Sunday, October 24, 2021

Having more free time will help improve your productivity, says Sarah M. Ward-Pearsall

A small screen at your desk? An advent calendar full of emails? A brand new locker? I usually jump around when I get a new item of office equipment to play with, but I’m also rather well aware that not getting enough time off is affecting my productivity.

We used to earn a cuppa and a biscuit every time we worked late in the office. Now, if you have one cookie after 10pm and again when you’re 11, you face being fired. But if you take all your work home with you at lunch, and even leave a cushion or two at your desk in case people have larked around, it becomes a bit harder to get work done.

‘Marmite breaks’

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been trying to work smarter and not just harder. As your parents might say, to spoil your success. I just don’t have much free time these days and if you think asking for a day off on Monday is hard, try asking to do a PhD project the day after a busier than usual Monday.

When your manager says yes, do it. Seriously, it’ll be worth it.

This year I’m asking my manager for a “marmite break”. Less time work, more time off.

I’ll give myself a couple of days off. You can ask for a day too, if you have a compelling case for it.

We’ll have a meeting in the morning, and then, if you feel like working from home later that day, you can – or you can go straight home to come back to us on Tuesday or Wednesday. Your flexibility will work wonders for you and for your team.

Of course, I have things to do too – conversations with partners, make-up dates, friends, family and eventually the Abduction book.

The more work we have, the more time we need to spend on it, the fewer hours we get to play with all the office perks.

But to actually come up with ideas and to get your brain working and writing, a few days off will be well worth it.

How to prioritise

Though I’d like to have time for everything every day, I’ve learned this over the years that it’s quite easy to let things fall by the wayside.

I’m thankful for having a brain that can turn my mind around, speedily, from project to project, and I’m a fan of the Buddhist philosophy which says that your energy won’t generate time for us – it generates space for time.

So, it’s better to create “space for time” and to also “create space for work” than to jump around to different things, spinning stories all the time.

Research has shown we burn out by overworking our brains too much, by mental overload. My favourite line from Scrooged, George Clooney’s inspirational manager? “Loss is not an option, you’ve got to pick up the pieces and move on.”

I’ve learned this because this is exactly what I do.

There’s no doubt that multi-tasking is a double-edged sword, often producing the opposite effect of your intention.

We are particularly susceptible to mental overload when we’re waiting for email to come in or for one person to check something on their phone.

We like our screens to tell us that we’re busy. But if you don’t allow a little bit of your time off or your mindfulness time for yourself to recharge, it can quickly become a race to catch up and then one. I feel more productive the longer I do it.

You can practice with your distractions too. Studies show you feel better about you in the long run if you don’t allow people who are not directly involved in your project to interfere with that project and your task. Let the people around you keep an eye on the business and let the project take your mind off all the chatter.

Think of “space for time” as a renewable resource. You might not get an hour’s break every day, but you’ll get your slumber.

Dr. Sarah M. Ward-Pearsall is the author of ‘A Life’s Work.’

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