There are plenty of behavioral and practical steps that can be applied to achieving optimum productivity; however, often overlooked are the day-to-day healthy habits that are easily incorporated into your day to day habits. It is true that the body is the greatest servant to the mind; it is also true that when the mind is not engaged and directing the body’s habits, the body will plod along without your intentional help.
The body’s natural tendency is to find the path of least resistance – in other words, to avoid work. We need healthy stress to grow and maintain a healthy metabolism, and we all know that avoiding work entirely is detrimental to health and productivity. Having said that, purposeful relaxation and mindful habits to promote calm and focus are not laziness. They are, in fact, the very keys to promoting the best environment for productivity. The following seven easy steps help you and your team do just that.
1: Get enough sleep
This is number one for a very good reason: if we don’t have enough rest, our usefulness is diminished on almost every level. Emotionally, we develop tripwire mood swings or depression; physically, our bodies do not have enough energy to get us through even a normal day; spiritually, we have very little enthusiasm for the tasks at hand, and what motivation we do have is anxiety-based. All of this adds up to decreased productivity and morale.
Most of us need 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night. Some of us are in the “unusual” category and can work well with only a few hours of sleep, but that’s not true for the majority of us. Also, ideally, you should schedule a 45-minute siesta between 2-4:00 p.m. Make sure you give yourself at least 45 minutes of uninterrupted rest. If you’re the boss, I would recommend that you implement this into your corporate culture.
Try to time your sleep patterns with nature’s day and nighttime patterns, and to shut off as much light as possible when sleeping. “Early to bed, early to rise,” is quite accurate. Our bodies produce melatonin, a neurotransmitter/hormone with many health benefits, not the least of which are healthy sleep, excellent moods, strengthening mental acuity, and encouraging a healthy immune system. Melatonin has an inverse relationship with times of light and darkness. During daylight, its production diminishes (with a brief rise at siesta time); at nighttime, its production increases.
Sleeping in irregular patterns and with unnatural light will throw off melatonin production. It has been widely proven in clinical trials and generally accepted in the health care community that even a little bit of light in a room lowers your production of melatonin, and computer and mobile devices are especially detrimental to melatonin production. When you go to bed at night, turn off all lights and the monitor on your computer. If you live in an area where artificial light streams into your room at sleep time, consider using a black eye mask when you sleep.
2. Use full-spectrum fluorescent light bulbs during the day.
Full spectrum fluorescent bulbs give off light that is as close to midday sunrays as possible without causing sunburn. The frequency of these bulbs promote good health, increases your energy, and can even increase Vitamin D levels. This very important, because of the prevalence of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) among people who do not spend enough time in the sun during the late fall to early spring.
Full spectrum fluorescent bulbs make certain your staff and you receive the gifts of the outdoor sun during your workday. Like getting enough melatonin by eliminating artificial light at night, full spectrum sunlight helps regulate your circadian rhythm during the day by helping your body slow down melatonin production during these hours. Light with yellow (soft white), blue, or green-dominant hues tells your body stimulates the pineal gland to produce more melatonin than it should during the day. This aids afternoon drags and drowsiness, and insomnia at night.
Installing full-spectrum lights in your home and office can give you and your staff a simple, healthy dose of inspiration, creativity, energy, drive, and focus while increasing health and reducing fatigue, early aging, depression, dissatisfaction and inertia. It’s worth a few extra dollars for this kind of return!
There are facts you should know about full-spectrum fluorescent light bulbs versus other types of fluorescent and iridescent light, and some myths that you need to discard.
First of all, all fluorescent bulbs contain mercury, so be careful not to break them, and use extreme care in removing and replacing them when they do break.
Second, full spectrum bulbs emit all the colors of the rainbow, plus infrared and ultraviolet light in the appropriate frequencies. They should have a Correlated Color Temperature (CCT) of 5500K (K stands for Kelvin) and a Color Retention Index (CRI) rating of over 90. You also want an electronic ballast as opposed to a magnetic ballast to reduce “flickering” and electromagnetic activity that can be harmful for your overall health.
There are fluorescent bulb brands that will bill themselves as full spectrum but do not meet the two requirements listed above. There are others that try to appear appealing, calling their bulbs “soft white.” The latter may sound nicer and the price tag is more appealing, but these bulbs cause eyestrain and fatigue and need to be replaced much more often than well-made, full-spectrum light bulbs.
