We have to slow down to go faster.

Do you see yourself in this picture? If you’re like most of us, you don’t have the time to take a break. I once attended a two-day leadership retreat in which we sat in chairs for eight hours a day with daylight in sight but beyond our reach. Information download, check. Actual retention and applied action, zip.

Research says, you can’t afford not to take a break. Here are five reasons why you have to slow down to go faster.

  1. Taking short breaks increases memory function. This note in Neuroscience News explains that frequent short breaks correlate with performance. Strategy: set your phone or watch for 3 minute breaks every 1-2 hours. Close your eyes and take a deep inhale through the nose to the count of four, followed by a long exhale to the count of five. Repeat seven times.
  2. Smart Harvard peeps have found the Default Mode Network (aka the Do Mostly Nothing Network) consumes 20% of the body’s energy. They suggest a few strategies, like a 10 minute nap or constructive daydreaming, but we’re going a mile further Strategy: take 3 minutes, close your eyes and build an image in your mind of what success looks like at the end of the project you’re working on. See yourself getting the sale, or the promotion or banking the money. Make your image clear and feel it.
  3. Walking boosts creative thinking. The same Harvard study talks about how free-walking groups outperform those tied to their computers. Strategy: take your meeting on the trail and watch creativity take off. Can’t persuade your co-workers? Take a trip up and down the stairs before you next meeting and fire off all those awakened neurotransmitters in front of your co-workers while they suck down another cup of coffee.
  4. Quiet helps us retain and even recall detailed memories. Neuroscience News cites that if we rest for 10 minutes after learning something new, it will stick with us. Pay attention to the signals in your brain asking for a selah moment. This is a Hebrew word that means to pause and meditate. Strategy: take a ten minute break after learning something new and run through the information in your head. Teaching? Give the class a break to process and you will increase retention.
  5. Play is good for brain function. Applied, interconnected group activity lights up the parts of the brain that generate joy, meaning, engagement, iterative thinking and plasticity. This white paper from the Lego Foundation on neuroscience and learning through play goes into more detail that you can use to convince your boss that it’s time to get out of your seats. Strategy: set an alarm in your all day meeting to get out of your seats once an hour to engage in a constructive activity that applies the subject matter to life.

I’ve started applying these techniques to my retreats and seminars for greater thinking, retention and enjoyment. Yes, meetings can be fun. And the great news is … if someone else is running the meeting, you can create the fun for yourself with frequent standing breaks, a run around the building or a moment of meditation.


  • Donna Carlson

    Women's Leadership & Life Strategy Coach

    360ยบ Life Strategies

    Women comprise 56% of the workforce but so many of us don't ask for what we want. Why is that? After a 30 year career accepting second best, living like a race horse held behind the start gate, Donna Carlson changed her strategy from being a thermometer - reflecting the mores of the world around her - to being a thermostat. Now Donna coaches women to own their personal style and leadership power.