Getting back to work - 4 rules to remember

Getting back to work – 4 rules to remember

A week after getting back to work the feeling for most of us is all too familiar – that our holiday is already becoming a distant memory. So how can you keep that post-holiday positivity for as long as possible?

You come back to work hopefully feeling rested and recharged – especially if you took steps to make sure you were not working on holiday. But all too often that energy or positivity start to fade after getting back to work. That’s normally because people think that they can get round four unbreakable rules

Working twice the hours doesn’t equal twice the output

It seems obvious to some people – working 70 hours a week instead of 35 hours must mean achieving twice as much. That can be true if you start from a rested and healthy position, such as having come back from a holiday. It can also be true when you are working on a specific project to a particular deadline.

However, any proportionate return from longer hours will never be sustainable. Studies from 1909 onwards have shown that initial improvements in productivity longer hours start to decrease productivity.

Not only does work expand to fill the time available, people can end up producing less overall than they previously did in half the time. You might think that you can buck 120 years of research but you can’t. You too will end up making more mistakes, and spending more time correcting those mistakes.

The answer is to stick to a schedule, and preferably the 40 hour a week one that those same studies have shown to be the optimum. It’s consistency in sticking to this that will make your productivity consistent and sustainable.

Downtime isn’t optional

If spending more time at work seems logical then spending time away from your desk won’t seem like a good idea either. The truth is though that downtime isn’t optional – it’s essential.

Time away from work recharges us, whether it’s a holiday or half an hour for our lunch. It boosts our creativity and problem solving – by taking time away from a situation we allow our subconscious to generate ideas and solutions.

The way to make sure that we get the benefits of downtime are to give it the same weight as work. Plan it, schedule it, and keep to it. And don’t feel guilty about taking it – it’s as vital to your performance as eating or sleeping well.

You can’t adapt to less sleep

You need eight hours sleep a night, and you can’t adapt to less sleep. If you’re chronically under-slept your abilities will be compromised. Amongst these is your ability to remember how good you used to be. You haven’t adapted to less sleep – you’ve gradually forgotten what you used to be capable of.

Time spent sleeping is vital. If you swap hours of sleep for hours of work you’ll start suffering the ill effects the very same day. But if you’re sticking to your sustainable 40 hour a week work schedule then that need shouldn’t be there in the first place.

Multitasking makes us less efficient

There is no gender divide when it comes to multitasking. However you identify yourself, it shouldn’t be as being good at multitasking.

Monitoring your email, writing a report, and answering a phone-call all at the same time? You’re not multitasking in terms of doing all three simultaneously. What you’re doing is flicking between the three tasks, and continually trying to pick up where you left off.

The more we switch between tasks and try to recapture our thinking the more energy this takes up. If we try and do 2 things at once we reduce our productivity by 20%. If we try and do three it’s reduced by 40%, and if we try and do four things at once it’s by 60%.

That means that if you spend an eight-hour day multitasking on four things at once you’ve actually spent less than three and a quarter hours working. A side effect of the mental effort required is to make us feel like we must have had a productive day since we worked so hard. Sadly, we spent just under five hours of our day switching and catching up.

Stopping multitasking and starting to focus on tasks in discrete blocks of time isn’t just more productive it’s more sustainable in the long-term too.

Getting back to work after a holiday is something that all of us with jobs have to face. The trick to making it successful and sustainable is in working with these four rules, and not in thinking that you can beat or ignore them.

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