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Science Says Within A Week You’ll Be More Productive If You Try This

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Science Says Within A Week You’ll Be More Productive If You Try This

When someone starts taking about productivity, and how to be more productive our mind often drifts off. We may think that to become more productive we need to undertake some difficult model of behavior or to adopt habits that we feel will be hard to stick to. However, recent scientific findings have indicated a week of camping can effectively change our sleeping patterns, which in turn can lead to greater alertness and productivity, because early risers are found to be more productive than night owls.

The study

A study published on Thursday in the journal Current Biology sought to discover the effect that sitting under artificial light bulbs all day in the office has on our sleeping patterns. The research team was led by Kenneth Wright, the director of the Sleep and Chronobiology Laboratory at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Wright stated: “We already knew that electrical lighting, especially at night, can push the time of your clock later, and that leads to later bedtimes,” but what they did not know is how ordinary light exposure during the day could affect our sleep. To find the answer Wright and his team recruited eight volunteers. Each of the volunteers were given wristbands that measured their light exposure and sleeping times.

The first week of the experiment required the volunteers to undergo their usual activities; such as going to work or school. “Then we took them all on a camping trip,” Wright says. “They slept in tents, and they received only natural sunlight and campfires.” The participants were forbidden from bringing any electronics that produced artificial light; even flashlights.

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The results of the study

Wright and his team found that the sleeping patterns of the participants changed after their week of camping. Even people who were going to bed very late and were having difficulty being alert in the morning saw a change in their sleeping schedule; they were going to bed earlier and waking up like the early rises.

“If you consider people who are very late night owls, they stay up late and have a greater difficulty of being alert in the morning,” says write “After camping, we found that their clocks were shifted — and they looked more similar to the early risers.”

The participants continued to get the same hours of sleep in the wilderness as back home; their internal clocks simply moved two hours (on average). So they were going to bed and waking up two hours earlier. “Individuals who had the latest bedtimes back at home had the larger shift in their internal clocks after camping,” Wright says. By the end of the week all participants had become morning people.

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Interpretation of the results

Two factors are believed to be the cause of the change in the participants sleeping habits. Firstly, the lack of artificial light in the wilderness setting allowed the melatonin (which aids in sleep) levels of the participants to naturally decrease at the right times. Such decrease in melatonin can promote sleep. Secondly the exposure to natural light that was achieved by living in the outdoors helped to set their circadian clocks, which decreased melatonin levels before waking.

This decrease in melatonin levels helped to prevent the groggy feeling or tiredness people can experience when they first rise in the morning.

The theory

Human beings evolved to work according to a 24-hour cycle, which was based on the daily rising and setting of the sun. Our bodies knew to secrete the hormone melatonine (which aids in sleep) just before the sun went down. It also had the ability to reduce the production of melatonine before the sun rose in the morning. This worked together with other biological patterns (our internal circadian rhythm). The circadian clock is a flexible system; it can slow down or speed up depending on how much light is around. Both these systems helped us sleep well and ensured that we woke up fresh and rested.

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This system worked well until the invention of electricity and other electrical devices that allow us to have light at all hours of the day; including the night hours. As we spend most of our days inside, at school, work, shopping malls and the like, we miss out on a lot of sunlight exposure. Sunline is needed to set our circadian clocks. Thus, our modern way of life has in a sense put off balance our internal mechanisms that are supposed to tell us when to sleep and when to wake. This is why so many of us now a days have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep and waking up in the mornings.

What you can do apart from camping

How can you use the finding to improve your own sleep habits?

“We can achieve earlier bedtimes by having people be outside more, especially in the morning,” Wright says. “You could start your day with a morning walk. Raise the shades in the house. Or if you read the newspaper, do it outside.”

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“On the flip side,” he says, “reduce exposure to light at night by dimming the lights or computers. This is especially important within the hour prior before bedtime.”

Summation

If you decide to make a big change to your lifestyle and improve your sleeping habits a week camping vacation is the way to go. Why not take time out of your daily routine and reconnect with the outdoors? Not only will you find that you will be able to sleep and wake earlier you may also find that you become more alert and productive during the day.

More by this author

Rebecca Beris

Rebecca is a wellness and lifestyle writer at Lifehack.

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Published on September 21, 2021

How Remote Work Affects Your Productivity And Wellbeing (Backed By Data)

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How Remote Work Affects Your Productivity And Wellbeing (Backed By Data)

The internet is flooded with articles about remote work and its benefits or drawbacks. But in reality, the remote work experience is so subjective that it’s impossible to draw general conclusions and issue one-size-fits-all advice about it. However, one thing that’s universal and rock-solid is data. Data-backed findings and research about remote work productivity give us a clear picture of how our workdays have changed and how work from home affects us—because data doesn’t lie.

In this article, we’ll look at three decisive findings from a recent data study and two survey reports concerning remote work productivity and worker well-being.

