3 ways to increase productivity without compromising health

In this blog post, I share my struggle with juggling productivity and wellness and offer a few tips that help me regain and maintain equilibrium.

Successfully balancing the responsibilities, demands, and challenges that our personal and professional worlds present on a weekly basis requires productivity, efficiency, and focus. Navigating this complex juggling act can be easy for some and a nightmare for others. Personally, I get a real rush from checking-the-box and accomplishing goals, from the most trivial tasks and errands to my biggest aspirations. For many years, I was proud of my machine-like ability to churn out projects and deliverables without conceding quality. However, as I matured, I began to realize that my daily quest to execute, achieve, and defeat the to-do-list was compromising my overall health and wellness. Why? Well, it’s simple – I didn’t prioritize mental and physical rest. Subconsciously, I lived as if listening to my body’s natural cry for a recharge was equivalent to losing ground on what I need to do from day to day. Side effects of my hyper-productivity included extreme daytime fatigue, “brain-fog”, stress, aching and more. I found my body being forced to work harder because I had to overcome physical obstacles on top of whatever tasks were at hand. My “machine” approach was backfiring!

In these moments, I realized the importance of prioritizing a few simple, but enriching actions. Our daily expectations and responsibilities may never fully subside, but what I am about to share has drastically transformed my ability to produce without cashing in my health and wellness.

1. Use self-awareness to optimize your effort.

A human’s daily energy allotment isn’t linear. Our ability to invest undivided attention and focus into a project is sinusoidal. According to data generated by project management software Podio, the human brain can only focus for 90-120 minutes and needs a brief respite before locking back in for another 90-120 minute stretch. This is called ultradian rhythm. Furthermore, everyone possesses unique productivity peaks. For example, I am most engaged and “zoned-in” to my work between the hours of 6am and 11am, I am most social and communicative between the hours of 12pm and 3:30pm, and I am most creative, entrepreneurial-minded, and pensive between the hours of 9pm and 3am. As a result of this self-awareness, I try to schedule writing and research projects for the morning and save conference calls, meetings, and presentations for the afternoon. Then, I produce my drone videos, edit my photography, and strategize on future goals in the late evening. Learning how your brain functions and when you work most efficiently can help you avoid expending too much mental energy on the wrong things at off-peak times.

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2. Incorporate nature into your daily regimen.

Have you ever heard of the concept of Biophilia? It implies that humans possess an innate need to connect with nature on physical, mental, and social levels. Humans weren’t designed to work in windowless cubicles, perched in front of some form of technology for 8-10 hours per day. This experience is mundane, leading to presenteeism, stymieing creativity, and causing an array of negative physical responses. Scientific studies have proven that connecting to nature invigorates humans, reducing stress, elevating mood, and increasing learning rates.

So how do you do this?

Well, instead of taking a conference call or eating lunch at your desk, grab your headphones and take a walk around your company’s campus or to a nearby public space. Increase your proximity to windows and daylight during the work day. Bring plants into the workplace – succulents and cacti are easy to keep alive. Additionally, you can encourage your office manager to incorporate natural textures and patterns into workplace design. To learn more about Biophilia and Biophilic Design in the Workplace, click here and here.

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3. Eat to nourish your brain cells.

While deep in the throws of the work day, it’s easy to eat quickly and mindlessly just to feel full, rather than to nourish the millions of cells that work tirelessly to keep your body up and running. What you consume can make or break your energy levels and ability to focus. Brain foods consist of those that are rich in antioxidants (beets, dark chocolate, cranberries, seeds & nuts), healthy fats (avocados, blueberries, salmon, tuna), as well as B complex vitamins (Quinoa, spinach, kale, tomatoes, cauliflower). Substituting fruit-infused water, natural cold-pressed juices, and herbal teas for beverages like coffee, soda, and juices that are rich in processed sugars, caffeine, and artificial colors/flavors is another way to avoid productivity-inhibiting side affects caused by poor nutrition.

Take care of your cells and they’ll work even harder for you. Many believe that eating mindfully is too expensive and inconvenient, but that is a huge misconception. Here are a few links to my favorite bloggers who highlight cheap, easy ways to put your body first and enjoy the positive benefits of holistic health.

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I hope you enjoyed these tips. I’m still working daily to master them. I have my moments when I slip back into hyper-productivity and lose my equilibrium. However, I can attest to the fact that when I work smarter, listen to my body, and create enriching environments and rhythms in which I can thrive, I am able to accomplish everything I set out to do in a day and maintain my optimum state of well-being.

Do you have any thoughts or similar experiences? What do you do to maintain balance and invest in your mental and physical health? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.