We know that it's important to walk away from work every now and then. Taking a break can help you regain focus and make you more productive. But it also matters how you take a break. For a more effective break that will truly revive your brainpower, avoid any activity that puts a demand on your attention.
Picture: Mike Sinko Photography/Flickr
Farnam Street explains that some breaks actually still require quite a bit of our attention. Walking in the city, for example, often requires you to be sharply aware of everything going on around you. The problem with that is, you don't fully disengage your attention, allowing that part of your brain to recharge. They point to the book Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, in which author Daniel Goleman points out that letting your mind wander is important to "attention restoration".
Such restoration occurs when we switch from effortful attention, where the mind needs to suppress distractions, to letting go and allowing our attention to be captured by whatever presents itself... a walk through a park or in the woods puts little such demand on attention. We can restore by spending time in nature — even a few minutes strolling in a park or any setting rich in fascinations like the muted reds of clouds at sunset or a butterfly's flutter. This triggers bottom-up attention "modestly," as Kaplan's group put it, allowing circuits for top-down efforts to replenish their energy, restoring attentiveness and memory, and improving cognition.
When I take a "break", it often just means walking away from my computer to talk a walk or sit outside, but my attention is still on work problems. Sure, a change of scenery is helpful for certain tasks. But to truly bounce back from cognitive fatigue, the idea is to give in to distractions and allow your thoughts to wander in whatever direction they like. According to attention restoration theory, this lets you restore your cognitive abilities and get back to work at full speed.
Read more about it at the links below.