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“Break” Up Your Workday to Increase Productivity at Home

By Ryan St. Laurent

Allow me to reminisce about a time that seems so long ago. A simpler time, when my biggest concerns were what I should wear to work and whether I had enough time to grab an iced coffee on the way (there’s always enough time). I am, of course, talking about earlier this year before COVID-19 threw a global-sized wrench in our workdays and daily routines. Here’s what my typical schedule looked like back then:

  • 5:45 am – wake up
  • 5:45 – 6:45 am – coffee, breakfast, get ready for work
  • 6:45 – 7:30 am – commute to work
  • 7:30 – 4:30 pm – work (with a lunch break in the middle)
  • 4:30 – 5:15 pm – commute home

That was a pretty standard work schedule for most of us: ~9 hours at the office with an extra 2-2.5hrs of time related to work (getting ready, commuting, etc.). Let’s compare that to the schedules of today:

  • 6:45 am – wake up, put on a shirt, walk into home office
  • 6:48 am – start working, eating breakfast in front of email
  • 11:45 am – eat lunch over keyboard
  • 5:15 pm – finish work, leave email open
  • 5:15-7:15 pm – answer any additional emails that come in before shutting off computer

Again, I don’t think this is uncommon for many people who are now working from home. Commuting has become a thing of the past. Our computers are almost always in our sight line, even during meals or other breaks. Dress code…and unfortunately for some of us, personal hygiene…is nowhere near what it used to be! We’ve gone from a typical 8-9 hour work day, to working (or having the option to work) 10-12 hours each day. This CNBC article mirrors our own anecdotal evidence that folks are working, on average, 3 more hours each day in the US since mid-March. Should we be worried? Is working more hours at home such a bad thing? Not necessarily.

 

Many studies show that working from home actually increases productivity! There are, however, a few techniques to ensure you’re getting the most out of your day. One is creating a meeting cadence that allows employees to connect with each other even when they can’t be together in person – something we touched on in a previous post. We also believe setting a repeatable schedule is important as well, with a start and end time you adhere to. But the easiest and best way to increase productivity is to take breaks throughout the day.

 

Just like the body, the brain can’t be strained for long periods of time and still produce maximum results. Breaks let us recharge and reset, so we can tackle the next task with all our mental energy. There are several documented techniques on the subject, but they all involve working for small chunks of time (up to 90 minutes) and then taking short pauses. A quick poll on LinkedIn we posted found that 2/3 of our responders take less than 4 breaks like this per day! We believe that the most effective breaks are fully separated from your workspace and detached from email or other electronic notifications. 5-10 minutes is all you need, but step away and do something for yourself. Grab some water, take a short walk, or tend to your garden (as some of our staffers have been doing during quarantine). Whatever brings you some joy and peace, those are the things that will also help you be more productive when you sit back down at your desk.

 

We encourage you to schedule breaks into your day over the next week and see how you feel! Block these times in your calendar, step away from your office and come back fully refreshed. You’ll be surprised at the mental gains you might see.

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