You’re Never Too Busy to Take Breaks

I was giving a presentation to a group of students a few weeks ago about Thriving on Campus AND in Cyberspace, with the message that you can get more done in less time if you quit multitasking and take well-timed, brain-enhancing breaks. The students were fascinated by the brain exercises I gave them to prove my points, and intrigued by the information on how taking breaks is important to learning and creativity. But a few of them felt that they were so busy that they didn’t have time to take breaks.  But they were so wrong. Everyone takes breaks.

This led me to analogy of driving a car.  Say you have to get somewhere by a particular time.  You take the interstate, because that’s the most efficient way to get there.  After a couple of hours you get a flat tire.  You could claim that you don’t have the time to stop to change your tire.  You might eventually get to your destination with the flat tire, but the journey would be much slower, a lot less pleasant, and fraught with danger.  Similarly, after a couple of hours of studying, your brain usually gets tired out, and needs to take a break to restore its full capacity. You could power through with diminished capacity, but you’ll get less done and the work will be of lower quality.

Some people think they’re not taking breaks, but if they’re multitasking they’re taking mini-breaks all the time.  These breaks aren’t helpful — they’re disruptive.  And some people are taking breaks that they don’t count as breaks — repeatedly checking their email or going online for reasons unrelated to what they’re working on.  This really slows them down and doesn’t give them the brain-enhancing benefits of taking real breaks.  Returning to the car analogy.  These breaks are like repeatedly leaving the interstate to drive up and down city streets and look around at what’s going on there.  Nothing wrong with this if you don’t have an ultimate goal or an arrival time in mind.  If productivity and creativity are what you’re aiming for, it’s much better to schedule your breaks for when your mind needs refreshing or you’re experiencing information overload.  Getting back to the car analogy, it’s like scheduling your stops for when you body needs a stretch, when it’s time to eat, and when your car needs more gas.

It’s not about working more, it’s about scheduling your breaks so your mind is at its peak and you can spend less time getting more done!


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