In praise of respite (Part 1)

Sometimes I am already tired in the morning…

When I met a client (an executive in a German corporation) for coaching shortly before Christmas, she told me with a tired expression on her face: “Yesterday I had continuous virtual meetings or phone calls from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm and not a single break! And not for the first time.” And when international time shifts are added to the mix, the first meetings can start even earlier and the last ones end very late. I asked her why she let them do that to her. She looked at me in surprise because she hadn’t thought about whether there was anything wrong with it.

Our daily meeting routine has changed. When meetings used to be held in different rooms, we at least had some time to move around, going from one place to the next. We had small active breaks through group work or disguised as coffee breaks.

Since March 2020 we have been sitting at our more or often less professional and ergonomic home office equipment and sitting and sitting and sitting…. I was not surprised by what the client described. I was surprised that she found nothing wrong with it.

For many years I have been facilitating different meetings / workshops and training facilitators, Agile coaches and managers. And for a long time it has been known what makes a successful meeting. Don’t worry, I’m not going to describe a facilitator course here. But it is important to me to point out an essential aspect that can ensure effectiveness and health, especially in virtual meetings. Do your conference calls on the phone or video also last from 0 to 0, i.e. start at 9:00 and end at 10:00, for example, when the next call is already supposed to start? This means you not only have no break, you are also consistently late.

A managing director friend of mine has agreed on the following rule for his entire area of responsibility: there should be a break of about 10 minutes between any two meetings. He calls this a regeneration phase, enabling you to conclude or sort out the past topic as well as adjust to the new topic and grant the topic virtually 100% of your attention.

We know from sports and neurology that performance improves with breaks. For all meetings, including multi-day conferences and symposiums, take a 5-minute break every 45 minutes or half an hour every 90 minutes! Stretch or do some yoga or a similar circulation-enhancing exercise. Perhaps do the exercises together with all participants. This is not only effective, but can also be team-building and sometimes inspire laughter.

How do you spend your virtual breaks? What helps you stay fit during the meeting marathon? Write it to me, we Harlequins love to learn.

“In our German culture, that (taking a break, the author) is not so ingrained. Anyone who wants to take breaks is often considered unable to perform, “1 says Rainer Wieland, Professor of Work and Organisational Psychology at the University of Wuppertal. “Yet studies have shown for many years that several short breaks spread throughout the day increase performance and bring health benefits.”2 (While smokers will feel rehabilitated, let’s hear it for baking with yeast!)

Regrettably, this does not seem to apply to our economic life. In everyday working life, people even flaunt the attitude I described above and are proud of their superhuman efforts: Exhaustion as an expression of achievement.

This is not healthy in the long run. Don’t allow others to be inconsiderate about your time. Take your self-management responsibility and build in breaks where it seems necessary and sensible. Instead of feeling like a victim of circumstances, create your own time and take a break from what is not good for you.

„It is our experiences that shape us. But it is our choices that define us.“ (Det. Mac Llewellyn Taylor, CSI NY)

And in the second part on this topic, we’ll be talking about the creative break! You can look forward to it next week… 

1 Die Welt, 18.04.2014, Breaks with movement are particularly effective

2 ibid.

Original text: HFI
English translation: BCO

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