Sometimes the work day just flows naturally. Everything seems to be going your way; you’re thinking quick on your feet, checking tasks off left and right and making major progress on your most important projects. These are the days when you’re excited to get started in the morning and maybe even a little disappointed to leave at the end of the day.
Why can’t every workday be that perfect?
On other days, you feel like you’re fighting with a fog just to stay on task. You’re working slowly and beating down distractions like a game of whack-a-mole. What gives?
The answer may not lie with how you are working. Instead, it might actually involve what you’re doing when you’re not working. Rest — ranging from a mental recharge that might be as brief as 10 minutes to a full night’s sleep — is integral to a productive workday. Even if you’re already taking breaks and putting in your eight hours, you still have room to improve. Here’s how:
Take Better Breaks
If you’re not taking any breaks during your workday, now is the time to start. Expecting your brain to perform at peak level for eight hours straight is like trying to run a marathon without pacing yourself. You may be fine at first; you might even do a passable job for weeks or even months! But sooner or later, you’re going to burn out. What used to feel easy will feel insurmountable. Don’t let this happen; pace your workday with brain-refreshing breaks.
Taking a lunch, for example, is one of the best gifts you can give yourself. By eating away from your computer, you are refueling not just your body but also your mind. Not to mention that the break from the harsh computer screen is good for your eyes.
And don’t underestimate the power of a shorter break. Stepping out to grab coffee or circle the block still provide a brief mental rest, especially if you feel stuck or have been forcing yourself to keep working.
Keep these facts in mind:
1) It’s not a break if you don’t actually stop working.
Sitting in the breakroom pushing food around on a plate while stewing over a problem you’re having is not a break. Neither is venting to a coworker about issues with your client — although it might be therapeutic. To get the most from your break, stop thinking, talking and worrying about work. Don’t worry, it will still be there when you get back; the only difference is, you’ll be more refreshed and able to face the challenge.
2) The best breaks involve an activity different from your work.
If you work at a computer, take a break that gets you out of your chair and away from your screen. If your job involves lots of running around, sit down and read. If you work in a stale office building, try escaping to a nearby park now and then.
3) It is possible to over-break.
Taking breaks isn’t going to improve your productivity if that’s all you do. That is, getting up to get a drink of water every 10 minutes isn’t going to be helpful. If you’re having trouble focusing, you might have other problems you need to address, like a need for better sleep.
Get Better Sleep
The breaks you take at work are only half the story. The other even more important type of rest that you need to improve is your sleep! It’s no wonder many of us aren’t as productive as we want to be: half of us don’t even get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep each night.
You need to make sure you are getting enough sleep each night. The actual amount varies from person to person. Your coworker might only need seven hours of sleep, but if you can’t function with any less than eight and a half hours, that’s what you should be aiming for. But there are a few more important considerations to make:
1) Give yourself a chance to wind down.
Working hard is stressful. Instead of abruptly cutting off work and hitting the sack, add a buffer zone of something that relaxes you, like light reading or a puzzle. Avoid using any electronics right before bed, because the bright screens are disruptive to sleep.
2) Make sure your sleeping area is comfortable.
Sounds, too much light, extreme temperatures and even a restless partner can all diminish the quality of your sleep. And by all means, make sure your mattress is a comfortable one — you spend a third of your life in bed, after all. It’s worth it to invest in what you need to improve your quality of sleep. Dr. Snooze has a great guide for picking a better mattress, and I recommend this great article by Lifehacker to improve the rest of your sleeping environment.
3) Set a routine.
Your body expects to rise and go to sleep around the same times every day — don’t throw it a curve ball by switching it up every night or even just insanely late on the weekends.
Rest is essential to giving it your all when you are on the job. Don’t sell yourself short by withholding chances for your brain and body to recharge. Stop treating your downtime like wasted time, and you might just see your productivity soar.