The recovery anomaly: How finding the off switch can actually increase your productivity

Our modern lives are so filled with continual cognitive and physiological arousal that we are leaving little space for our brains and bodies to recover. We pack our workdays with meetings, emails, screen time and travel, then spend our weekends trying to squeeze family and social lives into the little spaces of time left. It is no wonder we are all exhausted.

But what if we could find little moments within our days to build in some mental recovery? We have all heard of mindfulness, but do we actually know how to practise it? And do we even have the time?

Our brains need as much rest as our bodies

Kate Fismer, Founder and Lead Consultant of Revolution Resilience Ltd believes we do. With over 10-years’ experience in the field of health and wellbeing, Kate’s research into resilience within the workplace using established heart-rhythm monitoring techniques[1] has uncovered multiple ways in which we can build mental and physiological recovery into our days.

Kate explains that within the workplace we have become well versed at operating from our internal fight/flight and/or drive responses, but have neglected to invest in our recovery response – to rest, digest, connect and recover:

At work, we celebrate drive and success, but we undervalue the importance of the recovery as it’s seen as not giving 100% - but it’s just as vital to our successes. Adaptability, creativity and collaboration are things we really need in our organisations today, but a lack of recovery will be impacting those attributes. If we can invest in recovery time, organisations can reap the benefits with long-term rewards.’

Her work using heart-rhythm analytics to measure daily stress vs recovery patterns with larger groups of employees in organisations has highlighted the benefits of these small changes for individuals and organisations alike. You might feel so tired that you think it is more sleep that you need, but instead, Kate suggests that it is about building micro-recovery moments into every day, as well as looking at the factors that impact the quality of your sleep:

Think it is just yet another meeting? Think again

We have a culture of attending back-to-back meetings and may assume that because we are not taking breaks that we are not having opportunities to recover. While this may be the case sometimes – and of course it is useful to build in formal breaks for cognitive recovery – she has discovered through analytics of the heart-rhythm that informal conversation at the end of meetings can provide opportunities for positive social connections that can switch on our recovery response. We are wired as human beings for connection and collaboration. So whether it is an informal chat with your colleagues at the end of the meeting, or a dedicated 15 minute ‘campfire’ catch up as one of Kate’s clients refers to it, do not just find the time, also place true value in our abilities to connect in the workplace.

Working from home gives us a physiological boost

She has also found a correlation in some larger group data that working just one day a week from home can positively recharge our physiology. Perhaps it is using the extra time we would have spent commuting on an exercise session that might otherwise be compromised, or simply having more time to get into gear. Having the chance for more focused time can provide potential recovery moments during the day we might otherwise have sacrificed.

Use your commute wisely

Do you use your train or bus journey to catch up on emails or read that report you have not got to yet? While working on the go can be a good use of your time, use some of it to give your head some cognitive space. If your journey to work takes an hour, give 45 mins to working, but save the last 15 minutes for your favourite music, a funny podcast or a great book – anything that can switch on your recovery response before your day begins.

Know your drivers and drainers

We all have stretch points at work throughout the year where we know the pressure will be on – whether it is an annual event or the end of a quarter. After investing in Heart Rate Variability analytics and studying the data, international property company Lendlease are working proof[2] of how important it is for organisations to understand what works for people when it comes to relieving pressure. An example of a business utilising data to normalise health and wellbeing in the workplace and actively support micro-recovery activities. Perhaps it is an internal campaign that encourages ‘five-a-day’-style recovery moments – have you had a chat? Been for a walk at lunch? Done a breathing exercise? This enables staff to build simple activities around their workloads, rather than dictating a collective time for mindfulness that disrupts individual workflow.

While it is positive for organisations to be leading the charge on wellbeing and highlighting the value of resilience-building activities, self-awareness of your personal pinch points can help you build recovery time in before, during and after periods of increased stress.

Wind down your weekends

Saturdays are increasingly one of the most active days of the week. As we work longer hours in the week, our weekends can become even more frantic as we try to keep up with the family schedule, do the shopping, get some exercise and catch up on our social lives. But by using a lot of energy to compensate at the weekend we are not building in the recovery that we need after a busy week. However small it might be, carve out a few moments at the weekend for yourself – read, stop for a cup of tea, have a quick nap, get into the open air. You deserve it. But more importantly… you need it.

Do not start your week on a Sunday

Ever watched the minutes and hours tick by on a Sunday night as the ability to fall asleep eludes you? You are not alone. According to research[3], the number of us getting no more than six hours sleep a night is rising, with fatigue impacting our productivity, creativity, decision-making and emotional wellbeing. With our emails just a click away, it is easy to let the stress of an upcoming work week eat into your weekend. To counteract this, Kate recommends some simple solutions – reducing stimulations from screens, taking a bath or doing a micro-meditation with some simple breathing exercises. She notes how one client got some great physiological recovery in his data from watching a comedy show with his family on a Sunday night, resulting in a great night's sleep ready for the week ahead. So, if you are watching television, be a bit more selective about what you are watching. An Ofcom study[4] into television consumption suggests that a third of adults who binge-watch television at least monthly admitted to missing out on sleep or being tired the next day because of this type of viewing – so next Sunday, when you are trying to wind down, think less thrill and more chill.

Building recovery moments into our days is not complex, but this undervalued skill is key to unlocking our personal and organisational potential. As the mental load of the workday creeps into even more evenings, weekends and holidays, adopting these micro-recovery moments can help shift a trajectory of illness or burnout towards balance and self-awareness.

Explore the health benefits that truly support your workforce wellbeing with Aon.

[1]https://assets.firstbeat.com/firstbeat/uploads/2015/10/Stress-and-recovery_white-paper_20145.pdf
[2]https://www.firstbeat.com/en/user-stories/how-firstbeat-fits-in-lendleases-health-and-well-being-framework-for-employees/
[3]https://hbr.org/2018/09/sleep-well-lead-better
[4]https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0017/105074/cmr-2017-uk.pdf