What skill do you want to learn?

Are you hoping to become fluent in a new language, or are you looking to transform into a more powerful negotiator? What about public speaking, coding, or becoming a better listener?

There's no debate: To learn a new skill means to improve your career and even bring excitement into your life. The workforce's top performers know to prioritize learning new skills, because doing so can improve workflow, increase productivity, and lead to overall success.

If you're working on skill acquisition or simply expanding your knowledge, do this while you learn: Take a break.

Research shows that a crucial part of the learning process is being able to pause and rest--even resting immediately after a session of learning can improve memory. Getting a proper amount of sleep can be an incredible way to consolidate and process what you have just learned as well.

But one new study takes this idea of taking breaks for improved learning even further--according to a study published in Current Biology, taking minuscule breaks that are just seconds long can be vital for skill-learning.

Researchers invited 27 study participants to learn a short number sequence. After 36 trials were completed, researchers found that, "participants were faster at typing the sequence immediately after a 10-second break than they were just before the break."

These findings suggest that the improvements you make when learning a new skill are made during the periods that don't actually involve you performing tasks. Instead, "the brain opportunistically consolidates previous memories whenever it is not actively learning," researchers write.

If we know now that 10-second-long breaks can improve basic motor tasks and functions, we can use this information to inform how we improve on our more complicated skills.

Regardless of the path you travel to learn, learning will always be a lifelong activity--no matter how many years or decades you have been out of school. If you're looking to learn anything, learn in short bursts, practice, and take purposeful breaks in order to improve your rate of retention.

Published on: Jul 8, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.