It’s well established that people who look after themselves have better cognitive abilities so are able to concentrate and focus better, meaning they produce more and are more effective. Productivity though is not just about doing more. In performance terms, 20% is not about ‘what we do’ but ‘when we do it’.
Our brain does not work or perform at the same level for 24 hours so its essential for us to schedule our work in the right place at the right time. Generally the brain works best in the morning so this is the time when we will be at our most productive – it’s the time to write difficult reports or deal with complex issues. In the afternoon, when our brain is recovering from a tough morning, we need to schedule less tricky administrative type work so by the evening our brain has recovered and is capable of being more creative. In other words the brain needs to:
Perform – Relax – Renew – Perform
The goal is to be more productive during peak times and to downshift at the times when we aren’t going to be as efficient. We want to find out when we work most effectively and then use those peak productivity times most efficiently to do our most challenging and creative tasks.
So self-care does play a role in productivity but what do we need to consider, to ensure we are achieving the best results in our work and home lives?
Health and Nutrition – A balanced nutritional diet and hydration is good for your brain, mental health and wellbeing as well as for managing your energy. If we have a tight deadline, we tend to drink too much coffee, take no exercise and get less sleep so when the task is completed we are exhausted because we haven’t managed ourselves properly.
Sleep – When we sleep we repair the brain and re-establish the links between our memory and our storage and retrieval systems. Poor sleep means that as well as not being able to concentrate and focus, our memory doesn’t work as well and we cannot retrieve information. Research has shown that a lack of sleep produces the same effects as excessive alcohol on the ability of the prefrontal cortex which regulates emotions, thoughts and ideas and makes success and fulfillment possible.
Sleep is the first thing that suffers when we are anxious or stressed and an inability to sleep is an early-warning indictor that something else is going on in your life so it’s a good idea to look at what else is going on in your life before a vicious circle is established.
Exercise – Exercise is fundamental to brain fitness. It doesn’t matter what you do – walking, swimming, yoga, dancing – it just needs to be something that gives you a mind/body connection. New research shows that there may also be additional benefits in exercising outdoors, not just in the warmer, summer months but in the winter as well. As well as getting out and connecting with nature, it has been shown that the cold stresses the body in a natural way so it goes into self-repair mode (elite athletes take ice baths after completing long-distance events to promote physical repair), which helps with cognitive ability.
Holidays – Holidays are essential to allow us to step away, rest and recharge. They can make us more productive and allow us to raise our game by spending time mindfully when we aren’t working. As well as scheduled holidays, it’s good to have some weekly downtime just to let your brain take a break and recuperate.
Interests and Hobbies – Exercising the brain by changing things and trying to do things in different ways can stimulate neuroplascity. Interests and hobbies that are not attached to work or other commitments and for your own personal benefit can help relieve stress and increase your happiness and satisfaction with life.
If we want to keep a strong, ongoing level of productivity we need to set up effective self-care systems that help us to move forward. The activities above can impact not only on your productivity but also your self-esteem, relationships, and physical and mental health