1. We Take Less Frequent Breaks

Your home can be a peaceful or a distracting place depending on your living and family conditions. While some of us might find it hard to focus amidst the sounds of our everyday life, other people will tell you that the peace and quiet while working from home (WFH) is a major productivity booster. Then there are those who find it hard to take proper breaks at home and switch off at the end of the workday.

But what does data say about remote work productivity? Do we work more or less in a remote setting?

Let’s take a step back to pre-pandemic times (2014, to be exact) when a time tracking application called DeskTime discovered that 10% of most productive people work for 52 minutes and then take a break for 17 minutes.

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Recently, the same time tracking app repeated that study to reveal working and breaking patterns during the pandemic. They found that remote work has caused an increase in time worked, with the most productive people now working for 112 minutes and breaking for 26 minutes.[1]

Now, this may seem rather innocent at first—so what if we work for extended periods of time as long as we also take longer breaks? But let’s take a closer look at this proportion.

While breaks have become only nine minutes longer, work sprints have more than doubled. That’s nearly two hours of work, meaning that the most hard-working people only take three to four breaks per 8-hour workday. This discovery makes us question if working from home (WFH) really is as good a thing for our well-being as we thought it was. In addition, in the WFH format, breaks are no longer a treat but rather a time to squeeze in a chore or help children with schoolwork.

Online meetings are among the main reasons for less frequent breaks. Pre-pandemic meetings meant going to another room, stretching your legs, and giving your eyes a rest from the computer. In a remote setting, all meetings happen on screen, sometimes back-to-back, which could be one of the main factors explaining the longer work hours recorded.

2. We Face a Higher Risk of Burnout

At first, many were optimistic about remote work’s benefits in terms of work-life balance as we save time on commuting and have more time to spend with family—at least in theory. But for many people, this was quickly counterbalanced by a struggle to separate their work and personal lives. Buffer’s 2021 survey for the State of Remote Work report found that the biggest struggle of remote workers is not being able to unplug, with collaboration difficulties and loneliness sharing second place.[2]

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Buffer’s respondents were also asked if they are working more or less since their shift to remote work, and 45 percent admitted to working more. Forty-two percent said they are working the same amount, while 13 percent responded that they are working less.

Longer work hours and fewer quality breaks can dramatically affect our health, as long-term sitting and computer use can cause eye strain, mental fatigue, and other issues. These, in turn, can lead to more severe consequences, such as burnout and heart disease.

Let’s have a closer look at the connection between burnout and remote work.

McKinsey’s report about the Future of work states that 49% of people say they’re feeling some symptoms of burnout.[3] And that may be an understatement since employees experiencing burnout are less likely to respond to survey requests and may have even left the workforce.

From the viewpoint of the employer, remote workers may seem like they are more productive and working longer hours. However, managers must be aware of the risks associated with increased employee anxiety. Otherwise, the productivity gains won’t be long-lasting. It’s no secret that prolonged anxiety can reduce job satisfaction, decrease work performance, and negatively affect interpersonal relationships with colleagues.[4]

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3. Despite everything, We Love Remote Work

An overwhelming majority—97 percent—of Buffer report’s survey respondents say they would like to continue working remotely to some extent. The two main benefits mentioned by the respondents are the ability to have a flexible schedule and the flexibility to work from anywhere.

McKinsey’s report found that more than half of employees would like their workplace to adopt a more flexible hybrid virtual-working model, with some days of work on-premises and some days working remotely. To be more exact, more than half of employees report that they would like at least three work-from-home days a week once the pandemic is over.

Companies will increasingly be forced to find ways to satisfy these workforce demands while implementing policies to minimize the risks associated with overworking and burnout. Smart companies will embrace this new trend and realize that adopting hybrid models can also be a win for them—for example, for accessing talent in different locations and at a lower cost.

Remote Work: Blessing or Plight?

Understandably, workers worldwide are tempted to keep the good work-life aspects that have come out of the pandemic—professional flexibility, fewer commutes, and extra time with family. But with the once strict boundaries between work and life fading, we must remain cautious. We try to squeeze in house chores during breaks. We do online meetings from the kitchen or the same couch we watch TV shows from, and many of us report difficulties switching off after work.

So, how do we keep our private and professional lives from hopelessly blending together?

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The answer is that we try to replicate the physical and virtual boundaries that come naturally in an office setting. This doesn’t only mean having a dedicated workspace but also tracking your work time and stopping when your working hours are finished. In addition, it means working breaks into your schedule because watercooler chats don’t just naturally happen at home.

If necessary, we need to introduce new rituals that resemble a normal office day—for example, going for a walk around the block in the morning to simulate “arriving at work.” Remote work is here to stay. If we want to enjoy the advantages it offers, then we need to learn how to cope with the personal challenges that come with it.

Learn how to stay productive while working remotely with these tips: How to Work From Home: 10 Tips to Stay Productive

Featured photo credit: Jenny Ueberberg via unsplash.com

Reference

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