How to Have a Productive Study Break | Top Universities

How to Have a Productive Study Break

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Updated Jul 30, 2022



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By Alexandra Jane

Exam season is upon us, so if you have to be in the library you’d better make the most of your time there. Nothing is worse than sitting down at a desk for four hours only to realize you’ve read the same paragraph three times without understanding any of it.

So, keep your productivity and motivation levels high by taking sufficient (although not excessive) study breaks. Here’s how to be productive and effective, even when taking a few minutes away from your books.

Don’t work for more than an hour at a time


This is a big one – almost all studies on brain function and concentration agree that most people cease to maintain their level of productivity after 50-90 minutes of continuous work. Stints of longer than an hour will leave you exhausted and frustrated, without the results to show for it.

Stick to a plan


Spend a couple of hours at the start of your revision period making a colour-coded, beautiful revision plan – if it’s pretty, clear and draws the eye, you’re more likely to refer back to it, and therefore more likely to stick on track. Also, sit down at the beginning of each day and detail exactly what you want to achieve that day.

An important thing to remember is to be very realistic. Not getting through everything on your list is incredibly depressing. If your aims are unrealistic, a long list of what you’ve failed to achieve can build up in just a few days.

Save social media for your breaks


Whether it’s your phone constantly buzzing in your pocket or the endless stream of Facebook notifications, technology – and in particular social media – repeatedly proves to be the greatest of impediments to a productive stream of work. How can you get stuck in to anything if you know there are six messages awaiting your attention?

Put your phone on silent in your bag, close the Facebook tab on your laptop and get to work. That way, when you do take a break you’ll have something to look forward to, and can focus on replying to all your messages at the same time.

Go for a walk outside


Fresh air can do wonders for the brain, so go outside on one of your breaks and take a walk. If you happen to be in an urban area, try and find a patch of green somewhere nearby. Even a small park can liberate you from the city landscape.

Use a break to tidy and clean


A clear desk makes for a clear mind – it may sound cliched, but it’s true. With various magazine articles, the odd Rubik’s cube and that bill you meant to pay a fortnight ago sitting next to you, concentrating on the task at hand is not going to be easy. Make one of your breaks 10 minutes longer, and really give your room or usual work space a good clear-out.

Switch your study location


The worst possible way to work is sitting on your bed for an hour, and then watching 20 minutes of Netflix sitting in exactly the same spot. Not only will this make you feel like you’re yet to take a break, it will also lead to associations of work and frustration with your bed or favourite chill-out spot, so use your break to travel to a new location.  

Library hopping can be a great sport (if you have the facilities) – if not, just move to a different room or a fresh desk in the same library. You’d be surprised how physical perception can affect your perspective on work.

Spend some time with friends


Co-ordinating your breaks with one of your friends will ensure that you work for the amount of time you had originally intended. Some social interaction will also break you own internal monologue, give you a chance to really relax and focus on something outside of work. Make sure that when you do take time away from studying you’re not subconsciously mulling over work or stressing about deadlines.  

Move your muscles


For a longer break, or an evening when you don’t want to work but still feel the need to be productive, try hitting the gym or going for a run. Exercise is proven to improve your mood through the release of endorphins, as well as being one of the best antidotes to stress there is. If you’re apprehensive about exercising in public, there are a whole host of videos which will get you trim and make your positivity rocket.

Alexandra Jane writes graduate careers advice for Inspiring Interns, a recruitment agency specializing in matching candidates to their dream internship. Check out their graduate jobs listings for roles. 

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