Go home on time! Working long hours increases your chance of having a stroke



Is it time to cut back on overtime?
Annie Spratt

Libby Sander, Bond University

Australia is in the bottom third of OECD countries when it comes to working long hours, with 13% of us clocking up 50 hours or more a week in paid work.

These long hours are bad for our health. A new study from France has found that regularly working long days of ten hours or more increases our risk of having a stroke.

Other research has found that employees who work long work hours are likely to have poorer mental health and lower-quality sleep.

Long working hours have also been shown to increase likelihood of smoking, excessive drinking, and weight gain.




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Long hours at the office could be killing you – the case for a shorter working week


Long hours are bad for our health

The effects of regular long work hours on our health are wide-ranging.

The new French study of more than 143 ,000 participants found those who worked ten or more hours a day for at least 50 days per year had a 29% greater risk of stroke.

The association showed no difference between men and women, but was stronger in white-collar workers under 50 years of age.

Another meta-analysis of more than 600,000 people, published in the British medical journal The Lancet, found similar effects. Employees working long hours (40-55 hours per week) have a higher risk of stroke compared with those working standard working hours (35-40 hours per week).

The association between long working hours and stroke was stronger among white-collar workers.
Bonneval Sebastien

Irregular work hours, or shift work, has also been associated with a range of negative health and well-being outcomes, including the disruption of our circadian rhythm, sleep, accident rates, mental health, and the risk of having a heart attack.




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And it’s not just the physical effects. Regularly working long hours results in poor work-life balance, leading to lower job satisfaction and performance, as well as lower satisfaction with life and relationships.

Why are we working more?

Although many countries have imposed statutory limits on the work week, worldwide around 22% of workers are working more than 48 hours a week. In Japan, long work hours are such a significant issue that karoshi – translated as “death by overwork” – is a legally recognised cause of death.

Concerns around automation, slow wage growth, and increasing underemployment are some of the reasons Australians are working longer. A 2018 study showed Australians worked around 3.2 billion hours in unpaid overtime.




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And work doesn’t end for many people when they leave the office. If they aren’t doing extra work at home, taking calls, or attending after-hours meetings online, working second jobs is increasingly becoming the norm. Many Australians now work additional jobs through the gig economy.

The influence of job control

Autonomy and “decision latitude” at work – that is, the level of control over how and when you perform your duties – is a contributing factor to the increased risk of health problems.

Low levels of decision latitude, as well as shift work, are associated with a greater risk of heart attacks and strokes. Individual control plays a significant role in human behaviour; the extent to which we believe we can control our environment considerably impacts our perceptions of and reactions to that environment.

Early psychology research, for example, showed that reactions to the administration of an electric shock were very much influenced by the perception of control the person had over the stimulus (even if they did not actually have control).

Workers who have little autonomy or control are more likely to experience health problems than those who have a high level of control.
NeONBRAND



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Teachers are more depressed and anxious than the average Australian


These findings were echoed in data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. It found that a lack of alignment between an individual’s preferences and their actual working hours resulted in lower reported levels of satisfaction and mental health. The results applied both to workers who worked long hours and to those who wanted more hours.

What can employers do?

Effective communication with employees is important. Employees may be unable to complete their work in standard hours, for example, as a result of having to spend excessive amounts of time in meetings.

Employers can take steps to implement policies to ensure that long work isn’t occurring regularly. The Australia Institute holds an annual Go Home on Time Day to encourage employees to achieve work-life balance. While this initiative raises awareness of work hours, going home on time should be the norm rather than the exception.




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Business owners’ control of their work-life balance is the fine line between hard work and hell


Increasing employees’ input into their work schedule and hours can have positive effects on performance and well-being.

The design of the workplace to promote well-being is an important factor. Research on shift work has shown that enhancing the workplace by providing food, child care, health care, accessible transport, and recreational facilities can reduce the effects of shift work.

