When I am concentrating intensely on a task, I can feel my brainpower diminish as time goes on. If a deadline is imminent, I have learned to get into the zone to get it done, but actually, such singular focus will rarely produce the best results.
Most undertakings require input and inspiration from the wider world around us, distracting as that might sometimes be. It is ironic, but ensuring a low-level of distraction can unlock the most novel of thoughts.
However, after about 25 minutes of work (in my case writing), my brain is ready for a proper break. The well-known Pomodoro technique advocates chunking work in such a way, but it does not mention what you should do between these breaks. Jumping from 25-minute chunk to 25-minute chunk over a four-hour period is also a recipe for mental exhaustion.
I have experimented with various mini-distractions over the years.
It has to be something that is sufficiently different to your “normal” work, something that will give you that little frisson of energy and enjoyment. Ideally, it should last a set length of time, something that you cannot stop earlier or continue longer. Because it is a mini-break, you should be able to do it wherever you are at that moment of time.
When you take your head to a totally different place, even for a couple of minutes, your neural paths will reset for the next task, and you will feel mentally refreshed.
Childish as it might seem, I put my faith in dragons.
I have been playing the mobile game “War Dragons” for nearly a year now. You breed dragons to destroy bases and earn rewards. Each battle takes about two minutes, and your dragons gain experience every time. You are limited in how much you can play as your dragon goes to sleep after the battle, but for me, this is the beauty of the activity.
Every 25-minutes, I (totally and utterly) switch off for two minutes and have a battle.
I challenge you to think of any activity that is so time-limited and utterly distracting as a mobile game. Because the number of attacks is limited, there is no danger that I will play for 30 minutes, and it injects that little bit of mischievous fun into my day. My mind is ready and raring again after each little battle. It is like a little reset button for me.
Of course, there are many longer distractions that I enjoy more (in particular with my kids), but this is the only one that is so short yet packs such a hefty punch of mental rejuvenation. I don’t spend much time on it, but I do feel that I am giving my brain a break.
Plus, destroying castles with fire-breathing dragons is somehow very satisfying….
What mini-distraction techniques do you employ? If you don’t, maybe you should?
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