A recent study discovered that quick distractions might actually improve your long-term focus. Have you ever tried to stay focused on your work, and then found yourself checking your email before you even realized this shift in attention had occurred? Don’t worry, this urge is not only natural, but it may be productive, too.
Previous research on this topic has differed. We reported earlier this year that long breaks don’t improve your work productivity. That study, however, examined people who rewarded themselves with prolonged breaks, such as watching TV for half an hour. While this new study agrees that extended breaks will derail you from completing the task, it found the opposite to be true of momentary shifts in focus.
After dealing with the same task at length, your brain begins to get bored, thus lowering your focus and productivity. By switching your attention to a new subject for a short period of time, you are giving your brain a new stimulus, which reawakens it. The research showed that people were then able to take this renewed focus and bring it back to their original task to help them complete it better than before their minds wandered.
While this study doesn’t give you permission to browse Facebook for an hour, it does mean that you don’t need to beat yourself up for pausing to send a quick text message. It might be your brain’s way of saying that it needs a brief pick-me-up before continuing on with its current task. The research also found that these mental breaks were only successful when done sporadically, so if you find yourself rewarding yourself with “brain breaks” every 10 minutes, it might be time address your issues with procrastination.