When to Focus and When to Take a Break (According to Science)
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The more you have going on, the harder it can be to take a break. You’re done with work, but you still have homework to finish. You finish class, but you wonder if you should clean the kitchen or wash the kids’ clothes.
When responsibilities pile up, relaxing seems like the lowest thing on your priority list. But the more you work through breaks and push yourself, the more your productivity suffers. It's important to learn when to take a break and work those breaks into your schedule.
Why Breaks Matter
Society may push constant productivity, but working nonstop is bad for your health and performance. Human beings, unlike machines, are wired to cycle between work and rest. When we deny ourselves that rest component, we get tired and can’t concentrate.
There’s no magic formula as to how often or how long to break. Some scientists say that it's best to break after 90 minutes because focus comes in waves, and most of us reach low points of concentration every hour and a half or so.
Another study showed that top performers break for 17 minutes after 52 minutes of focus. You don’t have to be quite that precise, but it’s a good place to start.
If 50 minutes still seems too long, try the Pomodoro method. Pomodoro is a time-management method that has you work for 25 minutes and then take a short break, usually two to five minutes. After four work sessions, you can take a longer break.
Experiment and see what works for you. If you feel productive and alert while you're studying or working, you've probably found the right break pattern.
Breaks for Your Eyes
Your eyes need breaks, too, especially if you work at a computer. You blink less often when you look at a screen, and that can make your eyes tired and irritated.
It happens to everyone, but the younger you are, the less likely you are to notice it. Any time you work or study at a computer, follow the 20-20-20 rule. After every 20 minutes of screen work, focus on something at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
How to Take a Break
What you do on your break matters almost as much as taking one in the first place. If at all possible, do something that gets you up and moving around.
Sitting down for too long can increase your risk of multiple health problems, including diabetes and heart disease. It also makes your joints and muscles stiffer.
When you take your study or work breaks, avoid the temptation to watch YouTube or scroll social media. Instead, try doing something active, like: