Illustration: Rose Wong
Exploring flexible work
With an increasing number of companies transitioning to remote working, flexible work is becoming more and more common. Some employees that were formerly office-based are now working from home. “Non-traditional” working arrangements, such as freelancing or working with globally distributed teams, are also growing in popularity.
But flexibility can be a double-edged sword, as any experienced remote worker knows. Without clear boundaries between home and office, it’s easy to find yourself working 24/7 if you don’t set fixed hours for yourself.
That being said, setting your own hours doesn’t necessarily mean sticking with the typical 9-5 schedule. If your work allows for flexibility, you’ll be able to experiment with different types of working hours, optimizing your day for your own preferences and productivity. And not everyone works the 9-5: Work cultures vary widely in different parts of the world.
A brief history lesson
For example, you may have heard about a tradition from Spain that is famous worldwide—the midday break and “siesta” (nap).
Lying down for a languid nap in the middle of the afternoon holds a certain appeal, and has historically been part of the Mediterranean lifestyle. In a region where summer temperatures often climb to 40 degrees Celsius (104 degree Fahrenheit) or higher, relaxing during the hottest hours has always made sense. And since Francisco Franco moved Spain’s time zone an hour forward in the 1940s, sunsets in the country can be very late—all the more reason to stay up in the evening, and relax at midday.
From siesta to split-shift
But is this tradition still relevant in today’s world? In modern Spain, most people don’t take an actual siesta anymore—in fact, almost 60% never have a midday nap, and only 18% sometimes do. However, for many workers the tradition has lived on in the form of the jornada partida, or split-shift workday.
In most Spanish offices, work begins around 9 in the morning, ends at 2 p.m., then restarts again around 5 p.m. and continues until 8. Spanish employees end up working the same number of hours as full-time workers in other countries, but with a long break in the middle of the day. The three-hour break can be used for a relaxed lunch, a visit with friends, to run errands, or—of course—to take an actual siesta.
For people outside of Spain, the split-shift workday is an interesting alternative schedule to explore. If you adopted the Spanish tradition of taking a long midday break, could it improve your productivity and health?
Pros of the jornada partida, or split-shift
Take a long lunch
There are several reasons why working on a split-shift schedule can be a positive lifestyle change. For one, the extended midday break allows you to take a long lunch—another Spanish tradition. It is very common for workers to eat at restaurants with friends or colleagues during the break; eating sandwiches at your desk is generally frowned upon.
Besides being enjoyable, taking a long lunch can also be healthy. Studies show that eating quickly may be associated with being overweight. Moreover, eating slowly has been shown to promote the release of fullness hormones, lower calorie intake, and possibly improve digestion and nutrient absorption.
Enjoy the health benefits of a nap
If you do choose to take a siesta during your long break, this can be healthy for you as well. Napping helps you to catch up on sleep, and can reduce stress and tension. Research in Greece and Switzerland has also linked it with a lowered risk of heart disease.
Split your day into two parts
Aside from health benefits, the jornada partida also allows you to split the day into two parts. This is interesting because research suggests that creative, in-depth work is best performed in chunks of just four hours per day. For example, a study on expert violinists showed that the best group of violinists spent about four hours per day on solitary practice, and even famous figures like Charles Darwin spent about four hours daily on concentrated work.
Depending on the nature of your job, you could use one part of your split-shift for rigorous work, and the other for less demanding administrative tasks. For example, freelance creatives could use the mornings for their core work (coding, designing, writing, etc.). Tasks like accounting, answering emails, and managing client relationships could then be scheduled for after the midday break.
Separating tasks into different parts of the day can help you minimize interruptions. Studies show that multitasking can cause you to lose up to 40% of your productivity. Why not get more done by giving yourself time to focus intensely, saving “interrupting” tasks like answering emails for later?
Get ahead on your to-do list
Finally, a long break in the middle of the day gives you the chance to knock some chores off your to-do list. If you have extra time during the break, you’ll be able to get these out of the way, leaving evenings and weekends free for other things.
