Five-Minute Breaks the Key to Attentiveness

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Have you ever thought that you were paying attention during a lecture or a while reading a book, and then 10 minutes or three pages later, you realize that you have no idea what was said or read? I don’t know about you, but I have definitely been there. My guess is that you have been there as well—especially while studying or sitting in a classroom for a prolonged period.


Studies show that just as people’s muscles can give out after grueling non-stop exercise, a person’s brain can automatically shut down after prolonged sessions of studying or learning. Therefore, study breaks may be the key to effective learning and paying attention.


Experts suggest that for every 50 minutes of lecture or study that a five-minute break be taken after the first 25 minutes. Simply taking five minutes to stop, stand up, stretch and walk around will make a big difference in your ability to stay focused and retain information. And of course, the longer the study period, the longer the break gets. Another good rule of thumb is that when your mind begins to wander off, it is most likely a sign that you need to take a break.


Nevertheless, remember you have to be willing to allocate your attention in the first place. You have to truly engage your mind with the words on the page or the lecture given by the instructor.


I once had an art history professor—need I say more?—who believed that even if you were to sleep through his entire presentation, somehow the information may seep in, so it was better to attend class rather than sleep in at home. I am not saying that he was unwise, but seriously, most of us cannot even remember our dreams, let alone what TV show is playing in the background while taking a nap.


Another way to improve your attention span is by focusing on one task. Do not multi-task while trying to learn. (That includes studying while watching the latest episode of “24.”) Giving into the entertainment bug while studying will only serve as a distraction, and that study time will likely be worthless.


After reading this, you may be thinking, “Of course I need to pay attention while studying or in a classroom. Isn’t that common sense?” Well, it may just be common sense, but I know that I need to hear the statement, “Snap out of it,” every so often.

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