On Breaks, Motivation and Concentration

Today I wanted to talk about the art of taking a break and why it’s important. Obviously, everyone here is most likely familiar with or has at least heard of the concept of “burnout” but I wanted to talk more about my experience with breaks and a change of pace and that sort of stuff!

So, when it comes to exercise, work, studying, etc., I’ve always liked to take a break every few hours instead of doing more shorter breaks and well,… I came across this Pomodoro Technique that has actually been quite nice as of late, especially with other stuff as well. The Pomodoro Technique is a way to optimise your workflow and your breaks to keep your motivation and energy levels relatively high throughout your day. Most people actually work on one task until it’s done and then either take a break or they work on more… but with longer work sessions, the issue (apparently) is that you lose concentration and end up becoming less productive. Meanwhile longer breaks have a similar effect and you end up losing motivation as well and you need to get back into the workflow and all of that afterwards, which is a bit annoying. The aforementioned technique basically consists of you setting up a lot of tasks on a To-Do list and working on one task at a time. You work on it for 25 minutes, then take a 5-minute break, then continue work on the task for another 25 minutes, before taking another break. One of those 30-minute/work+break sections is called a Pomodoro and every four Pomodoro (aka every hour), you take a longer 15-25 minute break, depending on what you need. Some people say that you work on one task until you finish it while others recommend selecting a new (or same) task every time is better but uh, no idea honestly.

Personally, I think finishing one task is more productive. In terms of studying, I basically would take all my notes for one chapter and write them down as notes that are much easier to understand or much briefer, essentially, so that I can learn with them better. So, Task 1 is Summarise Chapter 1, Task 2 is Summarise Chapter 2, …, and eventually my tasks would then be about writing down important things onto record/index cards to study with those. I would then work on Task 1 and dedicate a few of those cycles to that task until it’s time to sleep. It kind of helped me already with the studies in the past few semesters, especially as I’d also end up writing index cards that I then could use before I go to sleep/in bed as well… but it also helped me for chores, too, because I would always dread the dishes, the laundry, and all of that. So, I basically tried out the technique there and uh, dishes don’t usually take that long, so I was actually quite happy about being able to take a break immediately for five minutes, so then I moved on to cleaning the floor, the kitchen, the bath, my room, and so on… and I feel more productive because of it.

I think the main idea is that by taking a break frequently, you get these boosts of motivation on top of quick rewards for your diligence. It also allows you to refresh and basically stay on a similar motivation/energy/concentration level throughout your study session and in the end, I think it’s better than studying six hours straight, then taking a break, and then being tired afterwards, which is… not good. I basically changed it around to that technique overall and it seems to work. Another thing (in terms of studies) that I wanna try out is to maybe use post-it notes to pin certain formulas or keywords or things I need to memorise to the bathroom mirror or kitchen wall or whatever. My flatmate has been doing that for the past couple of weeks and it seemed to have helped him quite well.

Last but not least, I found it quite nice to create multiple small tasks instead of fewer big tasks. It may sound silly but when you finish tasks in smaller bites, you take less time to do more actually. I used to be a waiter at a restaurant and I’d see countless times that people would end up ordering four small bottles of water (250ml) that they’d drink throughout the evening instead of one big bottle (750ml). The reasoning here is that you’d never finish 750ml of water yourself, right? But three 250ml water bottles are no problem… See what I did there? Also, it’s often cheaper to just get one big bottle of water instead of several small ones, but hey that doesn’t matter for this point. What I want people to do is to approach several small tasks instead of few big tasks because taking care of multiple small ones keeps you motivated more. If you have two similarly-sized tasks, you’d basically struggle with the first and wonder “how long until I finish this”. Meanwhile, with seven smaller tasks, you’d eventually reach the point of saying “I only took this little time…” and then you’re later “halfway there” and eventually you “only have a few” left. By praising my efforts like that or by wording it that way, I end up staying motivated a lot more. Similarly, I’m trying not to stress myself out when I go to sleep by saying “I have to get to sleep” or “I need to sleep now”. Instead, I say “I now can sleep” or “I’m allowed to sleep now” which is a lot calmer and softer, I would say. It helped me and I think it’s applicable to the process of creating posts, editing videos, studying for university, getting done with a project at work, doing chores, etc. And more importantly, breaks are very important, so let yourself enjoy some tea in the break or maybe you watch a short video or you go leave the house for a minute or two and then go back inside after a stretch or two… Stuff like that can really help you with motivation and make you feel as if you’ve rested longer.

I think motivation and concentration are a lot about mind tricks, really. Once you say that you “have to” do something, you really want to do it less… Similarly, there’s the 2-minute-rule that is often applicable. The hardest part with everything is getting started. Hence, I try to get working on something for two minutes. If I don’t get motivated to do it within two minutes, I stop it and try again later… but most of the time, if not all the time, I end up actually forgetting to check the timer and it has been a lot more than two minutes already. I end up getting into the workflow and forgetting all about the rest… “The Zone” is ideally where you want to be but you can call it whatever you want and you can try to get there however you want to. Whatever floats your boat. I believe the most important parts are your wording, your approach and your mindset. By approaching a problem or a break differently, you can yield different effects and end up with better or worse results. Similarly, your mindset and wording can often result in a better result in terms of productivity, etc.

Anyway, thanks for reading my post on this topic. I just wanted to write a little bit about this and talk a bit about this sort of stuff. This is not a one-size-fits-all sort of deal btw. It’s just something that has worked out for me but naturally, there are other ways of doing things that can work out, too… So, yeah, try out different things and if you have any feedback or suggestions, let me know!

Cheers!

This post was first published on Indiecator by Dan Indiecator aka MagiWasTaken. If you like what you see here and want to see more, you can check me out on Twitch and YouTube as well.

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