Taking a More Mindful Break
Quarantining might have reduced our commute times, but despite this, and despite the increased family care hours many workers are putting in, the average American is working more hours per day, working on average three more hours each day.
More hours worked does not equal increased productivity, as multiple studies have shown. But the pressure's there and your home office is always there (whatever that may look like - for many of us it's a kitchen table). Quarantine exhaustion is a special kind of exhaustion, so at the end of an extra-long workday most of us are collapsing into Netflix and a bottle of wine with whatever time remains after responsibilities are completed (guilty!)
Exploring practices of mindfulness can build you a third option between frenzied treading water in your email inbox and completely shutting your brain off. Below is our list of ten ideas to take a "mindful break" - which is neither forging on ahead through the to-do list that other people whip at you, nor completely shutting off. Most of these ideas are practices you could take up during your work day by building in time to your calendar (and hey, if it works well for you, try getting your whole team on board!).
The goal is that taking up mindful practices to give your brain a break from the task at hand will actually make you more productive and allow you to do better quality work.
Working from home has a lot of downsides (constant pressure to be working! You have to make your own lunch! Zoom meetings drain our life force!). But, with clear boundaries and a little more insight -- especially from folks who were WFH regulars pre-crisis -- you might actually enjoy the greater flexibility.
Start a morning log-in ritual. There's plenty of expert advice that suggests establishing a clear start and end to your WFH day, and even a set-aside work space (good luck, parents!). That may be a lot to ask given everything else you're juggling. What about just setting aside the first 15 minutes of every day with some intention-setting that works for you, rather than diving straight into email when you pick up your phone from next to your bed? Mine involves planning for the day in my planner/bullet journal and reading the two non-work-focused subscriptions in my inbox, Poem-a-Day and the TheDailyGood, which was recommended to me by a Clubhouse member. (I keep the rest of the subscriptions cleared out of my way with a unroll.me account, which does wonders for mental clarity.)
Walking meetings. Find a meeting to take on your headphones while going for a stroll. There are some meetings this will not work well for: when you'll need screen share, note taking, and video, for example. But some types of meetings actually improve with the added movement: the increased blood flow boosts creativity for brainstorming, and it can help a one-on-one conversation (like a check in chat with your boss) feel more natural, especially if you can get the other party to join in the light exercise.
Hit pause at lunch: We're all guilty of working straight through lunch and scrolling through email with one hand while mindlessly grabbing food with another. While I haven't gotten to the point of allowing myself a total shutdown during lunch, I've at least been able to set aside lunch to do something different for my brain, which has usually been reading a non-fiction book that's easy to pick up for 15 minutes at a time. If that sounds like a lot, consider starting a lunchtime book club with friends and check in via a video call to discuss what you've read every so often. Or just call a friend over lunch and recreate via Zoom what you might have previously experienced by sharing lunch next to a coworker in the break room and conversing about semi- and non-work-related topics. Three recommended books for lunchtime reading, each of which relate to your work enough that you won't feel guilty reading them during the 9-5: Change Seekers: Finding Your Path to Impact by one of our favorite collaborators, Joanne Sonenshine; Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez; and The Third Pillar: How Markets and the State Leave the Community Behind by Raghuram Rajan.
Listen to a podcast while doing chores. It doesn't have to be directly related to your work to build interesting new neural connections (though if you feel like nerding out to something industry-specific, the Center for Global Development has a great podcast for that). We asked our favorite podcast binge-listener for five other stimulating suggestions that might spark some new ideas for the international development professional: The Inquiry, Hidden Brain, Throughline, People Fixing the World, and America Abroad (the last one isn't putting out new episodes but is still worth catching up on if you haven't listened yet!)
Build in mini-breaks and take them. First, there's the skill of building in mini-breaks throughout your day at all. Read about the benefits of this practice a bit and then play around till you find a timeline that works for you (the quoted study finds 52 minutes of work followed by a 17-minute break was the average ideal). A pomodoro timer can be helpful -- I found it took a couple tries to get the right timing and app for me. Then, work on using this time as an actual rest, and not just when you pick your email/Skype messages/Slack back up after completing a project. Three options we like: Headspace app as an approachable way to learn meditation practices, mini-workout in place (aka deskercise!), and taking an afternoon tea break.
Invest in yourself. Take some time to find a training that interests you so you can work better and bring in fresh ideas. Clubhouse members at Bid Boss love: disasterready.org, Humentum's online workshops, and LinkedIn Premium courses for softer skills. Coursera has a whole host of offerings, including a great technical writing course. And naturally, we can't help but recommend joining the next cohort of the Incubator to leverage your emotional intelligence to level up your business development career.
PS. We shared ideas about our best mindful breaks in the Clubhouse. If you have more ideas like what we've shared above, come join the conversation!