Making the Most of Taking Breaks

I’ve just returned from a week at the beach, where I took a break from email and social media. My brain and spirit are thanking me. That has me thinking afresh about the breaks we give our participants during training sessions: why do we do that and how can we make the most of break time?

Why do we take breaks?

In fitness training, breaks are recommended for recovery and are thought of as integral to a cycle of continual improvement. “By training carefully and modestly -– stressing the body to stimulate change, and then letting it recover and adapt -– we stack up these little adaptations one on top of the other until, lo and behold, we find ourselves fit enough to run a marathon, lift a heavier weight, or play the best basketball of our adult lives,” writes Daniel Duane. Similarly, in butts-in-seats or eyes-on-webinar training, content is often “chunked” to allow for breaks at regular intervals. That might be an official 10-minute bio break, time to rest and stretch every hour or so. We also chunk content to build in frequent rest stops for Q&A or a poll, or some other change in rhythm to allow for reflection, practice or direct application. We do that to increase the potential for learning to “stick” past the final buzzer on the training clock.

How can we make the most of break time?

One trainer I work with is religious about taking a break every 60-90 minutes during in-person workshops, and often gives an assignment during the break. She’ll instruct people to use the time to wrap up a group activity, or reflect on a discussion question that will open the session after the break. When I first observed her workshops,  I was surprised at the level of busyness she prompted for during breaks. At the time I tended to take a different approach, considering the break time to be “their time” away from the session — time for a quick email check or a call back to the office, for a smoke, or a walk down the hall to clear their head. Since then I’ve moved to a hybrid approach — ending with an open question that we pick back up with after the break. I’ve found that this approach makes for smoother transitions back from breaks, and surfaces some excellent questions and observations that emerged from the “noodling” time during the break.

Here are some examples of open questions that I’ve employed when sending people on a break, moving from concrete to more abstract:

  • What other examples can you think of for this concept in action? Come back from break with examples to share.
  • What in your experience aligns with or diverges from what we just discussed? Think of specific examples to share.
  • Think of a time when you faced a challenge where this knowledge/concept/skill would have been useful to have. What would you have done differently as a result?
  • How would you put this concept into your own words to explain it to a colleague?

What do you think?

What’s your current practice with taking breaks during in-person and/or online training?

What suggestions do you have for making the most of taking breaks?

You are welcome to add your thoughts and input by commenting on this post. I  also welcome recommendations on resources for inclusion in the forthcoming Resources section of the Learn-o-rama blog.

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