By improving conditions and benefits, employers can help ameliorate the negative health impact of shift work.
Asael Peña

Finally, implementing flexible work practices, where employees have some control over their schedule, to encourage work-life balance has been shown to have positive effects on well-being.

Such initiatives require ongoing support. Japan instituted Premium Friday, encouraging employees to go home at 3pm once a month. Initial results, however, showed that only 3.7% of employees took up the initiative. The low take-up can be attributed to a cultural norm of lengthy work days, and a collectivist mindset where employees worry about inconveniencing peers when they take time off.

Given the rise in concerns about future work, and workplace cultures where long hours are the norm, change may be slow in coming about, despite the negative health effects of long work hours.The Conversation

Libby Sander, Assistant Professor of Organisational Behaviour, Bond Business School, Bond University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Bellingcat’s report on MH17 shows citizens can and will do intelligence work



Large groups inherently possess more diverse knowledge, expertise and perspectives.
Tim de Groot/Unsplash

Tim van Gelder, University of Melbourne

Amid the news last week that the perpetrators responsible for shooting down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) will be put to trial next March, a report was released identifying further suspects responsible for escorting the missile to and from the launch site.

Who were the investigators behind the report? The CIA? MI6? No. It was Bellingcat, a large group of mostly volunteers working from laptops using only information available to anyone with an internet connection.

In February, Bellingcat also identified a third suspect alleged to have been involved in the poisoning of MI6 double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the United Kingdom last year.

Bellingcat describes itself as citizen journalists, but its activities illustrate a growing phenomenon my colleagues and I call “citizen intelligence.” This is work that would count as intelligence gathering or analysis within an intelligence organisation, but it’s undertaken by citizens operating outside the traditional intelligence ecosystem.




Read more:
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The rise of citizen intelligence

Citizen intelligence has been made possible by the internet in various ways.

Since its advent, we’ve seen an explosion of “open source” information. That is, data that’s accessible without any special organisational privileges. For example, just by opening Google Earth you can view satellite data of the kind only available to analysts in government agencies not many years ago.

There are now free new tools for gathering and analysing these vast troves of information, such as the analysis platform Maltego. Aspiring citizen analysts can now train themselves using resources available online or in workshops offered by various organisations.

Expertise in intelligence work is no longer the preserve of those hired and trained by traditional organisations. Powerful collaboration platforms, such as Google Docs, allow interested individuals to work effectively together, even when scattered around the world.

It could get even bigger

We’ve all seen how global, cloud-based marketplaces such as Amazon, Airbnb and Uber have transformed their respective domains. Citizen intelligence could grow even faster if a suitable marketplace is developed. At the SWARM Project, we’ve begun exploring the potential design of a platform where those seeking intelligence can transact with those willing to provide it.

What might that look like? A marketplace for citizen intelligence could be built on a “sponsored challenge” crowdsourcing model.

Imagine an organisation with an intelligence question. Say, for example, the organisation wants to identify potential threats to a proposed infrastructure development in an unstable region. The organisation pays to have the question posed as a challenge on the platform, with a prize for the best answer. Groups of citizen analysts self-organize and submit reports. When the deadline is up, the best report garners the prize – and bragging rights.




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Why crowdsourced citizen intelligence could be effective

There are reasons to think that crowdsourced citizen intelligence could match, or outperform, traditional intelligence organisations on some kinds of tasks. Traditional organisations have advantages, such as access to classified information and highly trained analysts, but crowdsourcing has compensating strengths.

Scale

Many intelligence organisations are small and under-resourced for the number and complexity of issues they are supposed to handle. Crowdsourced intelligence can potentially draw from much larger pools of citizens. For example, the analytics crowdsourcing platform Kaggle has over a million people signed up, and it gets literally thousands of teams competing on big challenges.

Diversity

With scale comes diversity. Large groups inherently possess more diverse knowledge, expertise and perspectives. A question like the one in the example above might require fluency in an obscure dialect, or specific technical know-how. No intelligence agency can maintain in-house everything it might need for any problem.

