How to take an effective break (and be more productive)

Many students are trying to study for long hours without any breaks. Unfortunately, it's not effective.

Our brain becomes tired after a while and then our ability to remember new concepts weakens. Additionally, when we try to study all the time, we're constantly in stress. We're not giving ourselves room to recharge.

We aren't computers that can run all the time. We are humans and breaks are an important part of quality performance for us. Do you think elite athletes train all day long without resting?

According to DeskTime, an app tracking people’s activity on their computer, the top 10 % most productive people work on average for 52 minutes and then take a break for 17 minutes.

Breaks and memory: Primacy effect and Recency effect

Imagine you have a list of words that you have to memorize. Your brain works in such a way that it focuses on the first few words well, so you remember them much better – that's called the primacy effect.

Why? Because we're more likely to start off paying attention, but then can unfortunately drift off when the subject gets boring.

Our brain also remembers much better the last words on the list.

Why? Because when you try to recall the last few pieces of information, they're still in your active memory. This is called the recency effect.

What about the middle?

It fades in our memory. It's not so interesting for our brain.

If we wanted to study new vocabulary or train answering questions for an exam for 90 minutes, it might look like this on average:


What happens when we take a break?

If we take a break, it's going to look something like this instead:


One break means 2 beginnings so we're going to take advantage of the primacy effect twice. We're also going to take advantage of the recency effect twice.

Moreover, a good break can help us recharge energy.

What does an effective break look like?

When you're working out, you need to take breaks between sets and let your muscles rest for a while. Similarly, it's good to take a break when we're training our brain. It's best not to engage the same part of the brain that we're "working out".

What can an effective break look like?

Here's a short list:

Do something not too difficult, or something that doesn't stimulate the same part of the brain.

Another great way to take a break is by practicing the subtle art of the power nap.

How to take a true power nap

Many people say they don’t like sleeping during the day and complain they wake up tired every time.

Well, that happens because they make a fatal mistake – they sleep too long.

According to research, it’s ideal to sleep for 10–20 minutes.In this way, we wake up with new energy without feeling tired.

Even for people who sleep all night power naps have a positive effect on mood, alertness and mental performance (studying, work).

How to take a power nap:

  1. Find a place that is as quiet and dark as possible
  2. Set a timer on your phone for 25 minutes (it takes a few minutes for you to fall asleep)
  3. Lay down and relax (don’t tell yourself you have to fall asleep, that way you won’t, maybe try slowing down your breath)
  4. Wake up with refreshed!

This is how you take a power nap. And also an effective break.

How to make it even better? Drink a coffee beforehand.

Sounds weird? Well, it takes about 25 minutes for caffeine to start working. When we take a shot of espresso before a nap, we not only wake up naturally refreshed, but also feel awake because of caffeine entering our bloodstream. This is calleda nappuccino.

Take a break and remember more


Frequent breaks are a part of great performance. It doesn’t matter if a break is a quick exercise with a barbell, cooking lunch, or just looking out of a window and sipping tea, it’s important to turn off for a while and recharge.

Is it time for a break now?

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