Tips, Videos, Handouts

Take breaks to make more of your meeting

In this spontaneous video Craig explains 4 reasons why taking a break every 1.5 hours boosts productivity.

“We’re too busy for a break,” rarely works if you are trying to make good group decisions. Craig explains why.

Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hi everybody. Hey it’s Craig Freshley here, in a meeting room of course.

Look, I want to talk a little bit about breaks. Sometimes you’re planning a meeting and somebody will say, “We don’t need a break. People can just come and go as they want it’ll be fine.” Or somebody will say, “We’re going to have a working lunch. We really don’t even need to budget any time to take a break for lunch. We’re going to grab a sandwich and just keep on going.” Somebody will say something like “We are too busy; we got too much to do to take a break. We don’t have time for that.” Well you know — people coming and going in and out of the meeting, grab a sandwich and work right through lunch — that might work for some kinds of meetings but I’m here to tell you that if you are trying to make a group decision — if you really want to roll up your shirtsleeves and work as a group — take a break.

Here are four reasons for actually scheduling and taking a deliberate break. I’m going to tell you the four reasons in just a second.

First of all, when to take a break. My view, built on my experience, is that you should take a break every hour and a half, every two hours at the max. After two hours people’s productivity really goes down in a meeting. And that is reason number one for taking a break in the first place: to sustain productivity. Because like I said, after an hour and a half I can’t concentrate as much, I am not contributing as well as I could be to the meeting; maybe even more importantly I’m not nearly as good a listener. Taking a break allows me to think about something else for a moment. It allows me to check in with the email or whatever that has been bothering me and I’ve been wondering about it. It allows me to go to the restroom and it allows me to get some food and water. Do not underestimate the importance and the value of taking in food and water when you’re using a lot of brainpower to make good group decisions.

Second reason for taking a break. It actually gives the facilitator, or whoever’s running the meeting, some leverage to move the group along. “Okay look, we’re due to take a break in 10 minutes, we’ve got three more ideas to come up with, what are some ideas?” When I’m facilitating a meeting, if there is no break scheduled or no end time scheduled, I don’t have the leverage I need to push the group forward and to motivate them to, like, hurry up and get stuff done!

The third reason — especially if you are making decisions and maybe it’s contentious and you’re, like, in negotiations — taking a break gives people a chance to talk with each other. It is remarkable how those informal little conversations during a break can resolve conflicts. I’ve seen it happen a hundred times. So when somebody says to me that taking a break is inefficient I can be pretty quick to argue that actually, if you’re trying to resolve conflicts, breaks can be very efficient. In fact that is often where the real work happens, as people chat with each other informally outside the meeting on a break. It also gives people a chance to just get to know each other and build relationships. It’s during breaks that people talk about their kids, or their dogs, or their cars, or their vacations, and we get to know each other as real people and that helps resolve conflicts in the meeting. So the third reason is the value of the conversations that happen during a break. When you have an ethic of, everybody come and go however, take your own break whenever you need it, you totally miss that.

By the way, a second thing that happens when you have this ethic of “everybody come and go and take a break when you need it” is people miss — everybody misses — a part of the meeting. And that can really contribute to inefficiency overall. We find we have to repeat things, people come back into the meeting they say things that are clearly based on things that they missed, or they ask dumb questions, or….you’ve all seen it….you know what I’m talking about here. People coming and going out in and out of a meeting that is designed to make good group decisions: that’s inefficient.

Okay got a little tripped up there on reason number three, on to reason number four for taking a break. A break allows the facilitator or the meeting leader to summarize what we just did and make a plan for what’s coming next. You know, the best way for a group to make decisions and move forward is not always the group gathered and talking together. Sometimes it’s one or two people thinking about what the group discussed and making a plan or a proposal for next steps. It’s not a whole group activity, and brakes give opportunities for meeting leaders, facilitators, moderators, to process what was just said and make plans for what comes next. That can be hugely efficient. In fact I really appreciate it when I get that 20 minutes or so every hour and a half, or when I get a lunch break, or when I get an overnight break in a two-day meeting, to be able to summarize what’s been talked about and make a proposal for what happens next. That can move a group forward by leaps and bounds.

So I am making the case that taking a break can be a hugely efficient way to move your group forward and you should not necessarily assume that taking a break is a waste of time.

That’s my take on breaks and here’s hoping that this little talk helps you and your group make good decisions. Thanks a lot everybody. Have a great day!

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