Five post-holiday productivity hacks

Coming back from your holiday can give you the worst kind of Sunday night dread – often seven-to-tenfold!

Exploding inboxes, notifications on Slack hitting the hundreds and the feeling that you’ve missed a lot of relevant information while you were gone… these are all common when the weary traveller trudges back into the office and reluctantly removes ‘Out of Office’ from their email signature.

Don’t flirt with a sick day to avoid the inevitable: Sally Evans, director of operations at Making Moves, specialists in office productivity and management, is here with her top five tips for beating the first day back blues.

1) Stand up

Working at a desk traditionally involves a lot of sitting, which can have negative effects on our health as well as our productivity levels… especially as for many of us, a holiday means lazing around by the pool, so we may not have gotten our steps in! With this in mind, have you ever considered standing at work instead?

Researchers at University College London discovered that working at a standing desk improved concentration and vigilance by 10% and workers made 45% fewer mistakes. Participants also scored 28% higher in creative thinking tasks when they were standing rather than sitting. Switching to an adjustable standing desk, alternating between sitting and standing, could therefore be the solution to your productivity dips.

2) Try mono-tasking

When returning from a holiday, tasks can pile up and you may have many plates to spin. However, multitasking can be counterintuitive. While it might seem productive to work on two tasks at once, you won’t be able to give either of the tasks your full concentration, so they’ll take longer to complete, and you’ll likely find them more difficult.

In fact, Dr Earl K Miller, Professor of Neuroscience at the Picower Institute of Learning and Memory, suggests that humans can’t actually multitask. In apodcast with WKSU, he explains that we’re only able to experience one track of thought at any one time. What we think is multitasking isn’t multitasking at all: it’s what Dr. Miller refers to as “task switching”.

What’s more productive is giving one task your full attention at any given time, saving other tasks (besides any quick two-minute ones) for when you’re finished. This is called monotasking and is especially helpful if you’re working on two or more big projects at once. Avoid thinking or talking about one project while you’re working on another, to help you maintain focus and efficiency.

3) Optimise your work environment

Your work station should be an environment that sparks joy, is free of clutter and is optimised for a productive day. Having an ‘object of solace’ present on your desk during the work day, whether that be a family photograph or a holiday souvenir, can uplift your mood, connect you to a positive memory and act an emotional and physical comfort during stressful times.

Having a stash of essential oils can also be beneficial for relieving workplace stresses and elicit scents memory to evoke feelings of calm and happiness. Choose a familiar scent that you like, have fond memories of or find energising such as orange or bergamot can uplift you throughout the day.

4) Eat right

After an indulgent holiday, eating the right foods can help give you that little boost you need to power through the afternoon, so try to choose an energy-packed snack that’s full of goodness. Some brain-boosting foods include:

  • Oily fish rich in omega-3s, such as salmon, tuna, or mackerel. Eating omega-3 fatty acids correlates with increased blood flow in the brain, according to a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. Other sources of omega-3s include flaxseeds, and chia seeds, walnuts.
  • Nuts are not only high in omega-3s, but also contain vitamin E, which helps protect cells and prevent oxidative stress. High levels of vitamin E have been linked to better cognitive performance, as reported in the journal Nutrients.
  • Whole grains are another great source of vitamin E, particularly barley, brown rice, oats, and bulgur wheat.
  • Berries are high in antioxidants and essential vitamins, and evidence shows that they can help improve blood flow in the brain and boost cognitive function, processing speed, memory, and attention.
  • Eggs are high in protein which makes them a great source of energy. According to a study published in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience, eggs are also high in an amino acid called tryptophan which helps your body produce serotonin (the happy hormone).
  • Green tea is naturally high in caffeine and antioxidants and has been linked to better memory and attention as well as improved brain function.”

5) Try the Pomodoro technique

The pomodoro technique involves working in short 25-minute bursts (called pomodoros) separated by five-minute breaks. After four pomodoros, take a longer 15–30-minute break before starting the next pomodoro. This productivity method requires you to break your projects down into smaller, more manageable chunks, and you’ll be able to see your progress after each pomodoro. 

The reason why this works is simple. We often put tasks off because approaching them brings up negative feelings. These may be feelings of anxiety, apprehension, self-doubt, or just plain boredom.

Starting a large task can feel overwhelming, so we do everything we can to avoid it. The pomodoro technique turns starting a project into a short and simple first step… so you’re simply focussing on the next 25 minutes, rather than the full project. Another option is to try focus blocks.