Last week I had a full day in the office. This is rather rare for me as I usually have meetings with clients and students and so I get out of the office regularly and this gives me the opportunity to give my brain a rest from having be come up with new ideas and scenarios.
While I was working I noticed an interesting change in my attitude and efficiently of work. In the morning, I was able to work solidly for two hours without a break (toilet breaks excepted), but as the day moved on I found myself running out of new ideas and having to take more and more breaks. These breaks invariably involved looking at Facebook, the news or just selecting another playlist to listen to in Apple Music. I found myself looking for excuses to stop working, and to do something else. By the afternoon I just had to get out. I was stuck. I was staring at my computer screen and nothing new was coming in to my head.
So, I went out and got my haircut, I did the grocery shopping and I did some exercise. In total I ended up taking around 2 hours off mid-afternoon.
When I came back to my desk I was enthusiastic again and spend another ninety minutes developing the materials I was working on. Two hours before, my brain couldn’t do that. It was stuck. Taking off those two hours clearly had a positive effect on my work.
This made me realise that the old fashioned, factory style work practices many companies still follow just do not work in today’s creativity centred world. For our brains to work best, we need breaks, maybe not 2 hours, but we do need breaks. Yet, many companies still seem to think that staff must work their eight or nine hours with a 1 hour lunch break and two ten to twenty minute breaks in between.
I know this realisation of mine is not scientific. If anything it is very subjective and has a total number of participants of one. But treating your workers as if they are robots surely cannot be the best way to get the best work out of them.
But for those of us who are lucky enough to work for a forward thinking, flexible company making sure you are at your very best every day is easy. Here’s how to do that:
Get the big work done in the morning
This is the best time, even if you are a night person, like me. Your brain is at it’s most fresh in the morning and so by working on the big, creative things in the morning you are going to get the best out of your mind and do your best work.
Don’t push beyond 2 hours
I know many experts say less time, but in the morning, your brain can cope with a two hour stretch. But stop after two hours. Take a rest. Move away from your screen and do something completely different. Anything will do, shopping, haircut, exercise (or all three) but you need to give your brain a complete rest.
Accept the afternoon will be slower
I was aware of this years ago, but it wasn’t until last week that it really hit me. If I want to get very important work done, it must be done in the morning. The afternoon is not going to be very efficient. My brain will tire more quickly and I will be more easily distracted.
Don’t be a slave to the 9 till 5 mind set
This is a big one. Thinking work should only be done between the hours of 9am and 5pm means you will feel stressed and you will never get great work done. Inspiration comes to us at all times of the day. I do work when I need to work. I rest when I need to rest. Giving yourself flexibility to work at different times and on different days will give you a better chance of creating something incredible and worthwhile. I often find I do my best work on a Sunday. You may not, but give yourself flexibility and you will find you will do better work.
And that’s about it. I know many people cannot have this flexibility, but more and more companies are changing, they are giving their staff more freedom and better working environments. If your company does not offer you this flexibility, then demand it or move to a company that does. You will feel much less stress and will achieve much greater things. You owe it to yourself to do awesome work. If your company is not going to allow you to do awesome work, then find a company that will.
Carl Pullein is the author of Your Digital Life: Everything you need to know to get your life organised and put technology to work for you, a book about how to get yourself organised in the twenty-first century