Working on a challenging task or project? Sometimes you may feel stuck and like you’re not sure what to do next. Or your creativity may slow down without you even realizing it. But one thing is for sure… if you could take one easy step to help yourself become a better problem solver, wouldn’t you want to take it? Researchers from MIT and Columbia Business School think you should.
In a study published in the Harvard Business Review, researchers reviewed the performance of several groups of individuals attempting to solve a series of problems. The group that performed the best took breaks. But not just that… they took scheduled breaks. This allowed them to switch between tasks at planned times, rather than taking breaks when they felt they needed them. The researchers discovered that the other groups experienced declining creativity without even realizing it, while the group that took scheduled breaks were able to come up with multiple new ideas.
The value of breaks
Giving your mind a break lets you relax and clear your head. And though it may seem like the best choice to take a break only when you feel like it, that could be too late—when you’re past the point of needing one, and your mind has already started to wander.
Putting this knowledge into practice
Blocking out time to work on tasks and switching between tasks while taking a short break in between task blocks may be the best way to stimulate your creative problem-solving abilities. For example, let’s say you work on project A from 8-10, take a 15-minute break, and then work on project B from 10:15-12:15. Then take a 15-minute break, and so on.
How to spend your breaks
There’s no right or wrong way to spend a break, but you might want to do something that has nothing to do with work. This will allow your mind to truly rest. You might take a walk outside, chat with a co-worker, eat a snack, go to the store, or watch a short video. And if you do eat a snack (or a meal), choose something that’s high in lean protein and fiber. This will give your brain the nutrients it needs to keep thinking while avoiding the slump that can follow a high-fat or high-sugar snack.
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