Agility

Crowds can be more agile than agencies, which are risk-averse bureaucracies. For example, individuals can more quickly access and use many of the latest analytical methods and tools.

Passion

Perhaps most importantly, intelligence work by unpaid volunteers is driven primarily by passion. Passion certainly exists within agencies, but is often stifled in various ways.




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The SWARM Project ran a tournament-style experiment in 2018 that illustrated how everyday citizens can sometimes beat the professionals. Teams tackled four tough, fictional intelligence problems over four weeks. Some teams were made up of analysts provided by organisations with intelligence functions, some of analysts recruited via Facebook, and some of citizens (non-analysts) recruited via Facebook.

On average, the citizen teams outperformed the professional analysts – and some of the citizen reports were astonishingly good.

How this could affect the intelligence industry

Citizen intelligence will likely create some headaches for intelligence agencies. For example decision makers might increasingly look to citizen sources over formal intelligence agencies – particularly where citizen intelligence delivers reports more quickly, or with more “convenient” findings.

On the other hand, citizen intelligence could have a lot to offer intelligence organisations. A suitably designed marketplace might enable the traditional agencies to take advantage of the power inherent in the crowd. Such a platform could be a “force multiplier”, at least for certain aspects of intelligence.

In view of these potential threats and opportunities, the Australian intelligence community should get on the front foot, shaping the future of citizen intelligence rather than just reacting to it.


This is a condensed version of a presentation given at the Technology Surprise Forum, Safeguarding Australia Summit, Canberra May 2019The Conversation

Tim van Gelder, Enterprise Research Fellow, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Are you burnt out at work? Ask yourself these 4 questions



In today’s digital age, we’re losing the ability to switch off from our work.
From shutterstock.com

Michael Musker, South Australian Health & Medical Research Institute

It’s normal to feel stressed at work from time to time. But for some people, the stress becomes all-consuming, leading to exhaustion, cynicism and hatred towards your job. This is known as burnout.

Burnout used to be classified as a problem related to life management, but last week the World Health Organisation re-labelled the syndrome as an “occupational phenomenon” to better reflect that burnout is a work-based syndrome caused by chronic stress.

The newly listed dimensions of burnout are:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
  • reduced professional efficacy (work performance).



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In the era of smartphones and 24-7 emails, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to switch off from the workplace and from those who have power over us.

The new definition of burnout should be a wake-up call for employers to treat chronic stress that has not been successfully managed as a work health and safety issue.

How do you know if you’re burnt out?

If you think you might be suffering burnout, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. has anyone close to you asked you to cut down on your work?

  2. in recent months have you become angry or resentful about your work or about colleagues, clients or patients?

  3. do you feel guilty that you are not spending enough time with your friends, family or even yourself?

  4. do you find yourself becoming increasingly emotional, for example crying, getting angry, shouting, or feeling tense for no obvious reason?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, it might be time for change.

These questions were devised for the United Kingdom Practitioner Health Programme and are a good starting point for all workers to identify if you are at risk of burning out.

(You can also complete the British Medical Association’s online burnout questionnaire, although it’s tailored for doctors so the drop-down menu will ask you to select a medical specialty).

If you think you’re suffering burnout, the first step is to talk to your line manager or workplace counsellor. Many workplaces now also have confidential external psychologists as part of their employee assistance programme.



Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

What causes burnout?

We all have different levels of capacity to cope with emotional and physical strains.

When we exceed our ability to cope, something has to give; the body becomes stressed if you push yourself either mentally or physically beyond your capacity.




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People who burn out often feel a sense of emotional exhaustion or indifference, and may treat colleagues, clients or patients in a detached or dehumanised way. They become distant from their job and lose the zeal for their chosen career.

They might become cynical, less effective at work, and lack the desire for personal achievement. In the long term, this is not helpful for the person or the organisation.

While burnout isn’t a mental health disorder, it can lead to more serious issues such as family breakdowns, chronic fatigue syndrome, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and alcohol and drug abuse.

Who is most at risk?

