Organizational experts tell us that taking breaks during the workday is a good idea. They help us to recharge our batteries, giving us more energy and making us more productive.
But beyond that, some psychologists also contend that we can make use of this so-called free time to free our thinking as well, giving our mind permission to wander and operate without a deadline pressing on it. Doing this can actually help us to tap into our creative side and develop better business solutions, they say.
It is a time when there is no assignment, nothing to do but follow our thoughts wherever they lead. It is a time when we can be creative and come up with new ideas. It is a time for thinking.
Often we are so caught up in getting things done, in crossing things off our to do list, that we forget the bigger picture. We are so busy fighting alligators, as Floridians say, that we forget we are there to drain the swamp.
These break times help us to remember about draining the swamp. There is no prescribed length for these break times. They can be 30 seconds or five minutes or ten. But interspersed with our work throughout the day, they help establish a symbiotic relationship between doing and thinking.
Breaks Help Us to Focus
Research has also shown that taking even short breaks from a particular task can substantially improve a person’s focus for a long period of time.
Traditionally, many thought that our attention and performance naturally flag after working on a particular task for a long period of time. Many psychologists thought of attention as a limited resource that gets used up over time. But recent research is showing that is not the case.
Performance drops off because people stop paying attention to the task. But attention itself does not wither – we are always paying attention to something. What happens is that when something continually stimulates the brain, after a period of time, the brain becomes accustomed to it, and categorizes it as unimportant.
The brain has evolved to respond to change, so that continued attention to one task, unchanging, actually hinders performance, according to the research. So, again, it is important to take breaks when working on a task that takes a long time to complete, so that the element of change is introduced.
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