to pass this off as wasted time, it’s actually necessary. This function is linked to creativity and introspection and is the time to process and acknowledge our actions. It’s linked to long-term memory and having a sense of self.

The key idea here is that you can’t consume information all the time without integrating it. As with everything in life, this is a balancing act of engaging for well-being and purpose and disengaging to prevent constant rumination…and our biggest productivity issues, not getting our ish done. 

Incorporating Pauses into Your Routine

There are a variety of ways you can incorporate breaks into your routine. Here are some ideas:

Flow State Spring with Breaks

The Pomodoro Technique is a great example of this approach. It involves working for 25 minutes (a “pomodoro”) followed by a 5-minute break. After completing four pomodoros, you take a longer break of 15-30 minutes. These short breaks prevent burnout, maintain focus, and enhance overall productivity.

Physical Movement Breaks

Sedentary work can lead to decreased energy and focus. Set a timer to stand up, stretch, or take a short walk every hour. My Apple watch helps me with this, reminding me to stand frequently. 

Physical movement increases blood flow, delivering oxygen and nutrients to the brain, which can revitalize your mental clarity. Studies show that taking these breaks and making them physical (like taking a walk) boosts creative thinking.

Mindfulness Meditation

Pausing for a quick meditation or mindfulness practice, even if it’s just 5-10 minutes, can have a profound impact on your productivity. It reduces stress, improves attention span, and helps you be present and aware, which can help you make decisions. 

This practice is connected to–and can look like–a gratitude practice, which can include celebration and savoring. Pausing to appreciate not only the world around you but the world within you is incredibly healing.

Visual Distancing

When working on a project, stepping away and looking at it from a distance (literally or metaphorically) can provide a fresh perspective. This pause allows you to spot errors, make improvements, and approach challenges with renewed insight.

This habit is also good for your eye muscles as well, as they can be susceptible to strain, especially since we spend so much time on screens.

Creative Pauses

Creative Pauses: Engage in activities you enjoy during breaks—listen to music, doodle, read a few pages of a novel, or simply daydream. These activities activate different parts of your brain, fostering creativity and preventing mental stagnation. 

Alignment Review

Alignment Review: Reflection time is much needed but easily disregarded. Regularly pausing to review what you’re working on can help determine if you’re still on track or need to adjust your priorities. 

Quarterly reviews are an example of this in business, and I highly recommend adding this approach to family life. It’s not just about making the right decisions, it’s about deciding on the right things. Pausing to reflect can prevent wasted effort and align you with your objectives.

Which One Should You Incorporate? 

To practice pausing, you need to pay close attention to your routine and build habits that support you. Here is where you want to leverage technology and your environment to help. Alarms are an effective tool if you’re timing yourself during a work sprint. 

You can also schedule regular intervals in your calendar just as you would active work meetings (indicating to yourself that these breaks are just as important as the other meetings). This is also a good opportunity to declutter so you have a space conducive to the habit and the tools to do it. When you are building a habit, make it as easy as possible. 

Pausing is yet another example of a concept so simple yet so effective. By allowing your mind to recharge and review, you’re not only priming your productivity, you’re safeguarding your mental health. The next time you find yourself caught in the whirlwind of work, catch yourself, take a breath, and pause. 

It’s the very thing you need in that moment to be your most productive.

We’ve discussed several connected topics today, including stress, creativity, celebration, mindfulness, and habits. Corresponding episodes to these topics are included in the show notes 


One word of caution: if you want to build space for your schedule to pause but feel like there isn’t enough time to create that space, this is a sign to seek support. Sometimes, an outside perspective can help you make shifts faster and easier than possible. In one strategy session, we could rework your routine into a harmonious combination of sprints and pauses. 

Let’s talk. I encourage you to share your thoughts and questions and connect with me by going to the Connect page of the website https://positivelyproductive.com/connect/

Additional Links: 

The Default Mode Network: The Hidden Key to a Calmer, Happier, Content You – Partably

How Do Work Breaks Help Your Brain? 5 Surprising Answers | Psychology Today

Ep 117: How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty or Rude

Ep 131: Manage Stress through Rest and Play with Gary Ware

Ep 154: How Reverse Decluttering Can Quickly Reduce Stress

Ep 7: The Impact of Stress and How to Manage it for Good

Ep 79: How Your Body Responds to Stress with Christa Bevan

Ep 159: Why You Must Savor and Celebrate Your Success

Ep 15: How to Harness the Power of Habits

Ep 47: Accessing Creativity through Mindfulness with Izolda Trakhtenberg