Taking a few minutes to do a puzzle — or stare into space — can allow you to return to work sharper and more creative, reports A.C. Shilton for The New York Times. How can that be true, you ask? Brain slumps are real, says Gloria Mark, a professor of informatics at the University of California, Irvine. And the antidote to this midafternoon mind sludge is not muddling through, no matter what hustle culture wants you to believe. Instead, it’s the opposite: You should take a break.

The most compelling reason for taking a brain break is that it may improve your ability to do quality work. A 2022 systematic review published in the journal PLOS ONE found that even short breaks lasting 10 minutes or less reduced mental fatigue and increased vigor (meaning the willingness to persist when work became difficult).

These breaks significantly improved performance on tasks requiring creativity but less so for activities like basic arithmetic. The analysis found that the longer the time out, the better the performance boost. Here are some tips for breaking that brain slump:

Don’t quit too soon. 

Consider your circadian rhythms before arbitrarily setting a timer. Many people have peaks in their ability to pay attention around 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., with things often dropping off after lunch. You can focus longer in the morning but need more frequent breaks in the afternoon.

Break your sedentary ways. 

Heading out into nature for some physical activity is one of the best ways to give your brain a break. If you can’t get outside, a walk through your office building will also confer benefits.

Put your phone away. 

Checking emails is still challenging your brain to stay in the task-related network, so you’re not precisely letting your mind wander. But, on the other hand, even browsing social media may not be the brain break you think it is.

Let your “little mind” play. 

In a 2013 Daily Beast article, Maya Angelou referred to her work process as switching between her “big mind and her little mind.” Her “big mind” did the heavy lifting, crafting the poems that made her famous. Her “little mind,” which she used between writing sessions, loved doing crossword puzzles.

Take a nap or have a snack.

Only some of us can take a midday nap if we work on the weekend. But if you can take a nap, do so. Even a 5- to 15-minute snooze can bring clarity, though you’ll need more rest to boost creativity. Or have a snack. Brain cells need glucose, and their activity is critical to getting into focus.