How Tech Breaks Can Help Students Focus

I came across an interesting article on multitasking this week, with some surprising suggestions. Psychologist Larry Rosen writes that all our technology, social networks, and mobile devices are giving us a form of tech-induced OCD and attention deficit disorder.

As a result, kids (and adults) are constantly wondering if they have a text, if there’s anything interesting on Facebook, if they have unanswered e-mails, and so on. It’s gotten so bad, Rosen says, that “the average computer programmer or medical student can only stay focused on a task in front of him—or herself—for three minutes.”

To combat this, Rosen suggests that instead of trying to ignore the urge to text or browse Facebook, we should give in—within limits. A short “tech break,” he says, serves to reset the brain.

He says:

“If your brain keeps thinking about a text message you need to return, it’s better to send that text to get the nagging impulse out of your head. Once you stop thinking about sending that text, then you’ve literally freed up space in your brain to focus on more important things…”

Rosen suggests that the brain works best when it has frequent breaks to reset it. Expecting students or adults to work on one task for a solid hour is unrealistic and unproductive. But constantly switching between Facebook and homework isn’t productive either.

Instead, he recommends giving kids 1 minute tech breaks for each 10 minutes of study time. A tech break could also be 15 minutes of video game time or other screentime for 30 minutes of focused work. This time could be used immediately or accumulated for later. By setting aside time for technology, our brains can then focus on the task at hand, without the looming temptation to constantly check our devices or social networks. The amount of time and type of break will vary, but finding the right balance is important for fostering healthy work and media habits in people of all ages. says “the important thing to remember when building tech breaks into your schedule is they should be frequent, but not too frequent and they need to be short, otherwise they won’t serve to refresh and maintain focus but will pull focus all on their own.”

Rosen also suggests non-tech breaks for resetting the brain. Listening to music, talking to a friend (in person, not online), and exercise, like yoga or a 15 minute walk, can all serve to refresh and refocus the brain as well, though they may not satisfy your urge to see what’s happening on your Twitter feed.

Share your thoughts:

Do you build tech breaks into your work day or allow your kids to take tech breaks?

This is an updated version of an article originally published on K12‘s thinktanK¹².

Image Credit – Jack Amick / CC BY-NC 2.0

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