Research has found that a 15-minute break for every two hours of work will benefit productivity much more than multitasking ever could.
If you’re anything like me, your average morning probably revolved around drinking coffee, reading the news, browsing emails, and looking at Facebook; all before the actual work of the day begins. Once we’re awake, many of us tend to start moving fast, doing numerous things at once as we try to get our day going.
If you did not know, doing numerous tasks simultaneously is impossible for humans; instead, we switch back and forth, focusing on each one for a quick second before switching to the next. And as it turns out, doing this is quite tiring for our brains. Why? Because switching burns up all of the oxygenated glucose we store in the brain for later use, like when we need to focus on one specific task.
“That switching comes with a biological cost that ends up making us feel tired much more quickly than if we sustain attention on one thing,” says McGill University professor of behavioral neuroscience, Daniel Levitin.
“People eat more, they take more caffeine. Often what you really need in that moment isn’t caffeine, but just a break. If you aren’t taking regular breaks every couple of hours, your brain won’t benefit from that extra cup of coffee.”
So, what should you be doing instead? Research has found that a 15-minute break for every two hours of work will benefit productivity much more than multitasking ever could, Levitin tells us. The 15-minute break, however, must consist of activities that let the mind wander, whether that be going for a walk outside or simply getting away from the computer.
“Everyone gets there a different way. But surfing Facebook is not one of them,” Levitin notes, explaining that social networks actual fragment our attention spans more.
UC San Diego psychology professor, Hal Pashler, agrees with the research but also explains that multitasking is not as draining if you are doing monotonous tasks (like laundry, for example) at the same time. It is only when we attempt to do two tasks that are challenging that our brains become exhausted.
The best method for increasing productivity (especially on big projects), Levitin says, is to spend anywhere from 25 minutes to two hours working on a single task before taking a break. If you’re trying to multitask, and end up only working for 25 minutes, Levitin says, “you’re barely getting warmed up before you quit.”