6 Health Hacks To Boost Your Productivity

Kyle’s note: As someone who sits in front of a computer for a lot of my work, finding ways to mitigate the health problems that come with the work has always been very interesting and important to me. It’s clear that when I am feeling healthy mentally and physically my work is also much better. It helps to see maintaining your health as investing in your most important and valuable business asset, yourself. Over to Laura:

In 1926, the Ford Motor Company announced that workers would only be required to work 40 hours a week over the course of 5 days, coming back from the industry standard of 6 days a week at 9 or 10 hours a day:

“Every man needs more than 1 day a week for rest and recreation….The Ford Company always has sought to promote [an] ideal home life for its employees. We believe that in order to live properly every man should have more time to spend with his family.”

An entrepreneur who truly changed the course of history, Ford was met with derision and prophecies of disaster…. but soon his critics were changing their tune.

Ford Motor Company’s output went up across the board and the company became more profitable than ever.

Their employees were happier, healthier and more committed than anyone else in the industry, turning out in force to support their company day in and day out.

Ford_Team

But for many modern entrepreneurs, the idea of sticking to just 40 hours a week is anathema.

Working long hours and pushing your physical limits seems like par for the course. After all, the business isn’t going to scale itself, and you want to prove you’re committed.

Whether it’s how many proposals you can churn out in a day, or the number of all-nighters you can pull in a month, this attitude is powerful and pervasive.

But does more work really mean more productivity?

The research increasingly says no… and that you can do major damage to your body if you push on.

And while the the impact on productivity is critical (and we’ll get to that), the physical expense is also really serious.

Your body is not a renewable resource. It’s easy to damage and hard to fix – and as far as medicine has come recently, there are still massive problems associated with overwork:

  • A six-year British study (part of the massive Whitehall II Studies) found that people who worked 11 hours per day were two and a half times more likely to develop serious depression than colleagues who averaged 8 hours a day.
  • 11 hours a day or more has been associated with a 67% increased risk of heart disease
  • Constant screen use contributes to significant eye strain and damage, both increasing the risk for long-term vision problems and reducing productivity
  • Sitting for over six hours a day while you work has been associated with increased risk of metabolic disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and cancer.

To top it all off, a 5-year study from the American Journal of Epidemiology found that working long hours led to notable decreases in cognitive function:

“The results of this study show that long working hours may be one of the risk factors that have a negative effect on cognitive performance… the 0.6- to 1.4-unit difference in aspects of cognitive functioning between employees working long hours and those working normal hours is similar in magnitude to that of smoking.”

In the last century, science has borne out Ford’s generous attitude over and over again.

Studies like this, this and this have all found that over the long term, productivity is roughly at its peak around the 5-day, 40-hour workweek, and that pushing people to ever-increasing hours becomes counterproductive at least and destructive at worst.

As soon as you start working past about 40 hours a week, productivity immediately starts to drop off. Click To Tweet

1. Determine when you do your best work.

After working 8 60-hour weeks in a row, the studies show that you will have achieved only a fraction more than you would have working 8 40-hour weeks.

And in the short term?

Working for more than 21 hours – as happens when you stay up for 3 days to finish a project – is the physiological equivalent of being legally drunk.

“Longer periods of continuous work drastically reduce cognitive function and increase the chance of catastrophic error. In both the short- and long-term, reducing sleep hours as little as one hour nightly can result in a severe decrease in cognitive ability, sometimes without workers perceiving the decrease.” [source]

Clearly, the answer to creating optimal levels of output – creating high quality, resource-efficient work, does not lie in working ever longer hours.

The answer to creating optimal levels of output – does not lie in working ever longer hours. Click To Tweet

Instead, that’s the route to creating technical or creative debt: when you forge past the point of diminishing return, you have to come back and redo the work later. While it’s occasionally necessary, generally it just creates more work and more problems down the line.

Most entrepreneurs are already aware of the morning routines that start their day right, and working out your most productive hours is an extension of that awareness.

For example, Taylor Pearson, who recently wrote the bestselling End of Jobs, says he has roughly 3 hours of productive, creative work each day. The rest of the day is best spent on non-creative, task-based work.

Studying your work patterns and determining the routines that work best for you dovetails nicely with the one thing – the single piece of work each day that will make everything else on your list easier or unnecessary?