3: Anticipate interruption as a fact of life and restart promptly
We all know that no matter how good a plan we have going for us, Life happens. It is especially true for business leaders and entrepreneurs. How many of us parents have had to abandon a deadline because a family member required attention? Or, when we’re about to launch a new product, our key production person gives her two week notice? Worse, just prior to the product release, legal comes back at the 11th hour with real concerns? How about the juice cleanse to which we commit ourselves and the “Very Important Client Dinner” that we must attend at their home, where they are serving steak tartar?
Believe me; I am not downplaying the importance of goals here. But there is a hierarchy of importance that, when an emergency strikes, will not wait for you to complete your task by deadline. The first in this hierarchy is #1: Health of self and family; #2: Crucial missed details; and #3: Social duty. The easiest way to keep on point here is to just accept Murphy’s law as a prophesy: that whatever can go wrong will go wrong, and that you make time for what could go wrong.
In the first case, there’s nothing for it. If you or your family have a health emergency, there’s nothing else you can do except address it immediately. Unfortunately, this very obvious fact is often ignored when it comes to ourselves, especially when we are so focused on achieving our goals that we ignore the obvious.
I was recently at a networking event in Manhattan. One of the attendees saw from my nametag that I was a chiropractor, and she introduced herself. She told me she had been in a horseback riding accident recently and was thrown from her horse headfirst onto the ground. She walked away from the incident, but a few weeks later, she woke up to find herself unable to use her arms and legs. Literally, she couldn’t move. Her question to me was, “Is it normal when your arms and legs just stop working?”
Let me repeat that question, because it may surprise you to know that I get absurd questions like this more often than you might think: “Is it normal when your arms and legs just stop working?”
I blinked, and thought that I hadn’t quite understood her question because she was standing in front of me with almost perfect posture, so I asked a bunch of clarifying questions. “Are you feeling numbness and tingling? Are you feeling weakness because of pain? Can you point to your arms and legs and show me where the problem is?” She came back with, “No; it’s all over both my arms and legs so I can’t point to it, but the tingling came when I was able to move six hours later. If I let my posture relax, it comes back. If I look down…” she looked down… “There. I’m feeling the tingling again, in my arms and legs.”
What she was describing was a textbook presentation of a broken C1 and/or C2 vertebrae, the atlas and the axis, the top two vertebrae and the reason we can turn our heads and nod up and down. These breaks are rare but can occur during serious sports injuries, just like the one she described. Hers might be a relatively stable variety of this type of break, and that she was not completely quadriplegic was yet another miracle I’ve witnessed in my years as a doctor; however, that injury needed medical attention the moment she fell on her head.
I told her to put her glass of wine down and go to her doctor for an examination and MRI right now.
To my astonishment, she replied that she wanted to wait six more months because she was launching her new product and couldn’t be interrupted. So I countered with something even more astonishing.
I told her that the reason she met me was because God was speaking through me, and God said to stop what she was doing and go to her primary care physician or the emergency room right now. Either her vertebrae were fractured, wildly out of alignment, or both; and they were choking her spinal cord. She needed to get her head and neck examined pronto. If there was no fracture, she had to go to her chiropractor to get her spine adjusted. Either way, she had to go get it checked out, or she could end up like Christopher Reeves. “Put down that glass of wine and go now,” I repeated, this time with the voice of Moses on the mount.
Over the years, I’ve learned that with some people, subtlety is useless.
We can’t wait until we’ve met your goals to address serious injuries, unless your immediate goal is to hobble to safety away from a vicious animal, a natural disaster, an explosion, or The Terminator. This is a Natural Law. The project has to wait.
Having said that, despite the fact that you and your family’s priorities come first, you don’t have to abandon your goals for the sake of your family. Indeed, the achievement of your goals will help fuel your presence with your family, both physically and emotionally. So take care of health emergencies but see your productivity as part and parcel with your commitment to taking care of yourself and your family.
As for crucial missed details, there are two things we can do: make sure we have our staffs go over every possible scenario up front, and give each department a deadline for making changes that at a much earlier date than the launch. Legal or design does not get to say, “wait, I think…” a day before launch. Too late. No one gets to say “don’t launch” at the last minute, unless the flaw is life-threatening in which case it falls under the health emergency clause.
