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Give your brain a break

If you remember the television public service announcement where an egg is cracked into a sizzling hot frying pan as the voiceover says, “This is your brain. This is drugs. This is your brain on drugs,” then you will have a pretty good visual idea of what a new study has found to be the effects of back-to-back meetings on our brains.

We all know what it’s like—moving from one virtual meeting to the next—especially in today’s remote work environment where the need to keep teams connected has triggered a surge in video calls. Meeting fatigue seems to have become all too common. The Microsoft Human Factors Lab recently conducted research to examine the impact of this trend on our health.

Participants in the study wore EEG (electroencephalogram) equipment to monitor electrical activity in their brains. One group attended a half‑day of back-to-back meetings, while another group had 10‑minute breaks between meetings, during which they participated in a meditation activity. A week later, the groups switched their routines.

The tests showed increased signs of stress in the group who participated in the back-to-back meetings compared to the participants who were given the opportunity to take breaks. In fact, stress levels increased as the schedule of meetings continued throughout the day. Meanwhile, those who were given breaks were more relaxed, engaged and focused.

Takeaways from the study to consider:

Build in breaks between meetings to allow the brain to reset and reduce stress. Scheduling meetings on the hour for up to 45 minutes can allow for a 15‑minute break. Reducing meeting times by as little as 5‑10 minutes can make a difference.

Encourage employees to use the time between meetings to do something relaxing. Try to avoid cramming additional work into that time, as that would defeat the purpose. This might be difficult for many, feeling like they are being less productive; but in reality, this can help employees stay more focused and therefore more productive.

Practice good meeting management, with agendas, starting and stopping on time, and recapping the conversation in the last few minutes.

Source: “Research proves your brain needs breaks,” Microsoft Human Factors Lab, March, 2021.