Find your best hours and work relentlessly during them, pushing everything that doesn’t immediately move the needle into the hours of reduced output.

2. Get enough sleep & learn the magic of naps

Sleep deprivation is now so common among adults that the CDC considers it to be an epidemic.

And even though you hear stories all the time of CEOs running on 5 or 6 hours of sleep a night, as mentioned above, studies have found that people become unable to recognize their reduced ability to function. This impaired level becomes their new normal.

Adults require at least 7 hours a night to function properly – 8 is ideal. But to be fair, getting 8 consecutive hours a night can be tricky to arrange, especially if you’ve got kids.

Enter the power nap.

There’s been extensive research done on napping, and the results are all good news if you’re sleep deprived: just 10 minutes can be enough to help you improve immediately across all cognitive function. 20 to 30 minutes also improves performance, but it can take a little longer to get back in the groove.

And if you’ve got a creative problem to solve that you just can’t crack, shut yourself away some time between 2pm and 4pm and nap for 30-90 minutes. (You use this ‘napping wheel’ to work out the best time for your individual biology.)

You’re more likely to fall into deeper REM sleep, which is associated with increased creativity and problem-solving.

HubSpot and Google take sleep so seriously that they’ve added nap rooms to their offices for employees to book at will (HubSpot going so far as to make it peacefully beach-themed). Employees say the rooms make a big difference in their output and judgement.

Click the image for a full infographic on how to take the perfect nap.

how-to-take-the-perfect-nap_52261da483ffd

Another option is the caffeine nap. Tim Ferriss, notorious in his quest for ultimate productivity and efficiency, introduced this concept in the 4-Hour Body.

He recommends downing an espresso between 1 and 3pm, then clocking out for 20 minutes.

Most people get through a single sleep cycle in that time, and it’s also about how long it takes the caffeine to disrupt the adenosine in your system, which is the hormone that makes you feel tired in the afternoons.

That combination helps you wake up feeling alert and energized, and ready to bounce back for the rest of the afternoon.

3. Postural checks & mindfulness

Your body’s positioning throughout the day plays a surprising role in your mental and physical output.

The slumped ‘laptop’ posture – where your spine is hunched over, your neck is poking out at 90 degrees, and your arms are doing the T-Rex – plays all kinds of havoc with your productivity.

Sitting that way restricts deep breathing patterns, which limits the flow of oxygen around the body, which in turn reduces energy output and cellular respiration. Simply put, it makes you tired and mentally foggy.

It also creates biomechanical problems:

  • Repetitive strain injuries in wrists and forearms
  • Swollen and painful joints in the hands from typing too long
  • Painful, knotted necks that crane forward
  • Deep aches between your shoulder blades and in your mid-to-low back
  • Reduced circulation throughout the body
  • If it’s possible, arrange to have a standing desk made available. Standing prevents a lot of these problems, and has been associated with greater output.

If it’s possible, arrange to have a standing desk made available. Standing prevents a lot of these problems, and has been associated with greater output.

If that’s not a possibility, and you can’t piece one together, make sure you watch these 3 videos to stretch out your body regularly:

And if you really want to step it up, there’s a 16-point guide here to building up physical resilience to being seated all day.

With the next tip, you’ll be able to automate mindfulness of your body, and build in regular intervals to check your posture, making sure your spine is straight, head is floating weightlessly above the neck, and that you breathing is deep and uninhibited.

4. Reset your focus with Pomodoros

Popularized as a productivity tool, a Pomodoro is usually a 20-minute segment in which you work consistently, without caving to distractions, followed by a 5-10 minute break. You can use this tool to set up your timer.

During this break, you should stand up, walk away from your desk, and let your mind go to something else, so that when you go back for the next round, you’re refreshed.

Pomodoros are also a great way to hydrate sufficiently, and to do the stretches outlined above.

This will prevent your muscles and joints cramping up, and improve blood flow and circulation with a little bit of movement.

If you go get a glass of water every time you reach a break, then do a few simple stretches, you’ll be hydrated and well-oxygenated when you sit back down.

And don’t underestimate the power of hydration – dehydration can make you tired, irritable, and distracted.

While there’s no hard rule for how much water you should drink throughout the day, aiming for a glass per hour while working will be enough for most people.

Related: How Do You Know If You’re Drinking Enough Water?

5. Caffeine timing

Sometimes you have days when it feels like caffeine is the only thing between you and complete ruin.