In Spain, people may use the midday break to catch up on domestic chores, but rarely to run errands outside the house—most shops are closed from 2 to 5 p.m. However, if you live in a country where businesses remain open during the day, midday is a perfect opportunity to visit these places.
Cons of the jornada partida, or split-shift
A later bedtime
Of course, there are also several significant downsides to the jornada partida. These have been covered in recent years by the Spanish media, as the government has floated the idea of changing Spain’s working hours to align more with the conventional 9-5.
The main criticism of the split-shift schedule is that it leads to a later bedtime. Spanish workers get an average of 53 minutes less sleep than workers in other European countries, and it’s likely that the later working hours are to blame. Getting less sleep can affect health and concentration, so if you’re planning to adopt the split-shift schedule, it’s worth taking this into account.
Less time with family
Shorter evenings can also mean less time to spend with family. Because young children often have an earlier bedtime, parents working a split-shift schedule have less time to spend with their kids in the evening (this has been shown to be the case in Spain). The split-shift schedule does have one benefit for parents, however: with many schools ending around 2 or 3 p.m., parents working a split-shift may be able to pick their kids up from school.
Misalignment with colleagues
Another common complaint about the jornada partida in Spain is that it’s misaligned with nearby countries. If you’re out at lunch while your colleagues are working, and in the office while they’re at home, this may cause difficulties with communication.
Misalignment may or may not be a problem for remote and flexible workers. If your employer or clients expect you to be available on a fixed schedule, this clearly limits your ability to take a long break during the day. However, teams working remotely across geographies may be misaligned anyway due to time zones, making individual work schedules less important.
Not ideal for commuters
A final common criticism of the jornada partida is that it’s inconvenient for commuters. In an office work culture, a large chunk of the three-hour break may be spent commuting home to eat lunch, and then back to work.
Workers who choose to stay in the vicinity of the office often find themselves with extra time to kill, reducing productivity–or they might simply work through the midday break, defeating the point. Fortunately for remote workers, they are not affected by this aspect.
What do workers in Spain think about the split-shift workday?
So with all the buzz around the split-shift schedule, what do workers in Spain actually think? Do they like this schedule, and would they recommend it to others?
Inmaculada Díaz is an online Spanish teacher from the southern province of Andalusia. In the past, she worked several office jobs with a split-shift schedule. In her current remote job, she has decided to keep the midday break as part of her workday. “I can spend my break cooking, having lunch, watching TV, resting, or playing sports. I like it because I can disconnect from work and return to it again more rested and motivated.”
Díaz says she would recommend the midday break to other remote workers. “It’s true that it can be difficult to get back to work in the second part of the day, but once you get used to it, it’s worth it.”
Brooke Estin is an American consultant and coach who has been living in Spain since 2016. She says she often takes a long midday lunch and enjoys it, but finds it frustrating that all the shops are closed.
However, she adds, “Having worked for mostly US-based companies (including many tech companies in Silicon Valley), I know how unhealthy it is to work for so long without a break… The siesta culture we have here in Spain helps me keep my focus on living a balanced life, rather than just becoming my job.”
I also spoke with an American living in Spain who did not wish to be named. As an English language teacher, she has a three-hour break during her workday that she doesn’t enjoy.
“Even when I try to not waste time, I can’t really do an involved project because I have to be always watching the clock… It really feels like I have spent the entire day working, and have not had any time where I could have done something productive.”
Like anything else in life, the jornada partida offers clear advantages and disadvantages. The great thing about remote and flexible work is that you can work at the times you like best.
So, should you follow Spain’s example and adopt the split-shift workday? If you’re an early riser and find it hard to focus in the middle of the day, the jornada partida won’t work well for you. However, if you’re a night owl and enjoy long lunches and later evenings, taking a break in the middle of the day might be a refreshing change.