Photo: Andrea Piacquadio, Pexels
As you juggle your workload, perhaps with the added stress of having to create a hybrid working pattern by working from both home and the office, do you find yourself wishing: “If only I had two more hours each day”?
Creating a balance between the hours spent at different work environments and doing things just for yourself can seem impossible, while the very act of trying to attain it can leave you depleted of energy. Plus, deep down you feel that you are unproductive despite the long hours you put in, so that unhelpful voice in your head tells you that you are a procrastinator, rendering you not only tired but also demoralised.
If you search online for ‘Productivity Hacks’, you will see that being productive, or ‘in peak flow’, is down to many things, including:
The importance of energy management
Cognitive, physical and sensory energy boosters
Being centred and changing your mindset
Workflow productivity hacks
Improving your energy levels through diet
In 2019, 100 million + Americans (1 in 3) cited depression as an issue. The causes of it are many and having depression in your life compromises your focus, energy, and joy. Some of the causes can be physical, so be mindful of:
A diet high in sugar and starch and low in fat is extremely harmful. The brain loves saturated fats. They are not called essential fatty acids for nothing!
To gain optimum nutrition you need to include whole foods, plant-based foods, healthy fats, Omega 3 fats (avocados, nuts, seeds), grass-fed animal protein or natural protein that provides amino acids, plus good oils (e.g., coconut).
Show me a child on a beach and I’ll show you someone who runs into the water at some point or plays with it. We seem naturally drawn to water, perhaps because 97% of our bodies are made up of it.
Water is essential, yet few people drink enough of it, leading to dehydration. Before you feel thirsty, you will experience many signs that are less noticeable. These include lethargy, lack of concentration and lower tolerance to stress.
Aim to drink 8 – 10 glasses of water a day on average. Start to replace other drinks (e.g., tea and coffee) with water during your day. Don’t drink caffeine after lunchtime as it will adversely affect your sleep. Diet drinks should be avoided altogether as they have additives that the body stresses to remove.
Sometimes we confuse hunger for thirst. Drinking a large glass of water half an hour before eating will cut down your appetite, but do not drink it with your food. This will dilute the natural digestive enzymes in your mouth and slows down digestion. If you are bored of water, try herbal teas.
Exercise for increased focus
Our bodies were designed to move, and we now do not move enough. Make sure that you are moving each hour by stretching or walking around and add some exercise into your routine every day. If you really feel like your head is in a vice, then get some oxygen into your system quickly by finding a private space and stretching and deliberately yawning for a minute or two.
One of the most common blockages to people making time to exercise is that they just don’t feel motivated enough to do so. You need to tap into your reason for this:
Write down all the personal reasons why you would like to look and feel better through exercise.
Now write down all the possible outcomes of NOT exercising.
Take a moment to think how looking better & being healthier will make you feel.
Now take a moment to write down how the outcomes of NOT exercising will make you feel.
Then work out how you can make it fun.
For me it is rebounding on a mini trampoline to loud 80s music or joining an online class with a teacher I love. Tracking your exercise progress is key. Most importantly, keep a note of your energy levels at points in the day (scale of 1 – 10) and journal the changes.
Recharging through sleep
Sleep lets your brain relax and integrate your day. It evacuates stress, aids learning, and finds answers to problems. When you sleep your body gently relaxes and quietens, your heart rate slows down, and your body temperature lowers as you release tension and let down your guard.
Not getting the sleep you need will impact your physical and mental health as well as any steps toward increased focus at work. It can increase your stress and anxiousness, it can have a negative effect on your mood and your ability to concentrate and be productive.
To ensure a good night’s sleep:
Prepare your room for slumber (dark/cool/quiet)
Remove as many digital devices as possible
Have a clean comfortable bed.
Prepare your mind for closing via a regular sleep rhythm – go to bed and get up at roughly the same time every day, associating your bed with sleep (not TV or food or work!)
Prepare your body for calm (avoid alcohol, caffeine, cigarettes, food in the hours before sleep. Avoid intense sport in the hours before sleep. Do a mind-detox just before sleep by writing down everything that is on your mind and then put the list aside).
Use the 12-hour Board Meeting hack. If you wake up at 2am with something on your mind, write it down immediately then say to your subconscious: “Thanks for that.I’ll schedule a board meeting with myself in 12 hours at 2pm when I’m fully awake and able to deal with it well”.
Then, prepare for morning by having a glass of water by your bed that you can drink to rehydrate your body with when you awake. In addition, wake up to a nice soothing alarm or music, meditate or do a morning affirmation by welcoming in the day by finding ten things to be grateful for.
So far so good.
Increased focus and productivity at work
Now you are at work, hydrated, having slept well and eaten wisely and you still find that as the day becomes more hectic and you are just about to do “the thing” when the phone rings, and it is only later that you remember that “the thing” never got done.
Knowledge workers spend their days juggling dozens of tasks and projects at once, while being constantly bombarded by more. Without an effective way of prioritising/editing/storing all these tasks, they literally remain “on your mind”, creating an overwhelm of whirligig thoughts.
This in turn – despite your best productivity hacks – makes increased focus difficult and leads to an inability to concentrate fully on the work at hand, or a trade-off where you just about manage to get through it all, but the cost is that you are spent at the end of the day and just want to switch off and numb it all away.
All of the unfinished tasks whirring around your head, are, according to Matt Serna: “open loops”, and your brain will constantly remind you about them, whether you want it to or not. This is distracting; you can’t possibly expect increased focus when thoughts like “Remember to deworm the cat” keep intruding.
Indeed, according to ‘The Zeigarnik effect’, the mind has a natural tendency to return to incomplete tasks. It is a product of ‘open loops’ that hinder your mind from doing your work effectively by distracting you with other unresolved task and issues. Your mind will keep being flooded with these unhelpful reminders well into your evening (stopping you from switching off at home) and then intruding into your sleep, leading to more mental exhaustion and overwhelm.
The solution is to close the loops. Remove the cognitive burden of having to decide what to do and when with some simple task organisation tools. These can include daily:
A simple piece of paper with all your tasks written down on it.
Looking back at all the tasks and items you have, highlight them with either a Red or Amber (Yellow) or Green highlighter (RAG system). Red = urgent, amber = important but not urgent, green = noted but not needing to be done now.
An easy-to-use method of task prioritisation such as the Eisenhower Matrix.
Then each week create a Loop Closing Checklist as follows:
It’s no longer needed and can be deleted.
No action is needed right now, but you may need to do something about it later. Create an ‘Awaiting response’ file and review weekly.
It’s information that you may need later, like the budget for a project you plan to undertake. Put that into the correct reference/library file.
If you need to still do the action or there is more information you need in preparation for it, create a shared project board using your company system. Then have a master Projects List (with projects ranging from: ‘Complete the £££ pitch document’ to ‘Finish my online course’ to ‘Pay for the weekend away’ etc.)
If it comprises a single, non-urgent action, put it into your Calendar with a time/date specific plan to do it
This can extend to all those boxsets you’ve downloaded and never watched. Either delete them or set time aside to watch them. As you watch the third episode of The Queen’s Gambit you can call it good mental health!Finally, it is OK to have a ‘Decide not to decide now’ or ‘Someday’ list just for all those future dreams or plans that you don’t want to forget and which, with your renewed energy and increased focus, will find their way to the top of your list sooner than you dared to hope for.