When you're striving to hit a deadline, or a tough challenge has got you feeling the pressure, it can be tempting to force yourself to focus well past the point of fatigue.
Have you ever gotten stumped by a problem, decided to take a break, and then later found that the answer magically came to you in a burst of inspiration? If so, you know the power of strategic breaks to refresh your brain and help you see a situation in a new way.
It's important to choose the right type of activity for your study break so that you can return back refreshed and focused, ready to get back to your books.
Working for long stretches without breaks leads to stress and exhaustion. Taking breaks refreshes the mind, replenishes your mental resources, and helps you become more creative. "Aha moments" came more often to those who took breaks, according to research.
You're likely to tense from the anxiety of studying plus, when you study, you sit in the same position for long periods of time. Taking some time to stretch your muscles out can help relax you more than you know!
Push yourself through too many hours or days of work and your brain starts to push back. Ideas that once flowed easily dry up, and tasks that you should be able to perform quickly become excruciatingly difficult.
Author S.J. Scott points out that the need to make frequent decisions throughout your day can wear down your willpower and reasoning ability. Citing a famous study, Scott notes that Israeli judges were more likely to grant paroles to prisoners after their two daily breaks than after they had been working for a while. As decision fatigue set in, the rate of granting paroles gradually dropped to near 0% because judges resorted to the easiest and safest option—just say no.
Instituting a schedule of regular breaks will also give you a series of mini-deadlines to work towards, which can spur you on to finish a task more quickly.
A small study summarized here even suggests that prolonged attention to a single task actually hinders performance. "We propose that deactivating and reactivating your goals allows you to stay focused," psychology professor Alejandro Lleras says. "From a practical standpoint, our research suggests that, when faced with long tasks (such as studying before a final exam or doing your taxes), it is best to impose brief breaks on yourself. Brief mental breaks will actually help you stay focused on your task!"
Everyone feels invigorated when they are fresh out of the shower. Seriously, it's like you've been reborn. During your next study break, take a five or ten-minute shower to help revitalize and refresh your body and mind.
If you can't take a break, consider switching work tasks.
This is how I get all of my work done. I switch between subjects to keep my brain engaged.
Changing your focus—say from writing an essay to choosing photos for a presentation—can often feel like a break because you are using a slightly different part of your brain.
As essayist Tim Kreider noted in the New York Times in 2012: "Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets… It is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done."