stress tired work


  • The students who got the break had higher levels of attention than those who didn't
  • Five-minute breaks of 'doing nothing' may help boost productivity
  • Scrolling through social media does not count as rest, said study co-author Paul Ginns

Having trouble concentrating at school or at work? There are various attention tips and hacks out there, but researchers found that a simple, unstructured 5-minute break would do just fine.

It's quite normal for people to get tired at work or school. In the face of a challenging task, people end up depleting their attentional resources, researchers wrote in their study, which was published in Educational and Developmental Psychologist.

Taking a rest to rejuvenate one's mind is the natural answer to depleted attention. "(R)est breaks may restore cognitive functioning in support of learning," the researchers wrote.

Studies have lauded the benefits of spending time in nature as a good means of restoring attention, according to The University of Sydney. However, not everyone has access to nature, especially if they're in a work or school setting, though it has been suggested that even looking at videos of nature could help, too.

For their study, the researchers looked at the effects of types of rest breaks on a group of students. They first performed a challenging math pre-test that took about 20 minutes and was meant to deplete their attentional resources.

After the pre-test, one group of students went directly to study mental mathematics. Two other groups, however, had five-minute breaks before taking the lesson. One group had an unstructured break where there was simply a countdown until the break ended, while the other had a nature-based rest where they watched a video of having a walk in an Australian rainforest.

The students then answered a self-reported questionnaire about their attention levels during the lesson, then completed the post-test.

Those that had the unstructured rest had higher levels of directed attention during the lesson than the ones that didn't get to rest. They also solved more problems during the post-test. And although the group that had the nature-based rest solved more problems than those who had the unstructured rest, the difference in their post-test scores "was not statistically significant."

"It may seem counter-intuitive to interrupt a study break to help learning, but short rest breaks – whether they're unstructured or watching 'virtual' nature videos – seem to be well-worth the time, helping students to concentrate better and learn more effectively," said study co-author Paul Ginns of The University of Sydney in the university release. "This could also be applied for workers learning a new skill or concentrating on a complex task."

In other words, even something as simple as resting for five minutes could be beneficial.

The results, said Ginns, provide evidence to support the popular Pomodoro technique. Developed by Italian Francesco Cirillo, the technique essentially entails setting a 25-minute timer for a task and then taking a five-minute break. The idea is to take short breaks frequently to prevent mental fatigue and promote concentration.

Simply put, it appears that the idea is just to give your brain "a total break," said Ginns. This means moving away from your current tasks. Interestingly, even things that may seem like rest could actually be mentally tiring as well.

"If you want your work or study to be more productive, you need to build in simple five-minute breaks of doing nothing," said Ginns. "You need to be doing something different for five minutes. Move away from your computer or device, do some breathing or just sit quietly to rest your brain from the task. Scrolling through social media does not count as rest – you need to take a break from devices."

So, as simple as it may sound, taking five-minute breaks to do" nothing" may actually be the simple key to replenishing our depleted attention. The good news is, you can do this from wherever you may be working. As Ginns called it, it's an "easy productivity hack that is accessible to everyone."