Don’t feel guilty about taking an afternoon nap on a Tuesday

I love a nap in my working day. It’s not always possible. (for example when I’m running a training course or a strategy day!) However, now so many of us are working from home it does provide more opportunities for napping. And napping can help our focus and productivity.

When I first left a ‘proper job’ and started working for myself, I was thrown sideways by how hard I found it. I completely underestimated how much I’d miss my colleagues and having people to bounce ideas around with. I also found it really hard to focus and get the work done. That’s why I put in a lot of effort into testing different ways of working until I found the things that worked for me. My important findings were:

It doesn’t matter when you do the work as long as you deliver what has been agreed, on time and to a high standard. Humans are not designed to work from 9am to 5pm. This is a leftover from when a large number of the workforce worked on production lines when everyone had to be there at the same time in order for the thing to get made. Today, especially now so many of us are working from home there is flexibility to work the hours that better suit us. That might be working around childcare and family commitments as well as daylight hours and when we do our best work.

The time of day that you do different tasks can help your productivity. We all have cycles; times of day when we’re more alert and decisive, times when we’re more creative and times of day when stringing a sentence together feels like a struggle.

I’m definitely more productive and have better attention to detail early in the morning. That’s when I need to do the difficult stuff that I need to think about. By 2pm my brain is getting foggy and I shouldn’t be trusted to do or remember anything important. Later in the afternoon I perk up again and can often have a really productive few hours. There’s no point working late at night. I’d rather get some sleep and get up at 5am. The same piece of work that will take me 3 hours at 10pm, will take me an hour (and will be better quality) if I do it at 5am.

Naps help my productivity. I love a nap. My body clock is definitely geared to wake up early, get stuff done, have a mid afternoon nap, wake up do more stuff and then bed at a reasonable hour. I was pleased to discover that there is much research showing the health benefits of naps. They can improve cognitive performance as well as boost mental and physical health. Naps help us to stay alert, can reduce stress, and we’re more productive as a result. There’s even such a thing as a nappuccino. (Coffee before a nap. For full details download the step-by-step guide to the perfect nap here)

Often when I’m running sessions with teams about establishing habits for happy and productive flexible working, including naps and working different hours, the topic of guilt emerges.

I hear things like ‘If I’m not at my desk from 9-5 I feel guilty.’ or ‘I’d feel too guilty to nap’ or ‘I feel guilty if I don’t answer my email straight away’

Is guilt healthy or unhealthy?

Guilt can be healthy. Feelings of guilt can motivate you to live according to your values, which, in turn, can improve your relationships with others, since you’re more likely to treat them as you would wish to be treated. However, unnecessary feelings of guilt can be unhelpful or even harmful to your quality of working life.

If the thought of working different hours or taking naps in your working day sparks feelings of guilt keep reading. Below are some tips to help you tackle these feelings. It will take practice and deliberate re-thinking to change entrenched patterns of guilt. Be patient with yourself and your team. Remember flexible working is here to stay and for it to be a happy and productive experience the best time to tackle any guilt about working flexibly is now.

Be direct and get more information. Ask your colleagues and manager whether it matters when you work. If you’re part of a team it’s important to agree and communicate when your working hours are. Good use of an out of office responder or a line in your email signature to let people know when you’re there and when you’re not can help manage expectations too.

Napping has been proven to increase productivity. Rather than pushing yourself through the brain fog, a better use of your time is to take a nap and return refreshed and more alert. It will make you more productive. Have a go at reframing a nap as a productivity hack.

Challenge your expectations of yourself Consider whether you have a tendency to expect too much from yourself. Then, think about how an outside observer would view the situation. What would an outsider say?

Think how you’d see things if the roles were reversed. What would you think if your colleague said they were going to nap between 2 and 3 each day and work an hour more at the start or the end of the day? We often find it easy to be compassionate and understanding with others but are too harsh on ourselves. By deliberately taking the other person’s perspective, you’ll likely see your situation in a more objective light.

Look for the evidence. If you feel guilty not working the conventional 9-5 because you’re feeling that you’re ‘not doing enough’ or feel that others will think you’re not doing enough, list all the things that you’ve delivered on at work. Will working different hours make any impact on your ability to deliver?

Give yourself permission. Or if you manage a team, explicitly give your team permission (or you could even set it as a task) to figure out when they are most productive, when they are least productive and when a nap would be beneficial. Experiment to find the working patterns that work best for you. Agree them with your team and ensure everyone knows. This manages expectations and reduces feelings of guilt.

Working flexibly is here to stay. It’s a big shift in mind-set for everyone. It’s important that we look after ourselves and each other. Rest when we’re tired, work when we’re at our best and nap when we need to.

If you’d like help to ensure that your team is happy, productive and guilt free in their flexible working life, drop me a line at lucy@lucidity.org.uk.