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Attention and Taking Breaks


Explanations > Perception > Attention > Attention and Taking Breaks

Description | Example | Discussion | So what?



Sustain attention with the careful use of breaks. If attention is flagging, take a break. When people are talking or paying attention, such as in meetings or presentations, a break every hour will help them refresh, especially if their is something sweet to consume in the breaks.

Sometimes 'a change is as good as a rest' and changing topic can help sustain attention or moving from talking to listening, or from listening to thinking.


A trainer keeps 'talk and chalk' sessions down to 30 minutes, with more interesting exercises filling in further time. They have 'glucose breaks' every 90 minutes.

In business meetings, coffee and snacks are brought in after an hour's discussion and before key decisions will be made.

A negotiator deliberately puts a key negotiation point mid-afternoon, keeping people busy in the post-lunch dozy period and preventing them from taking a break.


When you are concentrating on something, you gradually tire as your brain uses up blood glucose, etc. This reduces the ability to pay attention. A break in which there are sweet drinks or things to eat can help restore the glucose levels, though do be aware that it can take about 20 minutes for the 'sugar boost' to kick in. This is one reason why breaks tend to be about 15 minutes or so.

Another reason that attention fades with time is due to the human process of adaptation, where we simply get used to any situation. In the way that we do not notice our clothes, other things that initially cause attention can simply be absorbed by the brain as being 'normal' and hence not worthy of attention.

In breaks, people can also stretch and move around. This also helps get the brain going and wakes people up. When we are stationary, it is easy to start dozing off. Breaks help prevent this.

Breaks can also be useful for people to reflect and process information they have received. If this does not have a chance to happen, they may be thinking more than listening in a longer plenary session.

Visually, putting space around something gives the eye a break when trying to separate out individual things and make sense of the overall image. This separation will quickly pull attention to objects placed more into space than other objects.

Sometimes reducing the person's attention is useful if you want them to think less about something. This can be helpful if you want them to agree to something without thinking too much.

So what?

Understand the energy levels people have when you are talking with them and take breaks as needed to let them refresh. Also do the same yourself. If people are keeping you from taking breaks, make excuses such as needing the bathroom or to take an important phone call.

See also

Take Glucose

Ariga, A. and Lieras, A. (2011). Brief and rare mental “breaks” keep you focused: Deactivation and reactivation of task goals preempt vigilance decrements, Cognition, 118, 3, 439-443.



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