Any worker who deals with people has the potential to suffer from burnout. This might include teachers, care workers, prison officers or retail staff.

Emergency service workers – such as police, paramedics, nurses and doctors – are at even higher risk because they continually work in high-stress conditions.

A recent survey of 15,000 US doctors found 44% were experiencing symptoms of burnout. As one neurologist explained:

I dread coming to work. I find myself being short when dealing with staff and patients.

French research on hospital emergency department staff found one in three (34%) were burnt out because of excessive workloads and high demands for care.

When you’re close to burnout, there’s a fine line between coping and not coping.
gpointstudio/Shutterstock

Lawyers are another profession vulnerable to burnout. In a survey of 1,000 employees of a renowned London law firm, 73% of lawyers expressed feelings of burnout and 58% put this down to the need for a better work-life balance.

No matter what job you do, if you are pushed beyond your ability to cope for long periods of time, you’re likely to suffer burnout.

It’s OK to say no to more work

Employers have an organisational obligation to promote staff well-being and ensure staff aren’t overworked, overstressed, and headed towards burnout.

There are things we can all do to reduce our own risk of burnout. One is to boost our levels of resilience. This means we’re able to respond to stress in a healthy way and can bounce back after challenges and grow stronger in the process.




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You can build your resilience by learning to switch off, setting boundaries for your work, and thinking more about play. As much as you can, inoculate yourself against job interference and prevent it from ebbing into your personal life.

No matter what your profession, don’t let your job become the only way you define yourself as a person.

And if your job is making you miserable, consider moving jobs or at least have a look at what else is out there. You may surprise yourself.

If you or anyone you know needs help or support, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14.The Conversation

Michael Musker, Senior Research Fellow, South Australian Health & Medical Research Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Our culture of overtime is costing us dearly



File 20190220 148539 1ajwbrk.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
About 13% of Australian worker are working 50 hours or more a week, putting themselves, and others, at greater risk.
Shutterstock

Joshua Krook, University of Adelaide

The story of Yumiko Kadota, whose gruelling schedule as a Sydney hospital registrar included clocking up more than 100 hours of overtime in her first month, has highlighted the punishing work schedules required in the medical profession.

Research indicates working more than 48 hours a week is associated with significant declines in productivity, more mistakes and more mental health problems. Yet the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons reckons working up to 65 hours a week “is appropriate for trainees to gain the knowledge and experience required”.

It’s an attitude that explains why a 2017 audit found more than 70% of surgeons in public hospitals were working unsafe hours. And it’s symptomatic of many areas where pushing the hours envelope is seen as part of the job.




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Last month, for example, a study by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau found almost one in four long-haul pilots reported working on less than five hours of sleep in the previous 24 hours – putting them in the risk zone where fatigue leads to impaired performance.

Meanwhile, two of Australia’s largest law firms are being investigated for overworking staff. At King & Wood Mallesons in Melbourne, lawyers working on the banking royal commission were reportedly sleeping in their offices overnight, too tired to go home. At Gilbert + Tobin Lawyers in Sydney, it is alleged lawyers were resorting to drugs and other supplements to cope with fatigue.

Other areas in which long hours are common are in mining, farming and construction. All up about 13% of the workforce – 19% of men and 6% of women – are working 50 hours or more, putting themselves, and others, at risk.

What’s the damage

After a century of “scientific management” you might think that more attention would be paid to the scientific studies on working long hours.

The relationship between work hours and productivity follows the economic law of diminishing returns. Productivity peaks at a certain point and then declines. Work too long and you get to the point where you’re achieving nothing; or are even doing damage.

Diminishing returns: author Mark Manson decided to chart his productivity over hours in the day in this fashion.
The Observer

This is what the research literature tells us:

  • After working 39 hours a week, mental health tends to decline.
  • After 48 hours, job performance begins to rapidly decrease. There are more signs of depression and anxiety, and worse sleep quality associated with long-term health risks such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer.
  • Working more than 10 hours a day increases the risk of workplace injury by 40%, and more than 12 hours a day doubles it.
  • Longer working hours harm relationships, erode job satisfaction and contribute to depression, including increased suicidal thoughts.

