Tip #434: What a Difference a Break Makes!

“When I was a kid my parents moved a lot, but I always found them.” Rodney Dangerfield

Brain research has shown how important breaks are to the learning process. There are two categories of breaks. One category refers to breaks during which the participants can get up  from their seats, move around and often leave the training room at a “break” in the lesson.

The other category refers to breaks during which the participants can get up from their seats, move around, yet remain in the training room as a “break” from any sedentary activity during the lesson.

The first category of breaks is intended to provide an opportunity for the participants to attend to personal needs, ensuring their comfort. Breaks in the lesson also increase the number of beginnings and endings during the day, times when participants are most ripe for focused learning.

In both categories of breaks, when the participants stand up, the blood rushes to their heads, bringing oxygen to the brain and rejuvenating them. When the participants move away from their seats, both sides of their brains are engaged, reinforcing retention.

However, the benefits of giving breaks every 50 minutes or so extend beyond the training room.

This was very apparent during a two-day retreat last week. For such gatherings, many organizations schedule a 15-minute break in the morning and a 15-minute break in the afternoon and consider those adequate. The organization running this retreat adhered to that scheduling approach.

By the way, this was not a retreat filled with a roster of “talking heads,” where the participants needed to sit and listen passively for hours. Oh, no, this was a highly participatory retreat that primarily consisted of large and small group problem solving and brainstorming sessions. To change the pace, there were also a crossword puzzle and relevant Money Ball movie clips to introduce each new topic (the retreat was focused on using data to manage performance).

The Day One evaluations slammed the organizers for the lack of breaks. Since most of the participants had gotten up very early in the morning to drive long distances to get to the retreat site for a start time of 9:30 a.m., they had already logged in several sitting hours before they even got there. According to a number of the participants, there was too much sitting during a long day and the Day One activities completely wore them out. (However, after a well-lubricated dinner, I’m happy to report that they perked up considerably and displayed wonderful creativity during a competitive evening Tinker Toy team building activity).

In response, the organizers adjusted the Day Two schedule to include 10-minute breaks every 50 minutes. In addition, the small group problem solving and brainstorming results were now written on large wall charts. The table groups could choose to help to post the results, stand and watch while a scribe posted the results, sit at their table and watch, or move around to see what other groups were posting.

At the end of the day, even though the subject matter required the participants to conduct serious analyses, there were absolutely no complaints about the lack of breaks.

So, the moral of this tale is that all types of formal business gatherings (not just training events) can benefit from frequent, regularly scheduled breaks. In truth, we should categorize any activity that gives participants permission to stand up and walk around as a break (from both sitting and/or learning or serious thought).

May your learning be sweet.


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