From the desk of Penelope Alice, Britain’s most fabulous PA – PA Life Club

From the desk of Penelope Alice, Britain’s most fabulous PA

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The other day as I was dragging myself into the office after hitting the snooze button a few too many times, my mind drifted off and I started wondering about the standard eight-hour working day. It’s been the norm for as long as anyone can remember, but who can we blame for the monotony of the nine-to-five grind? I got my research cap on again and dug around until I found the answer.

Apparently people in the industrial era typically worked 10 to 16 hours a day. When you realise those poor souls were usually doing manual labour with very few breaks, sitting in an office for eight hours looks like a holiday. It wasn’t until a forward-thinking man named Robert Owen came up with the slogan “eight hours labour, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest” that businesses started to rethink their structure. The Ford Motor Company was the first to implement a shorter day and actually found its production line worked more smoothly. So there you have it – the man who started it all. Thanks, Henry (she says through gritted teeth).

Since it seems the eight-hour day may be here to stay, what is there for us poor wage slaves to do?

Leonhard Widrich, Co-founder and COO of Buffer, a social media management tool, says it’s not about how long we work, but how we manage our time to get the most out of our day. He says it’s important for us to keep in mind how the human body works.

By our very nature, we function better in what he calls ultradian cycles. Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a science lesson. It’s very simple; our minds can focus on a given task for 90 to 120 minutes. Afterwards, it’s best to take a 20-minute break to recharge our thought process before heading back in to another 90-minute session.

I’ve tried breaking my day up like this and, believe me, it helps. I’m getting so much work done and I’m not finding myself drifting off to Never-Never Land during projects.

So why not give it a go yourself? Split your day into manageable sessions and try not to multi-task too much. I know it’s difficult for us busy PAs, but if you’re lucky, your boss will notice the change and you can negotiate some nice benefits. You’re welcome.

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