A rule made to be broken

All of this research shows there’s good sense in Australia’s federal Fair Work Act (s. 62) capping the standard work week at a maximum of 38 hours.

But that maximum is easy to flout. The act also says an employer can require an employee to work “reasonable” extra hours. Determining whether they are unreasonable depends on 10 factors, including a risk to health and safety, family circumstances, the needs of the business, compensation, the usual patterns of work in the industry and “any other relevant matter”.

The law says an employee can refuse to work more than 38 hours a week, but in practice that rarely happens.

You may be happy to put in more hours because you are compensated. You may even do it “voluntarily”, because you see it as a path to promotion, or the way to keep your job. You may be enmeshed in a “first in, last out” culture, where it’s a competition to show your devotion to your job through the number of hours you work.

As a result, Australians work an average six hours of unpaid overtime a week.

Gaming the system

Management practices can promote an overtime culture without explicitly flouting the law.

One way is to scrutinise an employee’s working hours, such as using a billable hours system. This is common in law firms and other professional services. Clients are charged by the hour (or six-minute increments, as is the case in law firms) for the time an employee spends working on a matter. It puts pressure on a conscientious employee to do any work not related to a client in their own time. An employee may also under-report hours so as not look slow or unproductive to a manager.




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Another way is through using casual or contract workers. Such employment can result in workers doing more hours than what they are paid for, either because they have underquoted to get the job, or are working on a fixed contract where the employer has defined how long it should take, or they feel the need to prove their worth to ensure they get more work.

Changing attitudes

State and federal government agencies, including the Fair Work Ombudsman and Safe Work Australia have broad powers to investigate worker health and safety (including overtime).

But for those powers to make a difference, these agencies need more resources to actually do investigations and greater powers to issue fines and corrective measures to companies where overtime is endemic. There’s no reason hours auditing couldn’t be a more routine procedure, much like food health and safety regulators inspect restaurants.

But more than that we need a change in the cultural attitudes that promote long hours as necessary, acceptable or heroic – even when someone doing their job while overtired and fatigued, such as a surgeon or pilot, is downright scary.The Conversation

Joshua Krook, Doctoral Candidate in Law, University of Adelaide

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The costs of a casual job are now outweighing any pay benefits


Joshua Healy, University of Melbourne and Daniel Nicholson, University of Melbourne

Low wages growth has been a spectre hanging around the Australian economy for some time. In our series What We Earn we unpick the causes for this and why some workers might be feeling it more than others.


Workers aren’t being compensated as much as they should be for precarious work in casual positions.

One in four Australian employees today is a casual worker. Among younger workers (15-24 year olds) the numbers are higher still: more than half of them are casuals.

These jobs come without some of the benefits of permanent employment, such as paid annual holiday leave and sick leave. In exchange for giving up these entitlements, casual workers are supposed to receive a higher hourly rate of pay – known as a casual “loading”.

But the costs of casual work are now outweighing the benefits in wages.

Costs and benefits of casual work

Casual jobs offer flexibility, but also come with costs. For workers, apart from missing out on paid leave, there are other compromises: less predictable working hours and earnings, and the prospect of dismissal without notice. Uncertainty about their future employment can hinder casual workers in other ways, such as making family arrangements, getting a mortgage, and juggling education with work.

Not surprisingly, casual workers have lower expectations about keeping their current job. For example the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) found 19% expect to leave their job within 12 months, compared to 7% of other workers. Casuals are also much less likely to get work-related training, which limits their opportunities for skills development.

The employers of casual workers also face higher costs. High staff turnover adds to recruitment costs. But perhaps the main cost is the “loading” that casual workers are supposed to be paid on top of their ordinary hourly wage.

