Take Breaks, Retain More

Have you heard the story of the lumberjack who cut more wood by taking breaks?  If you know the tale, you know the secret: he was sharpening his axe.  Like chopping wood, studying and reading are activities that we actually do better when we take breaks.

Whether you are in school or at work, it’s important to not to overwhelm your brain. Science tells us that the mind cannot usually absorb more than three things at a time. So, if you are reading, take breaks and remember the tendency of the brain to retain 3 things in one sitting. Yellow pads are an excellent resource for this, as simple as that sounds. You’d do well to “space out” the time you have to study as well. The theory of time spaced learning got me through College Algebra at the junior college. I struggled with math up to then and a teacher shared with the class about it. My life has been improved ever since!

The theory is as follows: instead of studying to absorb new material over the course of an hour, break up your time into 15 minute increments (suggested). The data shows that memory is imprinted strongest when you start and stop a study time. Therefore, instead of having strong memories only twice in an hour, you will have them at the start and stop of each mini session. This equals more knowledge! Now this was great news to me, because I loved taking breaks from math!

When it comes to studying for memory, less is more and quality is better than quantity. Slow down and take more breaks, you’ll be amazed how much more you retain for life!

Author: Damien Riley

Damien Riley is a blogger, film reviewer, & podcaster who writes a column at RileyCentral.blog once a week. He has an MA in English from California State University, Fullerton. He married a high-desert princess (now his queen). They have 3 children.

8 thoughts on “Take Breaks, Retain More”

  1. Makes absolute sense. A friend of mine is starting a new company and just kept researching and reading and finally just burned himself out. I told him time and again to take breaks but he wouldn’t. Now he’s behind on his work because he’s too exhausted to keep up.

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  2. The same is true for why most people are productive for the first 2 – 3 hours in a day, and then the productivity drops off. I myself get more done in the first 2 hours of a day, and then it slides as I get slower and particularly this is true after a big lunch where I really fatigue.

    This is why when I have my 5 year old practice school work, I never do more than 15 – 20 minutes at a time, then let him break for a while. They retain and focus the most, older people can hold attention and memory longer, but even then. I am at conferences and meetings for 2-3 hours and I just fuzz out after the first 30 minutes.

    Darn my Attention Deficit Disorder.

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  3. I am so busy I don’t have time to take breaks. Instead I devised a trick I interlace my intellectual work with my physical work. So I’m on the computer for an hour then I get in the garden for an hour and so one..
    Also I tried to add you to my friends list and all I got was this error message:

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    any idea?

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  4. I have certainly seen some benefits from taking short breaks or switching between different tasks (mental vs physical labor especially) but when I’m studying or working on schoolwork, I seem to get more done if I just work straight though than if I try to work in 15 minutes segments/increments with 45 minutes breaks between them.

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