The Science of Breaks at Work: Change Your Thinking About Downtime
Our brains have two modes:
The mind solves its stickiest problems while daydreaming—something you may have experienced while driving or taking a shower.
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The human brain just wasn’t built for the extended focus we ask of it these days.
The fix for this unfocused condition is simple—all we need is a brief interruption (aka a break) to get back on track.
When you work on a task continuously, it’s easy to lose focus and get lost in the weeds. In contrast, following a brief intermission, picking up where you left off forces you to take a few seconds to think globally about what you’re ultimately trying to achieve.
Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is indispensable to the brain. It is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.
Work in small bursts to help you get rid of distractions and focus more intently.
Just set a timer for 25 minutes, and when it goes off, take a short break for 5 minutes. Stretch your legs, grab a drink, or just sit back and relax. After you’ve done four Pomodoro sessions, take a longer break of 30 minutes or so.
Working in 90-minute intervals for maximizing productivity means working with our bodies’ natural rhythms.
When studies were conducted on elite performers like violinists, athletes, actors and chess players, the results showed that the best performers practised in focused sessions of no more than 90 minutes.
Most productive people work for 52 minutes at a time, then take a break for 17 minutes before getting back to it.
They make the most of those 52 minutes by working with intense purpose, but then rest up to be ready for the next burst. In other words, they work with purpose.
Blocking out two planned, 15-minute intermissions in your day—one in the mid-morning and the other in the mid-afternoon.
Around 3 p.m. is the least productive time of day, so definitely don’t skip that break.
Doodle. It can stimulate new ideas and help us stay focused.
Listen to music.
Talk to friends or co-workers.
Go outside and see some nature.
Exercise your eyes with the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, take a break for at least 20 seconds and look at objects that are 20 feet away from you.
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A “good break” will give that goal-oriented Prefrontal Cortex of yours a good rest by switching brain activity to another area.
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