How to take effective breaks to enhance focus

Various studies show that humans can only focus for a limited amount of time before their concentration declines. Breaks can enhance your focus, but they can also impair it. That’s why it’s important to know how to take effective breaks.

How to take breaks while working

Studies recommend taking short breaks frequently and then add a longer break whenever you feel you need it. Francesco Cirillo, the inventor of the Pomodoro Technique, recommends 20-35 minutes of work before taking a 3-5 minute break.

When study groups were allowed to freely choose how long they wanted to work for before taking a break, they started with 1-hour cycles because 25 minutes seemed too short. Then, they went up to 2 hours, then down to 45 minutes, then 10, until they settled on 30 minutes.

If you want to know more about the Pomodoro Technique and how it can help you focus a lot better, read my article on it here.

How long should your breaks be?

A clock or timer is great for keeping track of your breaks

If you’re using the Pomodoro Technique, it is recommended to take 3-5 minute breaks frequently and add 15-30 minute breaks when you need them.

Taking breaks that are longer than 5 minutes while you are working can throw you out of the rhythm while taking breaks longer than 30 minutes between sets of work can completely throw you out of “work-mode” and make it hard to focus afterward.

If you cannot use the Pomodoro Technique, take regular breaks anyway. Our performance usually starts declining after working for over an hour. Listen to your gut and check regularly whether you really are still productive or could use a break.

How to spend your breaks

3-5 minutes

  • Eat a snack and drink something. Healthy snacks like fruit or some vegetables can provide you with a little boost of energy while staying hydrated is super important for concentration. Even just 1-2% of dehydration will cause your ability to focus to plummet according to a study from 2007.
  • Open the windows. Let some fresh air in during your breaks.
  • Get up. Don’t stay at the place you work in during your breaks. Get up from your chair and walk around a bit. If possible, switch the environment by going to a different room or even outside.
  • Let your mind wander and unfocus. Allow your mind to jump around and daydream. It needs the rest from focusing on one thing just as much as your body does.
  • Stop thinking about work. Even if you paused in the middle of a project, stop thinking about it during the break. If there are any pressing things you mustn’t forget, write them down before you start the break.
  • Move. We’re often sitting in the same position for a while when we’re working. Use the time to wander around or stretch a bit.
  • Meditate. At the end of your break, I recommend just 1 minute or 30 seconds of meditation. Start a timer (Google has an integrated timer if you type “timer 1 minute”), close your eyes and focus on nothing but your breath. This will clear your mind so you can fully devote it to work again afterward.
  • Go to the restroom. That way in won’t distract you when you’re trying to focus.

15-30 minutes

  • Do all the short break stuff.
  • Take a walk outside. Just 15 minutes of walking outside can have amazing effects. Lots of the most creative minds in history took frequent walks during their breaks. If you want to, integrate some walking meditation. You can find a good guide on how to do that in this blog post by Kelly McGonigal Ph.D.
  • Eat something. Eat your sandwiches or whatever you brought to work.
  • Do some mundane tasks. Cleaning your desk or doing the dishes can give your brain some autopilot time to relax.
  • Socialize. Use the break to have some fun or talk with others and enjoy yourself. It’s a break after all!

The importance of doing what you love

There is a clear distinction between taking effective breaks and just enjoying yourself.

Your brain will never truly relax during those breaks. It is not supposed to. Essentially, your brain takes some time to adjust to starting a task. You reach peak performance after about 15 minutes of working on a task, not right at the start. The short breaks keep this up by allowing your brain to relax without completely resetting that process.

The long breaks, however, allow your brain to calm down, but as they are under 30 minutes long, you still won’t leave work mode completely.

The methods in this article are designed for maximum productivity and performance, not to relax.

Play video games, play piano, read a book, do the things you enjoy after you’re done being productive. Those are just as important as effective breaks in the long run. Have a bit of both every day.

As you work, stress will build up slowly. If possible, your goals should be to work off all the stress before you go to bed every day. You can work the stress of by doing the things you love, no matter what they are. Spending time with your loved ones is a great way of relaxing after a long day.

Thank you very much for reading this article. I hope you could take something away from it. Please share your favorite way of working stress off in the comments down below. How often do you take breaks?
Have a wonderful day!

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