As for social duty, the Buddha warned against the pull of that temptation. Nothing can sabotage a project like the perception that you have to let someone else’s agenda take precedent over yours. Of course, there isn’t a cookie-cutter solution to this one – perhaps someone else’s agenda is definitely more pressing – however, I’d say that in the majority of cases, this is not true. Really be on point with this one, and examine your feelings when faced with this, and be prepared to reject it if you know that delaying your goal for their agenda is not worth the cost. Be honest and let them know what is at stake for you, and that you cannot fulfill their needs until your goals are reached. If they cannot see the obviousness of the truth, ask yourself whether or not they should be in your circle of influence.
All three events (and eventualities) have one standing guideline: don’t let them derail you. Adjust your course accordingly and get back to reaching your goal as soon as you can.
4: Keep organic brain-boosting foods and eliminate non-organic, brain-draining foods at the office
Healthy oily foods and brightly-colored fruits and vegetables all have brain-boosting benefits that you can experience almost immediately when you start to eat them, while unhealthy oily, processed, and white foods do much more harm than good to your focus and energy, and therefore your productivity.
Brain boosting foods are full of natural vitamins, minerals and amino acids that promote the healthy, richly-oxygenated flow of blood to your body and brain and the expression of neurotransmitters like dopamine and noradrenalin, which help keep you alert and enthusiastic. Brain draining foods may feel satisfying when eaten, but promote arterial plaque and heat disease, gas and indigestion, insulin resistance, fatigue, and emotional irritation and depression – none of which is going to keep you on point and emotionally adjusted to the tasks at hand.
For breakfast at work, keep steel-cut oats with refrigerated black flax seeds, bananas and fresh berries handy. Eat a plate of organic eggs cooked in extra-virgin coconut oil; get rid of the bagels with cream cheese, bacon and white potato home fries. Keep cold-formulated protein shakes and spiced natural teas handy.
For lunch, munch on avocados, baby spinach, kale and arugula salads with cranberries and pecans with vinaigrette or a nice plate of plain yoghurt with berries and agave-sweetened granola. Skip the pasta, white breads and processed meat sandwiches for brown rice and stir fried veggies and hearty root vegetable stews. For some great recipes, see my Pintrest show notes folder.
For mid-morning and afternoon snacks, keep raw nuts, tea, and dark chocolates handy, along with lots of fresh filtered water. Cut out the high-calorie energy drinks, sodas, candy bars and chips.
It may feel like exercise will take away from your productivity, because to exercise properly you need to set aside at least 45-minutes-2 hours a day, 4 days a week, for dynamic warm up stretches, exercise, and cool-down passive stretches. All that time spent exercising can feel like time wasted, given the list of things you need to do for yourself.
But consider: science has shown time and again that exercise stimulates every physical attribute necessary to increase your capacity for productivity. And truthfully, while the above weekly timeframe is what I recommend, even minimal exercise can increase your health and ability to perform at your tasks efficiently. “A little is better than nothing,” is true in the case of exercise.
Exercise, even on a limited level such as brisk-walking 30 minutes a day, stimulates and balances the production of neurtransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine; all of which produce feelings of well-being and positive stimulation. Prolonged exercise also stimulates the production of enkephalins and endorphins — neuropeptides that have a natural opioid and analgesic effect on the body. They produce what is famously known as “runner’s high.” This feeling can be so good, with regular exercise one can actually crave physical performance. Finally! A good addiction! Well, it’s good unless you over-exercise injured body parts, but that’s a discussion for another day.
Regular exercise is good for your heart, your sex life, your glucose levels, your emotional stability, and your capacity for mental clarity and focus. Regular exercise not only promotes a healthy, happy brain and body, but leads to increased performance and precision in all areas of life.
“Can you make yourself do something you don’t want to do in order to get something you want?” — Andy Andrews
As with any task that needs doing, keep the goal in mind. Establish a primary goal with a definitive timeline, inclusive of mini-subgoals on the way to the main goal. [ give examples of definitive goals ] There is no growth without stretching your comfort zone [mention Allison Black and example of working muscles to fatigue]; that is true for any task, and most especially exercise. If you find it difficult to enjoy exercise, keep in mind the result of the task: you’re going to increase your enjoyment, precision and performance in all areas of life. It’s a win-win-win all around.
6: Clear the cache
When we work on projects and rightfully assign them to a deadline, it is easy to fall into them and work ourselves into a lather. The paradox of doing this is that there is an inverse relationship between the amount of productivity achieved and the amount of time we give ourselves to decompress and regroup.
