Project Management Institute

Breathing Room

Want to Get More out of Meetings? Schedule Breaks Between Them



By Chris Stetson, PMP

Take a glance at the calendars of your project team members: Are they a back-to-back kaleidoscope of color with no break between meetings? In the short term, scheduling meetings like this can seem unavoidable or even efficient. Hectic travel schedules and the limited availability of consultants or conference rooms often mean we have to grab whatever open hour or two we can.

But in the long term, holding successive meetings without breaks is unsustainable and can lead to productivity loss and burnout. Those efficiently stacked meeting blocks could eventually threaten the project's momentum and success. Instead, project managers should institute a 10- or 15-minute buffer between meetings.


Scheduling buffers or breaks establishes a cultural foundation of punctuality. It provides the obvious opportunity to grab a coffee or refill a water bottle, which, in turn, reduces the distractions of people arriving late so your meetings can begin and end on time.

How often are we disrupted by someone bustling through the door proclaiming, “Sorry, my last meeting ran over”? And how often do we find ourselves repeating previous discussions for the sake of those latecomers? Buffers also provide the foundation to institute device-free meeting policies. Given clear, dedicated times to check email, calls and texts before the meeting, we can minimize the distractions during the meeting itself.


Providing breaks also can support employee well-being and emphasize your firm's value on human capital. While the challenge that time pressures present can at times improve job performance (having a deadline is helpful), it's easy to see how such pressures quickly slide beyond healthy levels. When the pace becomes too hectic, team members are unable to perform effectively. And if that stress continues for too long, burnout becomes a real possibility. This can affect both mental and physical health, and could present a risk of people leaving your team or organization.

Buffers also can help introverted employees absorb and process what they've just experienced. For this oft-overlooked tendency, social interaction can be draining and even debilitating. Buffers can provide a safety net for them to catch their breath, recharge and mentally prepare themselves for the next session.

In short, buffers and breaks are worth more than just a trip to the water cooler. We took advantage of them in school as we headed from one course to the next—why not use them to reduce productivity loss and burnout in our projects? PM

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img Chris Stetson, PMP, is a senior business analyst at ACCO Engineered Systems, Santa Clarita, California, USA.
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