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BREATHING SPACE

Here's why your office needs fika 

A 10-minute coffee break with your colleagues could improve your day more than you realise

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By Caroline O'Donoghue on

When people ask me what it's like to work for The Pool, I answer them honestly. I say that it's the most creatively satisfying job I've ever had. I tell them that it's rewarding to feel like you've made a difference to another woman's day, even if it's only by making her laugh. But, mostly, I tell them how lucky I feel to work with some of the brightest people I've ever known. 

And it's all true – except for one small detail. We all work really, really hard. I'm not saying we work in an emergency room, or that we're down the mines every day, but it's hard to run a website out of one room, especially if it's an independent start-up. Sometimes, days go by – weeks, maybe – where I don't talk to someone. Maybe it's because we're both busy, or because she sits in a different part of the room to me, but still – that's a little sad, right? 

I'm guessing this happens at your office, too. You get so caught up in the work side of work that you forget that your colleagues are people with lives, and start seeing them as people you need things from. You stop asking how someone's weekend was. You stop asking "How are you?" before you launch into a rundown of tasks.

This is where fika comes in. The term "fika" came to us after Hannah went to Stockholm for a weekend and discovered that fika is a formalised coffee break that most people in Sweden take every day. "It's like a national institution," says Hannah, her eyes wide with possibility. "There's coffee and cake and, if you go to a fika cafe, everyone is just sat there, having a nice chat."

She says "nice chat" as if it's something revolutionary. Which, in the middle of a busy working day, it can feel like. So we decided to invoke fika. Hannah was nominated queen of fika and I became fika prime minister. We had ground rules from the very beginning: fika happens at 4pm, sharp. Fika comes with fika snacks – usually something baked, like scones. And, most importantly, fika must happen away from your desk, and with the team. No grabbing a bun and eating it while looking at your monitor.

Fika is often referred to in Sweden as "fikapaus", which literally means a break from work, and it feels important to uphold. The psychological theory of "ego-depletion" has provided evidence that willpower is a limited resource. Trying to sustain it over an entire day is unproductive and leads to meaningless busywork as your ego – your faith in yourself to complete a task – literally depletes. Instead, scientists recommend working for 90 minutes at a time, with concentrated 15- to 20-minute breaks as the most productive way to plan work.

We held a fika every day last week, attendance rates varying from 10 people to three. Already, I felt a little more at home in the office, a little less tense. The late-afternoon slump has been replaced by "Ooh, maybe I'll go get some hot cross buns for fika". The 15 biscuits I usually stress-eat between 2pm and 5pm have been replaced by a 15-minute carb-loading slot, amid chat with people I genuinely like. Hannah and I are still trying to make fika catch on for the whole office (looking at you, Marisa Bate) but, in the meantime, well. There are more scones for us. 

@Czaroline
 

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Breathing Space

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