During the pandemic, taking walks became a vital form of self-care: They get you outdoors and allow your mind to rest and, as a result, can even make you more productive. However, there’s a chance that not all walks are beneficial, according to a new University of Tsukuba study published in Building and Environment.
Taking a 15-minute walk in hot weather appeared to impair cognitive performance and reduce productivity in subjects, the study found.
Researchers created a simulated environment where students or workers took a test in an air-conditioned room. Then part of the group stayed indoors, part of the group took a walk outside in hot weather, and part of the group simply rested outside in hot weather. All participants were then brought back into the room and asked to take another test, and performance changes were measured.
Those who took the walk performed lower than the other two groups. This was especially true of men.
“The reduction of cognitive performance was more pronounced in male participants than in female participants,” the study says.
As we approach summer, those lunchtime walks you’ve baked into your daily routine might not be great for your productivity. However, there are plenty of other tricks to help you stay focused and get a lot done.
The results of the study were more pronounced in men who were sleep deprived, further proving how important sleep is to our productivity.
To function best at work, develop a healthy sleep regimen.
In the few hours before you go to bed, take a hot shower, and avoid alcohol and television. Doing this, experts say, gives you a better chance at having a restful night and being able to get more done the next day.
Keita Williams of career coaching service Success Bully frequently turns off email or social media notifications when she works. “I recommend turning off all alerts during these focus times,” she said. “A push alert from email or a social media platform can create a knee-jerk distraction.”
There is a right and a wrong way to multitask, Raquel Benbunan-Fich, a professor of information systems at Baruch College who specializes in user behavior and multitasking says “Multitasking does work to a certain extent, but it really depends on which tasks you are doing.”
If you need to complete a task that requires accuracy and concentration, then multitasking might worsen your performance, she said. If a task isn’t stimulating enough, you may not be fully engaged, and that can make you less productive, too.
Tasks that fall between these two extremes — challenging enough to keep your brain active, but not so challenging that you need to dedicate all your focus — are the ones you can bounce between while still being productive.
Many people aren’t good at predicting how long a task will take them, Paula Rizzo, author of “Listful Thinking: Using Lists to Be More Productive, Successful and Less Stressed,” said. “We’ll get to the end of the day and say, ‘I haven’t done anything,’” she said. “Well, where did you spend your time?”
To solve that problem, she suggests timing yourself to find how how long tasks actually take. Perhaps you think catching up on emails will take you 30 minutes, but in practice it takes you two hours. Or you allot an hour to pay bills but discover that you can be done in 20 minutes.
Gathering data will give you a more realistic sense of whether any given task is something you can get out of the way quickly. Over time, this information can help you construct a to-do list that is more attuned with how many hours you’ll be working that day.
If you’re looking to tackle longer tasks, you might want to use the Pomodoro technique, in which you use a timer to break work into 25-minute spurts separated by small breaks.
Our tendency to focus on immediate or top-of-mind tasks is why it is important to make one master list that includes bigger and long-term goals, Rizzo said. “Do a brain dump of everything in your head,” she said. Keep this list handy and refer to it when you’re making your daily to-do list.
If you compare your daily to-do list to a master list of bigger goals, you may find yourself changing what you actually should prioritize.
This works for Benbunan-Fich, who called her to-do list her “saving grace.” Her daily, weekly, and monthly to-do lists help her keep track of urgent tasks as well as long-term goals.
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