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attention span

How to Focus: Take Better Breaks

August 30, 2022



Note From Rochelle


Dear Writers,


Do any of your writing tasks scare you?


When I wrote to people to ask for blurbs for Mightier Than the Sword, I was nervous. What if they all said no? What if they hated the book? Although I’d promised my publisher I’d do it, I put it off. So I made a pact with my accountability partner: I would do it before our next meeting.


I did it—because I didn’t want to show up and tell her I’d failed.


What are you afraid to do? Would having an accountability partner help you? What about a whole GROUP of partners? If you’re looking for that kind of support, check out the Writing Accountability Group. And if you have questions, I have time in my schedule this week to talk to you! If you’re interested, sign up for a consultation.

Today’s tip is the fifth in our series on how to focus and talks about taking energy-boosting breaks can expand your attention span!


Happy writing,

Rochelle, the Write Now! Coach



How to Focus: Take Better Breaks

By Rochelle Melander


Last week, I talked about how dumping distractions can help us focus. But, as I said, we can shut out the world and focus for only so long. We cannot be productive all the time. We have shorter attention spans. Our ability to focus dwindles throughout the day. But taking breaks can help us to refresh ourselves and renew our focus.


According to proponents of the Pomodoro Method, working for 25 minutes and taking a five-minute break is ideal. I prefer working for 45 minutes and taking a 10-minute break. However you split it up, the idea is the same: taking short breaks at regular intervals will help you renew your focus.


But the types of breaks you take matter. Spending your five-minute break watching Tik-Tok videos or scrolling for Facebook won’t help. When you get on social media, it gives you a dopamine hit—which feels great. So great, you want more! After your five-minute break, you’ll feel a little tug in your brain, a kind of feeling that you’re missing out on something good. it will be harder to focus. And social media has already made it harder for us to focus.


Why? Social media has shortened our attention span. According to a study by Microsoft, our attention span has dropped from 12 seconds in 2000 to a mere 8 seconds. Even goldfish have a longer attention span than we do—9 seconds!


Taking regular breaks can help you be more productive. But the key is to take the right kind of break. Specific kinds of breaks tend to boost energy or encourage breakthrough thinking. Walking in nature, taking short naps, and exercising all increase our energy and restore our ability to pay attention. And repetitive mindless activities like walking, folding laundry, washing dishes, and playing tennis can help us find that “aha” moment.


Here are three types of breaks that are proven to boost energy:


Dive into nature

A study by Marc G. Berman, John Jonides, and Stephen Kaplan at the University of Michigan found that walking in nature can restore our ability to pay attention. For urban dwellers, it takes more than walking around outside—since paying attention to street and sidewalk traffic uses up more attention. Instead, head to a park for your walk.

 better breaks

Listen to music!

Listening to music makes people happier! Research by the University of Missouri shows that listening to upbeat music can immediately lift our mood and, over a two-week period of regular listening, increase our general feelings of well being. Some writers create a playlist for each project, while others save music for the breaks between writing sessions.


Drink water!

We know that we need to drink water to stay healthy. But did you know that drinking water can improve your mood? When we drink water, even if we’re not super thirsty, we feel refreshed. One study showed that students who brought water to an exam got better grades. While many writers use alcohol to fuel their creativity—think of William Faulkner’s ready bottle of whiskey or Patricia Highsmith’s gin—water might work better—and keep you clear enough to keep writing!


Your turn

What works for you? Leave a comment about your favorite break!



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