We are always looking for how we can fit more into our days and weeks, eager to try the newest productivity tip that comes our way, just like the newest fad diet. The pomodoro technique? Check. Waking up at 4am like Apple CEO Tim Cook? Tried it. The ‘throw out your to-do list’ productivity tip? Tried that one, too.
And yet we’re still looking for the productivity hack, that magic pill promising to will us into action toward the goal of checking everything off our to-do list by the day’s end.
But, here’s the thing. Before you can even think about trying the latest tips and tricks on the productivity front, you have to change your thinking about productivity. In other words, you have to start thinking of managing your energy first – not time itself.
The forces that provide energy – namely, your body and your mind, need to be the starting points. It’s the number one most overlooked productivity tip out there.
The Links Between Energy and Productivity
The links between productivity, sleep, healthy food, exercise and mental health are well-documented and yet they are among the most overlooked productivity boosters out there. The link between sleep and productivity is well-known, but it can be difficult to stop burning the midnight oil, even though it’s so counterintuitive.
One study found that insomniacs and those with insufficient sleep syndrome (those who fail to get enough sleep at night and are sleep deprived) had significantly worse productivity levels and overall performance compared to those who got more sleep.
And then there’s all of the studies linking certain foods and energy levels. According to the World Health Organization, healthy eating can increase your productivity levels by 20 percent. Although drive-thrus were designed to be efficient, they are backfiring when it comes to productivity.
And, of course, the dreaded topic of exercise. This study compared 200 employees on the days they exercised and the days they didn’t. The results were impressive. 72% reported improvements in time management, while 74% reported better workload management. The scores were also 41% higher on feeling motivated to work, 22% higher for finishing work on time and 21% higher in concentration.
There’s also mental energy that comes into play when it comes to productivity, with studies showing that people only have a limited amount of energy to spend during the day. Once that’s depleted, productivity decreases.
“Manage your energy, not your time.” – Paul Dickey
How to Manage Your Energy Levels
When it comes to getting more sleep, eating healthier and getting more exercise in, you’re likely familiar with the old classics: avoid digital screens an hour or two before going to bed, swap out white carbs for brown carbs, nix the sugar and so on.
Keep in mind many of these elements are interconnected. So, carving out a little bit of time for exercise can help you sleep better at night.
But here is what some of the latest research on the topic has to say.
Do you have trouble falling asleep once your head hits the pillow? A cognitive scientist has offered a new, drug-free sleep hack called cognitive shuffling that promises to make you fall asleep in mere seconds. The idea is that it lulls you into that foggy state that comes before actual sleep where things stop making sense.
This is how it works: Instead of counting sheep, choose a random word like ‘Productivity.’ Next, come up with new words based on each letter and imagine those words vividly. By focusing on random words and images, it lulls the brain into that foggy state.
Are you getting enough sunlight exposure in the morning? Sunlight has been linked with better sleep. This helps regulate circadian rhythms. Try taking the dog out for a brisk walk around the block in the morning or drinking your morning cup of coffee on the patio.
The best diet for energy? According to a new study published by American Academy of Neurology, the answer lies in the Mediterranean diet – a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, beans, cereal grains and olive oil and fewer animal products like dairy and fish.
The study, while using a population of older adults, found that they retained more brain volume over three years than those who did not follow the diet as closely. If you can swap out processed foods throughout your work week, your brain will thank you with more brain power throughout the day.
When we want to get more accomplished in the day, it seems counterintuitive to try to fit in exercise. Nonetheless, new research on the topic is showing you don’t need to spend hours on the treadmill or at the gym in order to unleash the brain-boosting benefits of exercise.
The best kind of exercise for people that don’t have a lot of time? Short bouts of intense exercise. A new study has found that even one minute of exercise – one minute! – has similar health effects to longer endurance training.
If you’re resistant to exercise, a more gentle form of exercise like Hatha yoga has been found to improve brain function and energy levels. The same was true for mindfulness meditation. The
study found that all you needed was 25 minutes.
Using your lunch break to do a little bit of mindfulness meditation can help see you through that classic afternoon slump and reach for the coffee pot.
“Exercise should be regarded as tribute to the heart.” – Gene Tunney
4. Mental Health
When it comes to mental energy, it is important to prioritize mental health. A surprising way to boost energy is watching cat videos. One study has found that watching cat videos at your desk improves energy and boosts positive emotions.
The benefits of green space on mental health, including the ability to reduce stress, have been well documented. Whether you add a couple of plants to your desk at work or you walk over to the park on your lunch break, you will leave feeling calmer and ready to take on the rest of your day.
Before you read the latest and greatest productivity hack, or before you question why you’re not accomplishing enough, ensure that you are managing your physical and mental energy first. This is the number one most overlooked productivity tip out there.