How to improve your focus for work and study

Working or studying 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.

Switching off opens the mind ……why? Let’s take a look at how our brains work.

The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is the thinking part of your brain. It is active for goal-oriented work that requires concentration and is also responsible for logical thinking, decision making and will power. This fatigues over time especially during prolonged work.

Studies have shown that intervals of focus and task-goal orientation with short periods of rest, lead to improved focus and concentration. If we don’t take breaks, the stimulus remains constant over a prolonged time and the brain gradually stops registering. This causes a lack of focus and can lead to errors being made or overlooked. This is why we often miss our own spelling errors even after proof-reading a document we have been working on as our brains just don’t differentiate the content after prolonged exposure. We become “habituated” to the stimulus and it no longer registers.

Based on the theory that the brain requires intermittent bouts of rest for improved performance and focus, different techniques were introduced. The Pomodoro Technique was introduced as a simple time management method in 1992.
An example of the Pomodoro Technique:

  1. Set your task/goal to achieve
  2. Start working but set your timer for a break within 25 to 50 minutes
  3. Take a 5-10 min break every 25 – 50 mins

4 activities you can do on a break:

Ensure the break delivers! In other words, not all breaks are equal. Spending your 5 minute break scrolling social media can actually increase stress and heighten a lack of focus upon returning to the work or study task. Exercise, movement or structured relaxation breaks were found to boost performance upon returning to the task at hand. Here are 4 ideas - 1/ eat a healthy snack like edamame, 2/ perform a 2-5 min Box Breathing exercise, 3/ complete a tension relieving stretch routine, 4/ perform a 5 min HHIT or cardio workout

Benefits of taking a break for mental and physical wellbeing

  • Improves mental wellbeing
  • Opens the brain to new ideas
  • Shifts focus to directly reduce fatigue and to naturally recover
  • Helps increase blood flow to areas in the brain for focus and attention
  • Improves mindfulness to help you shift health attitudes and habits
  • Boosts fitness – short bouts of exercise that accumulate over the course of a day are as beneficial as one long bout of exercise
  • Allows a focus on personal growth and small behaviour changes that lead to improved performance at work and beyond- stress reduction
  • Provides tension relief
  • Allows an opportunity to attend to self-care
  • Increases the likelihood of eating and hydrating – provide adequate energy for the demands of the day

Health Breaks facilitates healthy breaks for employees and students in the areas of body, mind, food and social wellbeing. Contact us to find out more: 

Author: Kristin McMaster, Director, Health Breaks – encouraging employees to take a break for their health daily