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Our obsession with productivity is making it harder to solve simple problems

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22.02.2019

Your attention may be your most precious resource, and you only have so much of it to spread around each day.

Work and social obligations demand a portion of it. And it’s easy to occupy whatever is left over with stimuli of one kind or another—whether it’s listening to a podcast or watching a show. For many people, time spent in the shower or trying to fall asleep at night may be the only remaining scraps of the day when their mind is wholly free to wander.

None of this may seem like a problem. After all, why waste time doing nothing when you could be doing something fun or productive? As long as you’re occupying your mind with (mostly) high-quality content, what’s the harm?

“The research on learning is extremely clear,” says Loren Frank, a professor at the Center for Integrative Neuroscience at the University of California, San Francisco. “To learn something well, you need to study it for a while and then take a break.”

Education research suggests just a short break—five to 15 minutes—is enough to aid learning.

Frank points to the evidence on educational training, which has shown again and again that people retain new information best when their minds are given time off to encode and consolidate. Even outside of study contexts, taking small breaks after digesting new material—whether it’s a news article or an important email—appears to help your brain parse and memorize what you’ve just learned.

To better understand how brains process new information, Frank has conducted brain-scan experiments on rats. He and his colleagues have shown that when rats are........

© Quartz