Most of us have mastered the art of cramming. That is, waiting too long and then studying like crazy for that test. We always knew it was wrong. Didn’t need anyone to tell us that we were procrastinating. Should have planned ahead. However, ends up that those of you who just loved to put your nose into a textbook for hours at a time were also going about it ways that did not maximize your productivity.
In 2014, DeskTime, a productivity app that tracks employees’ computer use, peeked into its data to study the behavior of its most productive workers. The highest-performing 10 percent tended to work for 52 consecutive minutes followed by a 17-minute break. Those 17 minutes were often spent away from the computer by talking a walk, doing exercises, or talking to coworkers.
Also, in 1999, Cornell University’s Ergonomics Research Laboratory used a computer program to remind workers to take short breaks. The project concluded that “workers receiving the alerts [reminding them to stop working] were 13 percent more accurate on average in their work than coworkers who were not reminded.”
While I could not find studies detailing the amount of time to study with new or challenging information, I can tell you that if studying new material or material that you are not all that comfortable with, then a 52 minute period is probably too long. The frontal cortex just gets tired. So adjust accordingly.
If you decide to try for the 52/17 rule, the challenge that you will surely face is that 17 minutes is not a lot of time. Your favorite shows last longer than 17 minutes, and most people have a hard time limiting their social media/fantasy football/online shopping/gaming time to a 17-minute period. What you actually want to be doing is moving. Going for a brief walk or doing some light stretching is much better for you and your productivity than taking five selfies and texting your friends for several minutes. We were not designed to spend our whole lives sitting down.