Episode 1 (January 2017): Light: how the darkness of winter and the brightness of your workplace affect productivity and health. Also, how to use light to get up more easily in the morning, and to run more effective meetings. And finally, vacations, (the light at the end of the tunnel) – three ways they contribute to career and life success, and how to make the most of them.
The Guardian article that I referred to was written by Jana Kasperkevic and can be found here: https://www.theguardian.com/money/2015/sep/07/america-vacation-workaholic-culture-labor-day
The theme music for the CoolTimeLife was purchased through PodCastThemes.com.
Our sponsor for this episode is: The Bristall Group. Soft skills for today’s workplace.
NOTES: LOW LIGHT AND HIGH LIGHT
The presence of sunlight stimulates the body to release positive stress hormones get it moving. Low light does the opposite, prompting your body to create melatonin, which is the hormone that contributes to sleepiness and sleep. Melatonin can only be manufactured in low-light conditions. The presence of sunlight on a bright summer morning tends to sweep it away.
80% of the world’s population is oriented towards the morning. That means all of these people will be at their best basically between 9:00 and noon, and more specifically between 9:00 and 10:30, when the presence of strong morning light combines with caffeine and the energy of getting to work, to create the most alert period of the day.
This is a highly valuable slice of time, because you will be able to get more of your most important work done during this time, and you will be able to do it better – than in any other period in the day, especially mid-afternoon.
Beware! The light coming from your phone or tablet is bright and is bluish. It tricks the body into thinking the sun is coming up and consequently reverses the process of melatonin production just when you need it the most. If you want to use your devices any time after the sun has set, make sure to download an app that switched your display over to a lower light, lower contrast colour palette. Some phones have this included in their most recent operating system, and there are computer apps like F.lux that you can download too.
Get yourself a wall socket timer, and plug a lamp into it. Set it up with a lamp that is somewhere between your pillow and the coffeemaker, maybe in the hallway. Set the timer so that it turns the lamp on just 5 minutes before your alarm clock rips you from sleep.
Try to work somewhere where there is an abundance of natural light.
In any situation where you have to work or meet, try to get those fluorescent lights turned off. If you’re having a meeting, make it part of your meeting room setup list. Turn off the fluorescents to and turn up the pot lights – you know, the incandescents. Open the drapes. When you’re booking a meeting room, seek one out that has windows, and yes, book the meeting for first thing in the morning when 80% of your attendees will be at their best.
Try using a desk lamp. It doesn’t have to be a pricey full-spectrum lamp, just a regular one that uses a regular light bulb to cast some warmer light onto your working surface.
From a productivity perspective, vacations are huge. They are a major contributor not only to health and life balance, but to productivity.
Jana Kasperkevic in The Guardian writes:
In the U.S, the number of unused vacation days in the US recently was 169 million days, equivalent to $52.4bn in lost benefits. The reason for this, she writes, is that many employees are afraid to take it, while others just don’t get any at all, in fact she points out that only about 77% of Americans working for privately owned companies got paid vacation days. Those who choose not to go fear the face time problem, and they also feel that too much work will pile up while they are gone and they will be so stressed when they return that time off won’t be worth it.”
There are three distinct ways in which vacations work as a productivity and time management tool:
- The most obvious is the vacation itself. It is supposed to be a time when you let go of all of the stresses and pressures of the working year and do the things you really want to do. Most people find the first three days or so to be a major period of transition as they catch up on all the sleep they have missed, and actually gear down from the pace of business. After those first few days, the restorative effects of the vacation start to take shape, and like so many other areas of life, this does not exist only in the mind. It has profound effects on the body, particularly the immune system, as you start to actually feel relaxed and feel good.
- There is also the anticipation of a vacation to consider. If you find yourself in a stressful work situation, putting in extra hours and dealing with crisis after crisis, one of the best ways of mitigating the stress of that moment is to look forward to a break or vacation on the horizon – this is the light at the end of the tunnel. Knowing there is an end in sight has both a motivating and calming effect on your mind and body.
- Third, there’s the memory of the vacation. Once you have had some time off, hopefully you have done something great with that time, those pleasant memories of the activities – or just the rest – will stay with you forever. Those are good memories, and feeling good always has long term physiological rewards. As the old expression goes, no one on their deathbed ever wishes they had spent more time at the office. Great memories flood your brain with endorphins. They make you feel good, and this too serves as insulation against the stressors of the workday.
HOW CAN YOU PREPARE FOR A VACATION?
Your vacation should be treated as one of the most important parts of your job, because that’s just what it is. Consequently, vacation days must be defended if year-round productivity and achievement are your goals. This means you must take the time to plan your vacation period carefully to help ensure a smooth, stress-free departure and a smooth, stress-free return.
First, plan ahead to avoid that pre-vacation crunch. The last few days at the office before a vacation can actually be more stressful than usual, because it seems that all the work that you would have done if you were not going on vacation becomes immediate top-priority. Everyone around you feels you absolutely must get it all finished before your departure. Start planning your departure a few weeks or months before the actual date, and you can influence the timelines of your projects, meetings, and other office events.
Draw a protective barrier around the period of your vacation, especially including the ten business days leading up to it and the ten immediately following it. Make sure those days before your vacation are carefully planned, so that you can hand off responsibilities to others and wrap up your projects. The days preceding a vacation should not be just business as usual for you. They should be about winding down and handing off. If you try to keep on working on your normal tasks at your normal pace on these days, you will simply generate more stress and overwork than the holiday could possibly alleviate.
Plan your return before you leave. Though most people don’t want to even think about their return to work as they start their holiday, a smooth return will help to ease the stress of stepping back into the rat race. The day of your return should not include any meetings. It should be a transition day, in which time is given over to catching up on the events that happened during your absence, returning returning calls and emails, updating your agenda, and getting back up to speed.
Why is this so important? Because too many people simply return to the office and hit the ground running, trying to immediately regain the pace they were at when they left. They return straight away to the stress levels and pressures that they left behind, erasing much of the therapeutic benefits that a vacation brings. Remember: your vacation is a tool for relaxation and rebuilding. It is part of your job. You benefit, your family benefits, and your company benefits. Ease your way back into the momentum of work, just like a runner warming up before a marathon, and you will be better prepared to handle it. Start planning your next vacation immediately.
So there you have it, our podcast on light. Light in front of your eyes and light at the end of the tunnel.