Meeting after meeting after meeting, no matter if it is face-to-face or online, will eventually lead to brain fuzz. Someone’s talking, but you have no idea what they’re saying. The same danger lurks in conducting eye examination after eye examination, 20 to 30 times a day. You can almost hear yourself hitting a wall.

This kind of short-term burnout is preventable. Just a few minutes can make a world of difference. Nobody has an endless attention span. There is a measurable limit to how long people can listen and when that limit is reached your brain will zone out whether or not you’ve given it permission.

Think you don’t have time to take a break? I suggest you don’t have time not to take a break. The longer you go without one, the more depleted your capacity becomes to understand and/or make good decisions. The danger is proactive interference. Things that were in your head earlier are coming back to mind. Whatever you were thinking about five minutes ago will interfere with what you’re doing now. You can’t stop thinking about something while doing the next thing. Taking breaks can reduce that. A two-minute psychological buffer zone, a quick but powerful mental reset to give yourself before moving from one thing to the next.

But aren’t interruptions the enemy of productivity? Not if they are between tasks, as opposed to within them. Interruptions between tasks are vital to overall functioning. Taking a break, even a quick one, right before a meeting or an eye examination can make it much more productive. The key is to use those interruptions wisely — and that’s just not something you can do by spending two minutes scrolling Facebook. Move away from your computer. Stand up. Get a glass of water.

If physical exercise is your thing do some star jumps or stretches. If not, try wakeful resting. Spend the two minutes sitting quietly, not reading or listening to anything, and just let your mind relax and empty. Even better if you can do it outside, or at least in front of a window. Being in nature has a huge impact on resetting the cognitive system and restoring attentional resources. Even looking at pictures of nature while you take a break is helpful.

However you choose to spend your two minutes, don’t lose them. What may seem at first like just one more thing to fit into your schedule can actually make whole days and weeks run more smoothly. You and your patients will benefit.


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