Winter is dark in Norway, unless it snows and it hasn’t snowed enough to light up the town. At the heart of the winter, it becomes very difficult for me to maintain an optimum level of work motivation and engagement throughout the day. I feel drowsy and less focused. I know many experience it, too. Fortunately, the days are steadily getting longer so we can have almost a decent amount of sun light but sun light cannot do much unless we decide to feel better and do something about it.
I was thinking about engaging in social life or work life when I saw a paper by Kühnel et al. (2016). According to this study “…sleep quality and short breaks were beneficial for employees’ daily work engagement. After nights employees slept better, they indicated higher work engagement during the day. Moreover, taking self-initiated short breaks from work in the afternoon boosted daily work engagement, whereas taking short breaks in the morning failed to predict daily work engagement. Taking short breaks did not compensate for impaired sleep with regard to daily work engagement. Overall, these findings suggest that recovery before and during work can foster employees’ daily work engagement.” This reminded of the other studies that indicate the effects of mindfulness on concentration and engagement, how helpful it is to move your joints to their full range of motion at least once a day. There is also a whole line of studies that show the effects of sitting for prolonged periods and suggest that taking a break every two hours or so can be helpful to alleviate these effects.
So here are a few suggestions to feel better and more engaged at work:
Try to get a good night’s sleep: I am not going to repeat the benefits of a good night’s sleep. However, I do understand that this may be a hard thing to do, especially if you are feeling stressed and overworked. When you feel to wired up to sleep, a short body scan can be helpful to wind down. There a plenty of smart phone apps or Youtube videos that you can choose from. Pick one that work for you and give it a try! Here is one by Jon Kabat-Zinn.
Take a short break from work every 2 hours or so: This is supported by studies on the effects of lack of movement at work and studies on work stress. I’ll suggest two alternatives as to how to spend your breaks.
Move your joints: There a few reasons to move your joints everyday. A very good way to do this is going through a few sun salutations. My favourite these days is the so-called classical sun salutation, where you step into gently lunges and move as fluidly and slow as you want to. Keep your breath flowing and fill and empty your lungs fully as you move. Try to stay present and rooted. Repeat at many times as you wish to.
Nowadays many workplaces provide a lounge or coffee area for their employees. It might feel awkward to be doing yoga publicly but maybe you’ll encourage the others, too.
Take a moment or two to watch your breath: Mindfulness is the application of attention to a desired object or activity. You can take a mindful walk or you can do yoga more mindfully. In this instance, I suggest that you use one of your breaks to direct your attention to your breath. You may be thinking that this is impossible to do because your brain never stops and you can maintain the focus on your breath. Don’t worry! This is how the cycle of mindful breathing works. You might feel that you can maintain the focus on your breath for the length of only one breath at the beginning but this will improve. Be patient and gently with yourself. When you notice that you are occupied with one particular thought, gently move your attention back to breath, without further engaging in that thought or getting angry at yourself. This is more than anything an exercise in learning to be patient and friendly with yourself. Before you start set your alarm clock to the intended amount time so you don’t have to keep checking the time. Begin with 3 minutes and move up as you feel more comfortable. Breathe normally.
I hope you find these suggestions helpful.
Jana Kühnel, Hannes Zacher, Jessica de Bloom & Ronald Bledow (2016): Take a break! Benefits of sleep and short breaks for daily work engagement, European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, DOI: 10.1080/1359432X.2016.1269750