How Do Work Breaks Help Your Brain? 5 Surprising Answers
When you are in a state of “flow” it is not good to take a break.
“Flow” is characterized by complete absorption in the task, seemingly effortless concentration, and pleasure in the task itself.
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This is important for your daily productivity. Good breaks can leave us feeling refreshed and energized. It can reduce mental fatigue, boost brain function and keep us on-task for extended periods.
The wrong sort of breaks might make us more vulnerable to boredom and make us want to take breaks more often. It can leave us depleted and drained.
The prefrontal cortex of the brain is mainly responsible for goal management. It orchestrates attention, working memory and other cognitive resources to help us get what we want.
For a challenging task, briefly taking our minds off the goal can renew and strengthen motivation. Doing activities that rely on different brain regions is best to restore focus.
Exposure to nature restores the mind. One study showed better working memory scores for people after a walk in a natural environment, but not in an urban setting.
If you are unable to go into nature, find plants, fresh air or a fish tank. Sit down, take a deep breath, and notice the details of nature. Research shows that even looking at some pictures of nature can work.
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.
Our brains have two modes:
The mind solves its stickiest problems while daydreaming—something you may have experienced while driving or taking a shower.
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.
After analyzing 5.5 million daily records of how office workers are using their computer (based on what the user self-identified as “productive” work), they found that the top 10% of productive workers all worked an average of 52 minutes before taking a 17 minute break.
Intense focus actually makes us less focused in the long run. Instead of thinking about the problem without stop, we need to create distractions that take our attention away from the task at hand so we can come back at it with a fresh mind.