Australia’s system of minimum wage awards specifies a casual loading of 25%. So, a casual worker paid under an award should get 25% more for each hour than another worker doing the same job on a permanent basis. In enterprise agreements, the casual loading varies by sector, but tends to be between 15 and 25%.

The practice of paying a casual loading developed for two reasons. One was to provide some compensation for workers missing out on paid leave. The other, quite different, motivation was to make casual employment more expensive and discourage excessive use of it. However this disincentive has not prevented the casual sector of the workforce from growing substantially.

Casual jobs aren’t much better paid

One approach in determining whether casual workers are paid more is simply to compare the hourly wages of casual and “non-casual” (permanent and fixed-term) employees in the same occupations. This can be done using data from the 2016 ABS Survey of Employee Earnings and Hours.

We compared median hourly wages for adult non-managerial employees, based on their ordinary earnings and hours of work (i.e. excluding overtime payments). If the median wage for casuals is higher than for non-casuals, there is a casual premium. If the median casual wage is lower, there is a penalty.

The 10 occupations below accounted for over half of all adult casual workers in 2016. In most of these occupations, there is a modest casual wage premium – in the order of 4-5%.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/9OfmG/2/

The size of the typical casual wage premium is much smaller, in most cases, than the loadings written into awards and agreements. Only one occupation (school teachers) has a premium (22%) in line with what might be expected.

Three of the 10 largest casual occupations actually penalise this sort of work. And overall for these 10 occupations there is a casual wage penalty of 5%. This method of analysis suggests that few casual workers enjoy substantially higher wages as a trade-off for paid leave.

Taking a closer look involves controlling for a wider range of differences between casual and non-casual workers. One major Australian study in 2005 compared wages after taking account of many factors other than occupation, including age, education, job location, and employer size.

All else equal, it found that part-time, casual workers do receive an hourly wage premium over full-time, permanent workers. The premium is worth around 10%, on average, for men and between 4 and 7% for women.

These results imply that most casual workers (who are in part-time positions) can expect to receive higher hourly wages than comparable employees in full-time, permanent positions. However, the value of the benefit is again found to be less than would be expected, given the larger casual loadings mentioned in awards and agreements.

It seems that while there is some short-term financial benefit to being a casual worker, this advantage is worth less in practice than on paper.

A recent study, using 14 years of data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey (HILDA), finds no evidence of any long-term pay benefit for casual workers.

The study’s authors estimate that, among men, there is an average casual wage penalty of 10% – the opposite of what we should see if casual loadings fully offset the foregone leave and insecurity of casual jobs. Among female casual workers, there is also a wage penalty, but this is smaller, at around 4%.

This study also finds that the size of the negative casual wage effect tends to reduce over time for individual workers, bringing them closer to equality with permanent workers. But very few casual workers out-earn permanent workers in the long-term.

Inferior jobs, but fewer alternatives

The evidence on hourly wage differences leads us to conclude that casual workers are not being adequately compensated for the lack of paid leave, or for other forms of insecurity they face. This makes casual jobs a less appealing option for workers.

This does not mean that all casual workers dislike their jobs – indeed, many are satisfied. But a clear-eyed look at what these jobs pay suggests their benefits are skewed in favour of employers.

Despite this, the choice for many workers – especially young jobseekers – is increasingly between a casual job or no job at all. Half of employed 15-24 year olds are in casual jobs.

The ConversationIn a labour market characterised by high underemployment and intensifying job competition, young people with little or no work experience are understandably willing to make some sacrifices to get a start in the workforce. The option of “holding out” for a permanent job looks increasingly risky as these opportunities dwindle.

Joshua Healy, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Workplace Leadership, University of Melbourne and Daniel Nicholson, Research Assistant, Industrial Relations, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Five tips to get the most out of your workday


Image 20170419 32700 vcew7e
Drinking coffee at work has a range of benefits.
Shutterstock

Mary Barrett, University of Wollongong

Getting a lot done each day is about more than just having the right productivity tools and setup. It’s about taking care of your body and mind, and this starts even outside of the workplace. The Conversation

We all need strategies for increasing productivity; here are five to get you started.

