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Category: Pro-Opinion, work, holiday, suggestion, decision, mental energy
Opinion: How to take control of your workload after a holiday
Jan Hills turns to science-based strategies to retain that post-break glow
With summer here, at last, my mind turns to holidays. But with time off comes that dreadful first day back at work where the emails have piled up, your colleague has made some decisions about your project which you would not have made and you are trying to get to grips with requests that have been made in your absence. You are probably heartily wishing you had not turned off email for the whole two weeks and wondering how you will ever get back on top of the workload.
I have recently read a book that offers some suggestions based on science by Dr Josh Davis. It’s called ‘Two Awesome Hours’. But don’t let the title put you off as it focuses on strategies you may not have considered.
To be more efficient and productive, the first strategy asks you to ‘recognise your decision points’. These are the point when you decide to start a piece of work, move from one piece of work to the next, or have a choice about what you do next like after you have been interrupted.
We usually do this automatically, like when you open your email as soon as you fire up your computer. But the idea here is to use these decision points to pick the piece of work which is going to be most beneficial to do given the time you have, your energy and its importance. In other words to take control of these decision points rather than letting them take control of you.
I tried it, and although it takes a bit of effort, it works. You end up doing the right stuff at the right time. However, I found that combining it with the next strategy really makes a difference.
This asks you to ‘manage your mental energy’. The idea is you do the work which you have the mental capacity to do in the time available. So rather than managing time, you manage your energy.
Your brain gets tired much more quickly than you realise and when it does that’s when you start wasting time and being unproductive. Dr Davis’ other point is some tasks create emotions which impact your ability to perform, so if you pay attention to this you can spot it and plan the right time to do the work.
So don’t create fatigue with tasks like email when you know you have something important coming up like a presentation to the board. The idea is you can do the tough projects when your brain is fresh and creative.
There are a couple more strategies I think are worth mentioning.
‘Stop fighting distractions’, which is about allowing your brain to wander rather than trying to stop and focus attention for long periods, which can be frustrating and energy sapping.
And ‘Use your mind-body connection’, which encourages you to take more notice of the signals your body is sending you, for example going for a walk to reduce anxiety and re-energise.
So next time you return to work, or before you even go on holiday, try one or two of these strategies for a more productive work life. Start small, do one thing and see what the results are. If you try to do too much at once that in itself will be fatiguing.
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