When I was at University, each class was allotted a three hour period.
The majority of professors gave a lecture which lasted about an hour and a half. Then there was a short break, before we gathered again for a seminar.
Others just talked at us for the whole three hours.
Then we encountered Dr Bruce Young. One did not simply attend his lectures; they were experienced. He was a real show-man, who did things like suddenly leaping onto a table and dropping his watch to the floor. It demonstrated gravity well enough for a load of Philosophy students. I think I learned more in his sessions, than in the entire six years' worth of everyone else's classes put together.
So imagine our stunned reaction when, after forty minutes, Dr Young announced that it was time for a break. We had ten minutes to run wild, then we had to come back. It felt like we'd hardly even begun, but here we were rushing for a quick drink in the Union, or diving into the toilet block. It's quite amazing what you can fit into ten short minutes.
Another forty minutes of sheer educational entertainment ensued, followed by ten minutes off. The final session led to the end of the lecture. Never once did we flag nor our attention wander. There was method in Dr Young's madness.
The human brain, we were informed, wasn't formed to concentrate intensely for long periods. It takes information in, assimilates it, then files it away. If you try to fill it too quickly, bits get lost at the edges.
Dr Young had studied the phenomenon and concluded that forty minutes was the optimum period of time for absolute focus. Beyond that, discomfort and distractions intrude. Those ten minutes act like wringing out a water-logged sponge, ready for it to soak up more. It gives your mind a breather, ready to take on more knowledge.
It evidently worked. We all passed. I've used that forty minutes on, ten minutes off routine for study ever since. You can survive any project, essay or revision, if you can see an end to it. Those ten minutes are for Facebook, grabbing a cuppa or texting your friends. The forty minutes are for working as hard as you can without distraction.
As long as they rigidly cycle within their allotted times, then everything will get done very quickly. It won't even feel too much like work.