We’ve all undoubtedly been there before: eyelids heavy, consciousness fluttering, mind racing and head swimming with countless factoids and anecdotes in a last-ditch effort to retain as much relevant information as it takes to pass the exam looming just over the horizon. Although the art of cramming is used and accepted by students everywhere, a stockpile of evidence points to the fact that working tirelessly without taking a breather is not only less productive, it’s counterintuitive to productivity altogether. Memory retention drops, critical understanding of concepts dwindle, and overall motivation for learning and completion of tasks falls by the wayside if you don’t give yourself some time to take a step back. So when’s the best time to take a breather, and how can you make the most of your breaks?
Studies show that working in 90 minute bursts and cycling in a routine break can boost your productivity greatly. During this cycle, your brain mirrors activity trends similar to those you experience while sleeping. Over this cycle, your brain will flow through differing states of alertness, and taking a break at the 90 minute mark will give your brain a chance to refresh and reset the cycle of alertness and productivity. Take care not to make your break too long, but long enough to really refresh yourself. Research indicates that a 15-35 minute break (if taken mindfully) will greatly increase your ability to be productive during each 90 minute stint.
There are several effective ways you can capitalize on your breaks to increase the impact they have on your ability to work. One of the most useful things you can do during down time is to make it active. Physical motion helps to break up the mundane very effectively, and actually getting up and leaving your workspace can help to separate your mind from it temporarily and hit the reset button. Whether it’s going for a walk around the building or doing pushups or jumping jacks in the office (a little unorthodox, we know), find something physical to get your mind wandering and blood flowing.
When you’ve been zoned in to a project or study session, you start to feel a bit disconnected from the outside world. Use your time away from your desk as an opportunity to reconnect somehow, either by chatting with someone in person or on the phone, catching up on social media, or sending a few texts. This break from isolation will be refreshing and help you to stay motivated to dive back into what you’ve already spent time accomplishing.
On the flip side, you could zone in further and take some quality “me” time during your breaks. Take some time in a quiet place for meditation and deep breathing exercises. Reflect upon your day’s work and center yourself to continue the work you still have to do. Know yoga? Get posing. These mindful movements and exercises can greatly impact your mindset and give you a clean slate to hack away at the rest of your work.
In any case, the evidence is clear: breaks help you to increase your productivity. Reward yourself with the 20 or so minutes of down time after working hard for 90. It’s good for your work, your brain, and your overall well being. Start taking routine breathers while working on your next big project and see the results for yourself.