Think about your usual day at work. You are productive when you work in the mornings, and perhaps in the evenings, just before the mild panic of a setting day kicks in.
Afternoons, however, can be vicious. Right after lunch there’s a slump, which can destroy your workday rhythm. In fact, studies have confirmed that 2.55 pm is that sinister hour when productivity levels hit the lowest.
When that time of the day strikes, you don’t need social media, you need time to unplug.
Downtime or unplugging from work is not time wasted. A growing body of evidence and testimonies is elbowing business owners to accept that time away from screens - time spent recharging through walks, naps, meditation, games, or ordinary mingling – boosts physical and mental health, creativity, and productivity.
At a time when the stigma associated with unplugging is waning, creating spaces to relax at the workplace is no more a good-to-have but is, in fact, essential.
Arianna Huffington, a long-time proponent of unplugging at workplace, has predicted that “recharging rooms” will be “as common as board rooms” within the next few years.
Thomas Edison famously splayed his house with napping cots to catch a snooze between hectic work hours. Margaret Thatcher asked her team to leave her in peace between 2:30 and 3:30 p.m. so she could rest.
The list of nap-lovers is endless. Companies as diverse as Huffington Post, Google, Ben & Jerry’s to PwC encourage employees to get some shuteye. Google has installed sleep pods in its offices for staff that desires a nap.
They know that sleep ushers in a natural restorative process and because it is an easy, low-cost solution to employee happiness. Some companies like Unilever have gone a step ahead to create a wellbeing zone to provide its employees with a space for relaxation, mindfulness and meditation.
Today, as Arianna Huffington points out in her book The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life One Night at a Time, we are in the middle of a sleep deprivation crisis.
We are ignoring our body’s circadian biological clock which regulates sleep by rising and dipping at different times of the day. It has a strong dip from 2 to 4 am and 1 to 3 pm. It’s therefore common to want a nap in the afternoons. A nap for as little as 20 minutes has surprisingly numerous benefits: It can help you feel more alert, increase creativity, boost productivity, reduce stress and also brighten your mood.
If your company allows it, you should take a nap when you feel least productive and return refreshed, but it’s equally important to keep the momentum going throughout the day.
Working in a series of sprints with ample time to unplug could help. Professor K Anders Ericsson studied elite performers like violinists, athletes, actors and chess players. What he found has been adopted as a best-practice by experts worldwide: The best performers practised in focused sessions of no more than 90 minutes. There’s a lesson in productivity here.
When work is approached as short bursts of high-intensity instead of long, painful eight hours, it is easier to focus and concentrate. But if you find it difficult to stay attentive for 90 minutes, try a combination that works for you. Perhaps you could work for 75 minutes and spend 15 minutes unplugging.
We need a culture where people can block a ‘do-not-disturb’ time and personal breaks on their calendars. Remember that breaks are also about disconnecting from technology so that you can create more than you consume and connect with people offline.
Steve Jobs meditated on his desk. It was how he get through the 90 hours he worked every week. But if there is one thing you must imitate out of the two, let it be the meditation.
Meditating is a method to train your brain to focus on a single task like breathing so that you can learn to be distraction-free and return to tasks with more clarity and purpose. You don’t have to necessarily sit cross-legged and chant Om. You can sit on your chair, eyes closed, feet firmly on the ground, and take quick short breaths, counting as you exhale. Inhale and exhale “one”, inhale and exhale “two”, “three”…“hundred”.
You could also take a walk: A 20-minute brisk walk is proven to enhance neural activity, attention, and memory.
The days of an employer fretting about how employees spend their time, whether they hobnob at the water cooler or play a game with their friends, and micro-management is a thing of the past. Instead, many businesses are acknowledging that the amount of value employees bring to their work is rooted in how energised they are, not in how many hours they work.
The freedom to unplug, restore ourselves, and enjoy some downtime is crucial to each of us and that’s what brings in productivity and creativity at the workplace.
(Dr Marcus Ranney is General Manager, Thrive Global India. This article is from Thrive Global)