Mental well-being

Mind your Health when Working Remotely

  • May 3, 2023
  • Author: WorkMotion
Minding your mental health

Mental energy and attentional space

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.

Attentional space and mental health


Signs which show you it is time 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.

  • Switching between tasks often and being unable to sustain focus on one thing
  • Losing your grip on your intentions, you are working in a more reactive way
  • Accomplishing tasks at a noticeably slower rate (e.g. reading the same important email several times to comprehend it)
  • Opting to do less important, more mindless work, like checking email, social media, etc.
  • Unintentionally slipping into scatter focus mode


Take a break

Research shows that a refreshing work break should be:

  • low effort and habitual
  • something you actually want to do
  • something that isn’t a chore

In short, your breaks should involve something pleasurable and effortless.

taking breaks



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:

  • Taking a break at least every 90 minutes
  • Breaking for roughly 15 minutes per hour of work you do

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.


The magic of 90 minutes

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.


Importance of healthy sleep

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:

  • feeling more pressure at work
  • only being able to focus for a short duration of time (even less than forty seconds)
  • increased use of social media
  • negative moods: actively seeking less demanding tasks (eliminating those that no longer fit into our shrunken attentional space); spend more time online throughout the day

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.

Mental health advice


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.