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Brief breaks during the work day can dramatically improve one’s ability to focus on a task. A 2011 study published in the journal Cognition found that brief mental breaks can improve focus on a prolonged task. The study’s authors tested participants’ ability to focus on a repetitive computerized task for 50 minutes under various conditions. The control group performed the task without breaks or diversions. The switch group and non-switch group memorized four digits before performing the task and were directed to respond if they saw one of the digits on the screen while performing the task. The switch group was the only group to be presented with the digits twice during the experiment, and both groups were tested on their memory of the digits at the end of the task. Most participants’ performance declined considerably over the course of the 50-minute task. However, the performance of those in the switch group did not decline at all, as the two brief breaks to respond to the digits allowed them to maintain their focus throughout the experiment. The researchers behind the study concluded that the switch group’s performance was steady because the brain is built to detect and respond to change, and its performance will actually suffer if it must maintain prolonged attention on a single task without taking a break. Professionals with a lot on their plates may see their performance improve by taking frequent mental breaks throughout the workday.

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