Research Reveals How to Take a Better Break
Laughter increases heart rate, respiration, and gets our blood pumping. Short term effects show some improvements on memory tests.
Spontaneous laughter and forced giggles all have the same perks. Listen to a comedy podcast or read the comics section in the newspaper during a break.
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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.
Have a moment with 'nothing to do'. Letting our minds wander without focusing on a specific goal, allows the brain's default mode network to take over and give some prefrontal cortex functions a rest.
Practice mind wandering by keeping your phone in your pocket. Sit alone for 10 minutes, take a breath and let your mind wander. It can also be practiced while you wait at a train station, or in an elevator lobby.
Do 20-20-20- eye breaks to alleviate eye strain and fatigue. Every 20 minutes, stare at something 20 feet away, for 20 seconds.
Doing this requires blood to flow to brain areas that are not related to sustained attention. It may be the reason why eye exercises are restorative.
Short bursts of exercise are helpful for cognition. Just 10 minute of physical activity can increase attention and memory performance.
Find a private space, do some pushups or planks, or take a brisk walk around the block.
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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.
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Paying attention involves two separate distinct brain functions:
Our ability to filter out distractions, not our concentration, diminishes with age.
As we grow older we get more and more distracted.
When your eyes are closed, your brain isn’t working as hard to filter out visual information. So:
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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.
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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