1) Get a good night’s rest

The first key to productivity is plenty of sleep. Getting 7-8 hours sleep a night will flow through into your work, from sharper decision making and problem solving, to better coping with change.

It is not just the quantity of sleep that matters, but quality as well. You should try to stick to a regular sleep pattern.

Going to bed late during the working week and hoping to catch up with a sleep-in on the weekends may make you feel more productive, but you are disrupting your sleep-wake rhythms. This makes it difficult to feel alert and ready for work on Monday.

Get into a good sleep routine by setting a regular bedtime. Then avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and other chemicals that interfere with sleep.

Limit light exposure – including from TV, phone and computer screens – in the evening. Eat, drink and exercise enough, but not too much and not too close to your bedtime. Make sure your bedroom is a calm place, and use it only for sleep and intimacy.

Shift workers may not be able to keep to a sleep routine, of course, and they need to be even more careful to get good sleep when they can.

2) Drink some coffee at work

Coffee helps you feel alert because it blocks adenosine, the main compound in your brain that makes you sleepy.

A study of US Navy SEALs found caffeine had a range of positive impacts beyond keeping you awake. Benefits ranged from increased alertness and reaction time, to improved learning, memory and even mood. The effects lasted from one to eight hours.

Another study found that caffeine speeds up how quickly we process words.

But coffee isn’t just effective on a chemical level.

Researchers at MIT found that scheduling coffee breaks so that the entire team took it at the same time increased productivity. When tested at a bank call centre, efficiency increased by 8% on average, and 20% for the worst performing teams. The benefit here came less from the caffeine and more from increasing the interactions between team members.

But before you rush out to grab a coffee, remember that in these experiments “a good cup of coffee” means black coffee. Research shows the levels of the beneficial antioxidants in coffee were higher and lasted longer in black coffee drinkers than for people who added sugar or non-dairy creamer to their coffee.

3) Take a break and do some exercise

Researchers in America have found that taking breaks during the workday is important for workers to replace workplace “resources” – energy, motivation, and concentration. These resources aren’t limitless, and periodically need “charging” by doing activities that require less effort or use different resources than normal work, or are just something the worker enjoys.

A break could be mean completely stopping work and doing something fun. An office-worker might go for a run, for instance. Or it could just mean switching tasks and doing something different, such as a supermarket shelver sitting down and doing paperwork.

The researchers also found it matters when you take your break. You will be most productive after a break if you take it early in the work day rather than later, when you are already tired.

But perhaps you should also carve out special times in the day for physical movement. Researchers in Sweden found that devoting some work time to physical activity increases productivity. The research found that as little as two and a half hours of physical activity a week led to more work being done in the same amount of time, and reduced absenteeism due to sickness.

4) Conquer procrastination

Procrastinating not only reduces your immediate productivity
by delaying work, but increases stress and lowers well-being. This can make your productivity even worse, later.

There are a range of relatively simple interventions you can do, such as eliminating notifications on your devices, only working for 15 minutes to get a project started, or creating smaller goals.

A classic remedy now supported by a University of Pennsylvania study is to divide tasks into smaller pieces so you can work through a more manageable series of assignments. Use the higher energy levels you have in the morning to do a small task you don’t feel like doing, such as phoning someone you have been reluctant to contact. You’ll give yourself the mood and energy boost that comes from a small achievement.

5) Do one thing at a time

Don’t be tempted to multitask. Our brains are not suited to dealing with multiple streams of information or doing multiple jobs at the same time. The more tasks we try to do simultaneously, the slower we complete them and the more mistakes we make.

Further, the research found that those who do multitask are more prone to becoming distracted by their environment.

By contrast, take that difficult phone call you just made. You gave it your full attention and finished it. Now, do something else important and then take a short coffee break, perhaps a walk. Your body and your mind will be in top gear and so will your productivity.

Mary Barrett, Professor of Management, University of Wollongong

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.