Is the August Slump Actually the August Productivity Bump?
With growing to-do lists and action items, everyone feels the crushing need to be more productive with the hours in the day to achieve “peak productiveness.” This means fighting against the natural rhythms of our bodies that lead to the afternoon slump, as well as the productivity levels that slacken as the week fades into the rearview and the weekend comes into focus. August is the least productive month of the calendar year (coincidentally falling six months after the most productive month of the year, February). However, science provides support for the decrease in email traffic and makes a case for a break, or a few, during the day.
Taking a break is the secret to productivity. Our brains are taxed for hours on a daily basis and must switch tasks more times than we can keep track. Some of this is necessity; we have to manage several aspects of our jobs. However, it is also crucial to being productive. When we toggle between tasks at a designated cadence, we switch gears, and this affords a mental respite. This break allows our mind time to regroup, consequently increasing our effectiveness. It helps us avoid “hitting a wall” or continuing to plug away with diminishing returns. This toggling is not the same as “multitasking.” The former requires us to focus on one task for an undisturbed period of time and when that time is up to then shift to the next task and focus our energy elsewhere. The latter is our attempt to accomplish multiple tasks simultaneously (i.e. respond to emails while talking on the phone and driving at the same time). Our focus is absent from each task and we lose efficiency and risk safety in the process. It is a well-documented fact that our brains are not wired to maintain focus for an extended period. This is why two pilots are aboard an aircraft and why air traffic controllers work in short 25 minute shifts. Paying attention is exhausting. Moreover, the longer we try to maintain our unflinching focus, the more it deteriorates.
Below we offer some effective ways to help improve workforce productivity:
- Catch some zzz’s: sleep deprivation is costly in terms of safety, dollars (an estimated $63 billion in the U.S.), happiness, and productivity. A quick remedy? Short naps. A brief nap enables employees to return to work more focused and refreshed.
- Telecommuting: whether it’s the shorter commute or ability to limit external distractions, employees self-report feeling more productive when they work remotely. Limited studies back up the assertion, finding employees report feeling happier, take fewer sick and vacation days, work longer hours, and feel more engaged. The findings further support a general increase in effectiveness and productivity when employees have the ability to work from home.
- Take frequent breaks: this boosts creativity so you can find a solution to a nagging problem. It helps re-focus your concentration, so you return to the task refreshed, which in turn, improves accuracy, efficiency, and safety.
- Book travel plans: take a page out of the European handbook. Use your online break to plan a getaway. Whether it’s a short jaunt or a two-week cruise to Alaska, you’ll return recharged and ready to take on new challenges and tackle problems with a fresh eye. You also want to make sure your travel plans add up to more than ten days off a year. Why ten? Employees who took that time off saw a 65.4% chance of a raise or bonus.
- Meditation: another form of a “mini-break.” Studies find a few minutes of meditation help restore balance to both mind and body as well as help leaders make better decisions.
When it comes to our brains and the relentless pursuit of productivity, more time does not equal more (or better) results. Vacations and time spent away from our tasks are not only sanity savers but productivity generators. Frequent breaks throughout the day improve concentration, leading to improved accuracy, efficiency, and safety. Longer opportunities to disconnect afford us the chance to push pause and reboot. Employers looking to boost productivity can and should find ways to encourage and support their workforce to take a breather, whether it’s a nap, 10 minutes to calm the mind, or time away. While it might seem unproductive initially, it will pay dividends. So, while August gets a bad rap, in reality, it’s a time to reset, refocus, and sow the seeds for future productivity. It’s time to set your out of office message.