Meetings have become the leitmotiv of many companies, even those whose employees work from home. Therefore, it is possible that you have several meetings in the same day. And if so, it is very likely that at the end of the day you will feel exhausted, as if those encounters had taken away your vital force. Actually, it is so. And you’re not the only one this happens to.
Having too many meetings affects your brain
Having a day full of meetings not only generates exhaustion and stress. A recent study conducted at Microsoft’s Human Factors Lab revealed that attending too many meetings and taking too few breaks can cause our brains to work differently.
These researchers asked two groups of 14 people to participate in video call meetings while wearing electroencephalogram equipment that monitored their brain’s electrical activity.
On a Monday, some people participated in four half-hour meetings without breaks, while others had four half-hour meetings but with 10-minute rest periods in between to relax. The following Monday, the two groups switched roles.
Neuroscientists noted that in people who had back-to-back meetings, beta wave activity increased with each meeting, indicating elevated levels of stress. In fact, the mere anticipation of the next meeting caused a spike in beta activity during the transition period between meetings. Also, an excess of beta waves consumes a lot of mental energy.
The researchers also measured the difference in left and right alpha wave activity in the frontal regions of the brain, known as frontal alpha asymmetry, which indicates the level of mental involvement in relation to the activity at hand.
Participants who took breaks showed positive frontal alpha asymmetry, suggesting a higher level of attention and concentration during meetings. However, those who did not take breaks and participated in too many meetings showed a negative asymmetry, indicating that they were more distracted and less involved with what was happening.
In the image below we can see that beta activity remained relatively stable in the brains of those who took short breaks. However, beta waves increased as time passed in those who chained several meetings.
How to take advantage of breaks in meeting marathons?
The pandemic promoted working from home and some bad habits, such as chaining one meeting with another without even having time to get up and drink a glass of water. However, Neuroscience reveals that taking breaks of at least 10 minutes is essential.
As a general rule, it is difficult to maintain high levels of concentration for a long time. Fatigue starts setting in 30 to 40 minutes into a meeting. Therefore, although at first it seems that concentrating all the work or meetings is a more productive strategy, it would actually be advisable to take short breaks to reduce stress, relax and rediscover focus.
During that time, it’s important to avoid the temptation to read work emails or check social media as this is not a true break. Instead, we should get up and do something that helps us relax or disconnect for a few minutes from work, such as looking at the landscape through a window, walking around, drinking tea or, even better, practicing breathing exercises or some relaxation technique that helps the body release tension.
In any case, the most effective way to “reset” our brain is to disconnect from work and relax our mind. Those few minutes can make a big difference in our stress levels and ability to focus, helping us to be more productive in the next meeting so we arrive less exhausted at the end of the day.
Spataro, J. (2020) The future of work—the good, the challenging & the unknown. In: Microsoft.
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