But if you time your caffeine intake carefully, you can really maximize the effect it has on your body.

Caffeine_Timing

In the morning, most people experience a 50% increase in cortisol concentration in their bloodstream for the 30-60 minutes after they wake up.

This is known as the cortisol awakening response. This raises your body temperature and heart rate, making you wakeful and more alert.

And entrepreneurs are prime candidates for very pronounced cortisol awakening responses – chronic stress and heavy workload are associated with significant increases the concentration of cortisol in the blood in the mornings.

Which means that when you reach for that giant cup of coffee first thing in the morning – even if you’re still shaking off sleep – you’re piling stimulation on top of a system that’s about to firing on cylinders.

Does that mean you should cut caffeine?

Perish the thought! You also have slumps of cortisol throughout the day, usually an hour or so after meals. It’s at those moments that coffee (or Smart Caffeine with L-Theanine) comes into play.

Here’s a handy graphic from Ryoko Iwata to help you time your coffees to match up with hormonal fluctuations throughout the day:

When_To_Drink_Coffee

 

Matching up your caffeine intake with the normal patterns of your body will help you be more consistent throughout the day, and to get more bang for your buck from each cup of coffee.

6. Handling nutritional deficiencies

It’s pretty common across the general population to be deficient in various micronutrients. Among the most common deficiencies are the B Vitamins, Magnesium and Vitamin D3. All of these are critical components of optimal mental output and stable moods.

Symptoms of Vitamin B deficiencies include:

  • Constant fatigue
  • Poor memory
  • Reduced ability to think clearly
  • Depression
  • Paranoia
  • Numbness or tingling in extremities
  • Nausea

Low Magnesium shows up as:

  • Anxiety and agitation
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Disordered sleep

Vitamin D3 deficiency can exhibit as:

  • Bone and muscle pain
  • Ongoing fatigue
  • Depression
  • Poor immunity
  • Reduced organ function (which impedes energy, metabolism and fitness)

If you’re snappy with your team or family, easily distracted or thrown off course, or just struggling to get motivated, there’s a very good chance that it’s a simple nutritional deficiency – try adding foods or supplements to your routine to the inevitable soul-searching and see if that helps.

Conclusion

Sometimes it’s not always possible to fit in every workout or make sure every meal is perfectly healthy. There are days your business has to come first – sometimes for weeks at a time.

There’s nothing wrong with that. These measures simply ensure that all the additional hours are worth it, and that you don’t sacrifice the long-term health of your body or business for the immediate wins you’re working for.

About

Laura runs marketing at Natural Stacks, a nutrition company that helps people achieve optimal mental and physical performance. She writes regularly at the Optimal Performance blog and tweets @NaturalStacks

11 responses to “6 Health Hacks To Boost Your Productivity”

  1. DanTurner says:

    As long as eye strain is on the table, this blog is one of the worst for readability I’ve ever seen. Wrong font, wrong font size, wrong color. Add poorly-edited, bloated articles to the list and it’s a wonder anyone sticks around long enough to read one. Maybe they don’t! I only say this because I care. You’re better than this. Fix it.

  2. Laura says:

    Thank you! Hope it helps.

  3. VeloNomad says:

    I would add: yoga and pilates.

    For overall wellness, try and get to a 100% vegan diet. 80% a good start. Animal protein and fat a deleterious effect on health/longevity.

    T

  4. Patrick O'Doherty says:

    Sounds like you missed your morning cuppa Dan!

    Do you have an example of a better blog? With the correct font, correct font size and correct colour?

  5. Dan Norris says:

    Super interesting thanks Laura!

  6. Kyle Gray says:

    Thanks for caring enough to make it to the end and leave a comment Dan! I would love to hear some suggestions on how we can improve the blog here. You can write me at Kyle At WPCurve dot com.

  7. Kyle Gray says:

    These are great ideas. I really like an hour of Yin yoga at the end of the day to get relaxed and clear my mind.

  8. Laura says:

    Agreed! Yoga & pilates can be so helpful for clearing your mind and keeping your body energized.

  9. Laura says:

    Thanks Dan! Appreciate you having me here 🙂

  10. Jeni Walker says:

    Interesting article. I will check out the nap infographic. I will start to drink green tea called matcha that will give both boost your energy level and increase your mental focus.

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