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Productivity tip: Go for a Walk!

February 19, 2010 Leave a comment

Like many people, at one time I used to find I was “too busy” to take a proper lunch break. I used to eat my lunch at my desk, maybe browse the internet for a bit and then carry on. Of course this was counter-productive – the positive effects on health and productivity of taking a break during the working day are widely accepted, even if they are not always accepted by all our bosses.

I am also not alone, I expect, in finding the standard 9-5 working day doesn’t fit well with my natural biorhythm. I am at my best in the morning, so I usually get most of my work done before lunchtime, and then after that I fade.

Like many people, I tend to suffer quite badly from a post-lunch slump; between 2 o’clock and 3 o’clock I never really used to get anything done at all and it was usually past 4 o’clock by the time I got properly stuck back into my work again, and by then it was soon time to stop again.

What I found out eventually was that not only do I need a break away from my desk, but that I need to get outside to get some fresh air and activity. I started noticing this when I started running at lunchtimes, I realised that (counter-intuitively) I seemed to be less jaded in the afternoons after running, than on the days when I didn’t. So I started making a point of going out for a walk on the other days and found that without the inevitable tiredness caused by running a few miles, I was even more alert.

So now, unless it is wet, I eat my lunch at my desk as I work (I always find it a struggle to wait until 12), then when I’ve finished whatever I’ve been working on I go outside for as close to an hour as I can manage. For me, a good brisk walk works best – a purposeful pace seems to revive me by the time I get back to my desk I am firing on all cylinders and ready to get back to work. This seems to suit my body’s metabolism and reduces the urge to go to sleep in the afternoon.

Even if your body doesn’t crave physical activity like mine, you still need to give your brain a rest. When we are busy, it may seem that we are too busy to take a break, but in fact not taking one means our productivity suffers – so in fact the correct response should be that we are too busy not to take a break. I find that getting away from my desk enforces a proper rest on my brain (and eyes) by doing something else entirely. After 4 hours or so of (usually) sustained effort I need it. When I get back I feel much better, and ready to do battle again.

Secondly, by going outside and having a walk, I give my brain a chance to idle. Walking along the street (especially in a busy city like London) is never dull, even if I have no particular object in mind. Sometimes I just pick a direction and walk, other times I will go somewhere specific, like Regent’s Park which is near to my current office and large enough to be able to get away from the urban bustle. My thoughts are directed away from whatever I’m working on, which means that straight away my subconscious sets to work and I usually remember several things I mustn’t forget to do, or a solution comes to that problem I was grappling with before lunch. How often does this happen to all of us on the way home? By going outside at lunch time I get two chances a day for my subconscious to produce that eureka moment, instead of one.

Lunch is not for wimps – improve your productivity by having an hour off at lunchtime!

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Categories: Work Tags: , ,

Wrapping up in a hurry

February 8, 2010 Leave a comment

My current project nearly finished, unexpectedly, due to client funding issues which were only resolved at the very last hour (I was within 30 minutes of going off site).

As a result of trying to close down and handover my work, I have a few lessons learned for next time:

  • Everything takes longer than expected. This is true at any time, but it is only when you are battling against the clock that you really notice. (It applies just as much when going on holiday).
  • Expect all systems to be unresponsive, fail, run out of disk space, and generally not work on the last day, especially if it is a Friday afternoon or the last working day of the month (which it almost certainly will be).
  • There will be loads of unplanned interruptions, especially on the last day, which will be filled with crisis meetings.

Projects rarely terminate suddenly without warning. When dark clouds start to appear on the horizon (hopefully giving a few weeks’ notice), aim to reduce the number of tasks in progress by finishing as many of them as possible. Then you won’t have too much in flight when the plug is suddenly pulled. If you are the project manager, make sure your whole team follows the same strategy. Tie up loose ends, and don’t start anything new unless you are going to run out of work. But keep more or less to the plan; if the storm clouds blow away, you can carry on as if nothing happened.

Once the final decision is taken to close down the project, the priority changes – the aim is to leave it in a clean state, ready for somebody else to pick up in a few weeks’ time. It’s worth doing well, just in case the person picking up the threads later turns out to be you! Be realistic about how much you can do. Abandon large jobs altogether and concentrate on what can be achieved in the remaining few days. The focus should be on the small tasks that will be forgotten in a month’s time, rather than what was previously on the critical path.

  • Do one thing at a time in priority order. If there is time something else can always be squeezed in – but the chances are, you won’t have time.
  • Try to have everything important finished with a day to spare, as the last day is usually a write-off.
  • If you have a lot of files or documents to transfer to a repository, or backup, do it early.
  • Start the final handover email several days in advance. Put in some headings of things to remember and fill in the detail later as things are completed. That way you will at least remember everything that needs to be said in the last minute rush.

Finally, if you’d prefer to carry on, clear your desk and take your stuff home early. That way you will get a last-minute reprieve and have to bring it all back again. Well, it worked for me.

Categories: Work Tags: ,