Read time: 5 minutes
What does “working hard” look like to you?
Long hours of activity without a break? Powering through despite feeling tired, hungry, or frustrated?
Capitalist culture tends to glorify burning the candle at both ends. Many of us are taught the virtue of self-sacrifice in service of long-term goals. No pain, no gain! Sound familiar?
But when it comes to learning new things or actually being productive, pushing yourself too hard can do more harm than good.
A couple of years ago, The Atlantic ran a fascinating article on the benefits of taking strategic breaks during long periods of work.
The author cites several research studies that show how well-timed periods of relaxation, and certain kinds of rest activities, can truly re-boot the brain, improve cognition and memory, and help you return to work refreshed.
What’s the takeaway for your GMAT study plan?
Powering through endless hours of prep, without revitalizing breaks, is a waste of your precious time.
But what kinds of breaks should you take and how often?
Which activities will power-up your brain, fend off fatigue, and help you re-focus on those Quant and Verbal problems?
Use these 4 data-backed break ideas to study smarter, not harder (and preserve your sanity) during GMAT prep.
1. Follow the “52-Minute Rule” to Plan GMAT Study Breaks
Not sure how often you should be breaking away from the books? Data collected by DeskTime (a productivity app) shows that the best formula is precisely 52 minutes of work, followed by a 17-minute break.
Sound bizarre? Perhaps—but DeskTime has the data to back it up. They analyzed work logs from 5.5 million users to identify the break habits of the 10% most productive people.
DeskTime learned that the most productive workers (people who accomplished the most tasks in the shortest amount of time), took on average, 17 minute breaks every 52 minutes.
Several publications picked up on this story—Business Insider, Mashable, Lifehacker, Muse—spreading the idea of timed breaks as key to maintaining focus during long hours of work or study.
The Atlantic article points out that the theory isn’t exactly new. Back in 1999, Cornell University published a study proving the benefits of timed breaks.
They studied Wall Street workers, and found that those who took regular breaks were 13% more accurate in their work than colleagues who just “powered through”.
But, in all cases, people needed reminders to take those breaks. So, we suggest downloading an app that will do this for you, and trying out the 52-minute rule for yourself!
2. Walk Away From Your GMAT Study Area
So we’ve established that regular GMAT study breaks are key. But what you do with those 17 minutes of freedom is also important.
For maximum refreshment, step away from your desk, couch, or wherever you study, and completely clear your mind of anything exam-related.
Your best bet is to stretch and move your body—to get your blood circulating and your heart pumping after sitting still for awhile.
You have a whole 17 minutes, right? Go for a short walk, try a quick YouTube yoga routine, do a few sets of bicep curls.
Feel like you really need to watch cat videos on your phone for at least part of your break? Go for it.
Looking at cute animal pictures has actually been shown to boost mood and productivity. Just stand up and move around while you watch.
3. Plan Healthy Snacks for Each GMAT Study Session
Ok, we know it’s very tempting to fuel those long hours of GMAT prep with chocolate bars, candy, soda, energy drinks, and coffee.
Sugar and caffeine are go-to study aides many of us learned to depend on back in high school and university.
But at this point, we all know the devastating, roller-coaster effects of caffeine and sugar on our nervous system, mood, energy level, and overall wellbeing.
Do yourself a huge favour and stock some healthy snacks to eat during your GMAT study breaks. Try these energy-boosting alternatives when you’re running out of steam:
- mint gum (chewing a piece of gum for 15 minutes has been proven to increase heart rate, blood flow to the brain, and alertness)
- protein bar or shake (just watch out for imposters that pack in the sugar)
- apples and bananas (the anti-oxidants, vitamin C, and fibre will help you feel full and re-energized)
- microwave popcorn (the fibre fills you up and it’s a whole grain—just go easy on the butter and salt)
- trail mix (grab a generous handful and choose the unsalted kind)
4. When it’s Time to Re-Focus, Give it 100%
Find yourself distracted by your phone, Facebook, or wandering thoughts while in the middle of a GMAT study session? Of course you do—because you’re human.
But consider this: when DeskTime performed the study we mentioned earlier, the 10% most productive people were particularly good at focussing 100% on work after returning from those 17-minute breaks.
They channeled their renewed energy 100% toward the work in front of them, making a conscious effort to screen out distractions. They made the most of every 52-minute round.
This notion of total focus for short bursts of time is known by several names: The 100% Method; The Pomodoro Technique, and Purposeful Working.
To make the most of each GMAT study session, and really leverage the energy you get from breaks, you’ll need to shut out distractions as much as possible.
Don’t take “just a moment” to check Facebook or Twitter. Turn off your phone. Shut the curtains if you have to! Tell family and friends you’re off limits till break time.
Total focus for short bursts has been well-proven to help learning and retention. Make this (and the other strategies we listed here) the foundation of your smarter, healthier GMAT study routine—and you’ll hit your target score in no time.
Looking for more GMAT help? Check out our other blog posts, or attend one our free GMAT workshops for study tips, problem-solving techniques, and peer support.