Take measured breaks. I call this “clearing the cashe,” as you would from your computer. When you feel yourself working yourself into a lather, take a walk. Make yourself get up and get away. Find a place to sit quietly, close your eyes, and breathe purposely and slowly into your belly, if only for 10 minutes. If you work in bursts of productivity and relaxation, as opposed to marathoning through your tasks, you will increase your productivity exponentially.
7: People have their strengths; multitasking is not one of them.
Matthew Kelly referred to Albert Einstein when he said in his book, The Rhythm of Life: Living Every Day with Passion and Purpose, “If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid…” – It may or may not be Albert Einstein’s quote, but the truth is self-evident. Multitasking is a myth; it has been shown time and time again that multitasking reduces productivity and creativity, and increases feelings of overwhelm and inadequacy.
We are less productive when we focus on that which is not our forte. Delete the term “able to multitask,” from your job description. Focus on your strengths, and prioritize your tasks in order of importance. If you have a task in front of you and you just don’t have the skillset to accomplish, hire someone appropriate for that task.
Take these suggestions to heart and your productivity and health will benefit greatly.
Let’s hear from you? What do you do to increase productivity?
Ahhhh…sleep is the best. I love settling in after a good day, shutting off the lights, cracking the window for fresh air, putting one pillow under my thighs and one under my head, tucking in nice and snug in comfy sheets and blankets, and dropping off into perfect slumber. To sleep, perchance to dream…
As adults, how long do we need to sleep? Researchers go back and forth with this, but the repeated results remain that sleep needs differ among populations. Some people (like me) do best with 9 hours, some can sleep 5 and be perfectly fine – but that last is rare. The safe bet is that most adults have a basal sleep need (the amount of sleep our bodies require regularly in order to perform at an optimal level) of 7-9 hours of solid sleep a night.
What a lot of people don’t count on is the fact that many (most) of us need to crash for a little while during the day. Our circadian sleep rhythms (daily cycles of sleepiness and wakefulness that we can entrain to an extent) periods during the day/night when we are more sleepy than at other times.
Notably, one of these occurs in the mid-afternoon. I call it “hitting the wall.” Our brain seems to be useless and we get cranky during these times – for me, it is at about 2:00 p.m. — and we have to give ourselves a 45 minute to 1/12 hour nap in order to revive our brains and bodies. Otherwise, we accumulate what researchers call sleep debt, which is sleep lost to stress, sickness, forcing ourselves to stay awake unnaturally, or those stupid upstairs neighbors partying at all hours of the night (sorry — that last was last night for me. See? I’m cranky. I need a nap).
Scientists used to think that once you lost sleep, you couldn’t make it up. Well, don’t fret: it appears that, yet again, our grandparents were right about most things — in this case, advising us to “catch up on some shut-eye.” We can work down sleep debt. Nice.
There is also such a thing as getting too much sleep. There is a relationship with depression, oversleeping and disease. It’s okay to sleep long and late once in a while in order to catch up on your sleep debt, but if you find yourself sleeping 10+ hours a night on a regular basis, you may want to do an evaluation on your physical and emotional wellbeing.
Having said that, we heal during healthy sleep. During the day, we tend to use the sympathetic nervous system processes (fight or flight), which is associated with using the body’s energy for survival, much more than the parasympathetic system (rest and relaxation). During sleep the opposite is generally true. The body’s metabolism needs the shut-down period for maintenance of the nervous, endocrine, immune, somatic, and visceral systems of the body that don’t normally get that kind of reparative attention during the hustle and bustle of the day.
We are a nation that prides itself on its hustle and bustle and its apparent commitment to fatigue. Caffeine is the #1 over-the-(coffee-)counter drug in this nation (by the way: even decaf coffee has caffeine. It’s more “lightly” caffeinated than decaffeinated). Besides the morning hours, coffee cafes nationwide do their best business from 2-4 p.m., when other countries institute a nationwide nap time. They have dinner later than we do, but they are more rested and consequently healthier emotionally and physically. When we accumulate sleep debt, our extended fatigue contributes to emotional and physical imbalances that, over time, may not be so easily undone by our catch-up sleep.
If we deprive our bodies of regenerative activity by not getting enough good sleep, our physical and mental performance suffer greatly, as does our work and personal relationships. Chronic inflammatory illnesses flourish in an exhausted body because there is not enough time to replenish and repair damaged tissues in our bodies. Neurosis and psychosis flourish in an exhausted mind because there is not enough time to restore the chemical and energetic balance of our nervous systems.
