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Productivity tip: Go for a Walk!

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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