Do our productivity levels spiral downwards when the sun starts shining?
Summer is here. But rather than giving me a sunny disposition, I'm instead sat at work contemplating long days of staring out the office window, daydreaming and wishing I could be outside. I know I shouldn't moan about sunshine (especially with it being in limited supply here in the UK) but staying focused at work when its warm outside is tough. The recent sunny days have definitely sent my productivity at work downward spiralling, leading me to conclude that sunshine makes me a lazy worker. Anyone else?
By the end of one particularly cloud-free day at work last week, all I had to show for eight hours solid slog at my desk was a random selection of half completed tasks and an internet shopping basket full of summer essentials. Yes, good weather feeds one of my biggest weak spots at work the tendency to procrastinate. I'm not alone. Procrastination at work seems to be an instinctive response to blue sky days.
I think the crux of the problem is when the weather is grim, staying cooped up inside doesn't seem like such a bad option. But when the sky is blue, and sun is glinting through the gaps in the office blinds, our minds automatically wander to plans for our leisure time, making the world outside the office walls beckon with added gusto. Chilled drinks in beer gardens, days in the park with our kids, mini breaks by the sea or an escape to even sunnier climes on a bright, warm day our minds fill with the fun that lies beyond the office walls rather than getting on with the task we've been struggling to get to grips with. As a result, our productivity levels plummet. In fact one study of 600 white collar workers by the Captivate Network in the US in 2012, showed that workplace productivity dropped by 20 per cent during the summer months. This is largely down to project turnaround times increasing by 13 per cent and people being 45 per cent more distracted.
Why does this happen? Well, driving the urge to procrastinate is motivation. The more unfavourable you find the prospect of doing something, the more you resist it. As sunshine makes everything at work seem that little less inviting, I can hypothesise with some certainty that this is why the tendency to delay tasks is amplified during a sunny day.
Although I'm claiming workplace procrastination is an instinctive reaction to summer sun, its impact is rarely as instant as this suggests. The descent into an unproductive sunny day is gradual. At first, you probably fall into procrastination mode subconsciously. Then at some point mid-morning, you realise you should be getting on with something but you aren't. To make yourself feel better, you then slip into more conscious procrastination proactively distracting yourself with non-essential tasks that seem less aversive, convincing yourself that the task you're putting off is not quite as urgent as it is and then delaying things further by insisting you really should get more information before you get started.
Then lunchtime rolls around and what you want to do more than anything is head to a park bench, grab an iced latte and enjoy some of the rays of sunlight. But as you've been procrastinating all morning, you instead punish yourself for your poor productivity by chewing on a sandwich at your desk whilst engaging in further Internet fuelled time-wasting and window gazing. After a fruitless morning, heading out for lunch in the sun seems an undeserved luxury, but escaping the office and getting outside might be just what you need.
When were struggling with motivation, ploughing along for eight hours straight is not going to do us any favours. A change of scenery and taking a break even for 15 to 20 minutes is a proven way to reboot battered energy levels and boost concentration. The physical activity increases blood flow to the brain, making you more alert and the sunlight will help too. A few rays increases the body's production of serotonin, a feel-good chemical which boosts energy levels and improves your state of mind, making the stresses of work easier to handle.
So when you're next trapped in a sunshine-induced procrastination cycle, why not break it by treating yourself to a mini-holiday in the middle of the working day? It may only be a stroll around the block but you'll return to your desk with a lot more energy than if you commit to soldiering on through.