Maybe that’s partially why our teenagers have such a difficult time adjusting to their transition from childhood to adulthood, and why our kids are the #1 kids in the world likely to be prescribed some form of anti-depressant. Teenage circadian rhythms are naturally programmed to stay up relatively late in the evening and to awaken later in the morning than our school systems allow. As a result, our teens have trouble falling asleep at 10:00 p.m. and definitely have trouble waking up at 5:-6:30 a.m. It’s not that they are lazy — their natural human systems require a different sleep schedule. Why we haven’t addressed this pressing parenting and academic issue in this day and age is absolutely beyond me. Our adolescents are still children — big children, but children – and like all children they need a lot more sleep than adults – at least nine hours every night (remember when they were infants/toddlers and they didn’t get naptime or to bed early enough in the evening, and we all experienced the traumatic effects of their emotional “meltdowns?” Same thing!). How are they supposed to progress in body, mind and spirit into healthy adulthood when we force them into a sleep-deprived model of education? It’s insane.
So this leads us to a nice chart of how much sleep our families need a day/night. These are averages. Again, individual bodies do not read charts and textbooks. These are tendencies, not absolutes.
Babies normally go to bed early, around 7 p.m., and wake early, with a 2 hour nap period during the day. Toddlers slightly less, but they need their naps. School-aged children can go to bed a little later, but they need their naps, too. So do teens. So do we adults.
Am I getting a point across here? As a nation, we need to nap. That’s why at a lot of chiropractic offices you can’t get an appointment from 1-4 p.m.. Chiropractic is a labor-intensive job. Not only are we catching up on our paperwork, we’re taking 45 minute-1 ½ hours to flop down on our massage tables with the lights off and the soothing ocean music playing in the background. How else are we going to perform at our optimum for the second shift, from 4-7 p.m.? A tired chiropractor is a cranky chiropractor. Not a pretty sight nor a pleasant experience.
We would be a lot less likely to start individual and collective fights with one another, we would increase our productivity and work satisfaction, and we would cut way back on our use of psychopharmaceuticals, pain relievers, and stimulants during the day and artificial sleep “aids” like wine and sleep pills at night if we all simply got our nap-time. We would also save scads of money. Our bodies and our lives would really benefit from the elimination of these chemical, psychological, and physical stressors.
Here’s what we all can do to encourage excellent sleep patterns:
- Be consistent with sleep, and make it a priority of a healthy routine. We can’t just “fit in” a bit of sleep in our schedules. We must create a deliberate time and space for sleep. We need to establish a regular schedule so our circadian rhythms are consistent as well.
- Create a deliberate evening routine that encourages sleep at least an hour before bedtime, like meditating for 20 minutes, a nice shower, or some good loving/cuddle time with our significant others (or ourselves, for that matter). There is nothing wrong with deliberately scheduling nightly love time. That has its own health benefits (we’ll delve into that a lot in future blog posts). Turn off the news, will you?
- Create a comfortable and restful sleep environment that is dark (dark is important for melatonin production – use an eye mask if you have to), quiet, and cool with a bit of fresh air.
- Invest in the proper mattress and pillows. See your chiropractor to be certain of the types you need.
- Your bedroom should be your temple room for sleep and lovemaking. Keep the computer, phones, TV and books out of the bedroom. Put those in the study/living room and leave them there when you go to bed.
- It’s okay to have a small 100 calorie meal/snack before bedtime, but nothing with processed sugar, caffeine, alcohol, or wheat. Brush, floss, and use the toilet before lying down for the night.
- Regularly exercise during the day and do some nice stretches about two hours before bedtime.
- Give up smoking, and don’t go to bed full of anger or worry. Make amends with your partner and yourself. Cuddling/meditating/lovemaking will help that.
If you or your family members have implemented all of the above, as well as the other essentials of health that I describe, and are still experiencing interrupted sleep patterns, snoring, leg cramps/tingling, apnea (difficulty breathing when asleep), and anxiety waking in the night, it’s time to consult your trusted health professionals for answers as to what’s going on. That’s what we’re here for.
For more information, the National Sleep Foundation has some great information (like the chart above). If you are a science geek like me, the journal Sleep is fun. I also reblogged an article from the American Chiropractic Association last January that is also worth a read.
Until next time, sweet dreams!
Next time: We’ll cover Stretch/Exercise.
Truthtime question: Do you lie on your bed/sofa with your neck propped up in a sustained hyperflexed position and sometimes fall asleep like that?