Non-stop. Jam-packed. Back-to-back. Do these terms sound familiar? Well, they shouldn’t.
We know you have a million things you need to achieve today. But we’re here to remind you that scheduling periodic pockets of downtime into your day is just as essential – if not more so – as everything else on your to-do list. It may sound counter-intuitive, but the benefits of building buffers into the structure of your workday will ultimately enable you to achieve more, not less. And we’ve got the science to prove it.
When you’re concentrating on a task, the most evolved part of your brain – the prefrontal cortex – is what keeps you focused. The prefrontal cortex controls your attention span, your working memory and the other cognitive abilities required to help you achieve your goals. However, research consistently shows that taking our minds off a goal for short periods of time can actually increase motivation. It’s a bit like rebooting your computer. However, what we advocate is doing this before you reach your own equivalent of the multi-coloured spinning wheel of doom and its partner in pain, Ctrl+Alt+Delete. So here’s a few points to consider before you race madly into your next meltdown:
Beware of back-to-back meetings.
Back-to-back meetings are a particular pitfall, says PEPworldwide:nz managing director Kathryn Anda. “We’re constantly seeing calendars that comprise back-to-back meetings from 8am to 5pm. However, you can’t possibly be mentally and physically at the top of your game in each one,” she says. “What invariably happens is that you lose focus and, for example, start checking your emails because you haven’t had a chance to look at them earlier.” Don’t run more than three back-to-back meetings, she says. “If you must, the best practice is to schedule meetings of 50-55 minutes’ duration, allowing yourself five minutes to get to the next one and clear your head in the process.”
Get moving – even for just a few minutes.
Ok – so we’ve convinced you to press pause. What’s the most effective way to ease up? And how often should we be kicking back instead of cracking on? “Essentially, a break means getting away from your desk, not checking Facebook,” says Anda. “And ideally, you need to do this for about five minutes every hour – but at least every two hours. If you have time for a slightly longer break, then go for a quick walk. Get moving! Build little bursts of activity into your day.”
Change your mindset.
To help you build this new behaviour, it may help to rethink your ideas about resting altogether. Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, explained in an article in the Scientific American that after writing his book, his perspective changed. “I thought about rest as something you do when you’re finished with everything else you have going on. I now firmly believe that is wrong. Rest is not this optional leftover activity. Work and rest are actually partners. They are like different parts of a wave. You can't have the high without the low. The better you are at resting, the better you will be at working.”
Well put, sir. So book in some breathing space. Whether it takes the form of a brisk walk, a quick coffee or a catch-up with a colleague by the water cooler, it doesn’t matter. But who knows what you’ll find when you come up for air?
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