Mind your Health when Working Remotely
- May 3, 2023
The more often we scatter focus to replenish our mental energy, the more energy we have for our most important tasks. As our mental energy steadily depletes throughout the day, so too does our ability to focus. Recharging is critical and worth the time investment.
Research shows that attentional space expands and contracts in proportion to mental energy. For example, getting enough sleep can increase the size of your attentional space by as much as 58 percent and taking frequent breaks can have the same effect. This impacts our productivity, especially when we’re working on a demanding task. The better rested we are, the more productive we become.
Hyperfocus can be pretty tiring—it requires that we regulate our behaviour, draining our limited pool of energy. Eventually, as our energy wanes, focusing on the task at hand becomes more difficult. Our attentional space contracts, and we need to recharge.
If you notice some of the following sings in your body and mind, you should take the time to recharge otherwise the effect can be quite disadvantageous.
Research shows that a refreshing work break should be:
In short, your breaks should involve something pleasurable and effortless.
So, when and how often should you step back from work?
No two people are the same. The frequency and length of breaks depend on countless factors. You’ll have to experiment to learn what provides you with the most energy.
However, researchers suggest:
This may seem like a lot of time across an eight-hour workday, but it’s approximately equivalent to taking a one-hour lunch break and two fifteen-minute breaks in the morning and afternoon. In most cases, these two rules are practical and can be carried out without affecting your work schedule.
Our mental energy tends to oscillate in 90-minute waves. We sleep in 90-minute cycles, moving between periods of light, deep, and REM sleep. Our energy continues to follow the same rhythm after we wake. We feel rested for around ninety minutes and then tired for a short period of time—around twenty to thirty minutes.
A short break every 90 minutes or so takes advantage of these natural peaks and valleys in our energy cycles. Take a break when you notice your focus dipping or after finishing a big task. By taking strategic breaks, we can use periods of greater mental energy for maximum productivity.
For every hour of sleep you miss, you lose two hours of productivity the next day.
The size of our attentional space can shrink by as much as 60 percent as a result of a sleep deficit. Complex tasks can take more than twice as long when we’re tired. We also become less self-aware and have a reduced ability to allocate attentional space effectively.
Other behavioural side effects of getting inadequate sleep include:
In most cases, we’re better off working fewer hours and getting enough sleep than trying to do a full day’s work while tired.
Our energy level influences how well we can focus. You probably experienced this the last time you missed a few hours of sleep or skipped your work breaks. Odds are that all three measures of the quality of your attention decreased—you couldn’t focus for as long, you were distracted by other tasks or interests more frequently, and you found yourself working on autopilot more often.