Human Performance and Wellbeing

As a PGR student it may well be tempting to work long hours. When you feel there is a lot to be done, it can be easy to coax yourself to work for just a few more hours, later and later into the evening. However, research has shown that working long hours does not increase your productivity. In fact, overworking can reduce your productivity overall [1]. Without giving yourself enough time to recover from your work you can become tired, unfocused and stressed. In turn, tiredness can lead to a reduction in your creativity and an increase in mistakes – which result in work having to be redone. This can often lead to illness, low mood and accidents [2].

The effort-recovery model by Meijman, Mulder and Mulder [3] explains why it is important not to overwork and why you should take regular breaks. Your mind is similar to the muscles in your body – after a workout it needs a rest. We would allow our bodies to rest from an intense workout at the gym, we should allow the same from our brains. 

Sustained overworking will result in lower quality work, problems that you encounter will take longer to solve and you may find your motivation and confidence ebbing away along with your energy. Healthy activities, breaks and rest will help you to work at a high level, maintain your creativity and stay motivated.

Studies have also found that overworking reduces the quantity and quality of sleep. Reduced sleep has been found to be a big factor for PGR students and with significant negative impacts for wellbeing and performance [4]. Lack of sleep has been linked to psychical and psychological problems, such as depression, anxiety, stroke and heart disease [5].

To help improve performance here are five practices that could try:

  1. Get more sleep (see “Tips to Improve Your Sleep“). Could your schedule be a little more flexible? Could you get up later or go to bed earlier? Try not to answer emails or work late into the evening or the middle of the night.
  2. Get more physical exercise (see “Physical Wellbeing and Academic Performance“). As a PGR student you may spend a lot of time sitting in front of a computer or at a desk or easel. Taking breaks and moving more will bring lots of advantages. Physical exercise helps to boost your mood, energy and cognitive performance [6].
  3. Many students find that mindfulness and meditation can help to increase their wellbeing. Studies have shown that mindfulness can improve mental capacity and attention, and improve your mood [7].
  4. Taking time out from your work to talk to others can increase your sense of connectedness, help you maintain perspective and boost your mood. This maybe a micro break for 5 minutes or an after work meeting up with friends [8].
  5. Deliberately focus on and express the positive emotions you’ve felt during the day. Focus also on any positive things that have happened. Positive emotions can help to increase creativity, tenacity and energy [9].

Video Resources

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A Recently Finished PGR Student Talks About how They Managed Their Wellbeing



De Graaf, J. (n.d.). An Excerpt From Take Back Your Time: Fighting Overwork and Time Poverty in America. Retrieved from


Caruso, C. C. (2014). Negative impacts of shiftwork and long work hours. Rehabilitation Nursing : The Official Journal of the Association of Rehabilitation Nurses, 39(1), 16–25.


Meijman, T. F., Mulder, G., & Mulder, G. (2013). Psychological Aspects of Workload. 15–44.


Smith, Galen, T. (2014). The Graduate Assembly Graduate Student Happiness & Well-Being Report | 2014. Retrieved from


Van Cauter, E., Spiegel, K., Tasali, E., & Leproult, R. (2008). Metabolic consequences of sleep and sleep loss. Sleep Medicine, 9 Suppl 1(0 1), S23-8.


Fox. (1999). The influence of physical activity on mental well-being.


Semple, R. J. (n.d.). Does Mindfulness Meditation Enhance Attention? A Randomized Controlled Trial.


Kim, S., Park, Y., & Niu, Q. (2017). Micro-break activities at work to recover from daily work demands. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 38(1), 28–44.


Fredrickson, B. L. (2004). The broaden–and–build theory of positive emotions. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences, 359(1449), 1367–1377.