In light of recent research, our culture is slowly shifting away from a work-yourself-to-the-bone mentality. Working smarter, not longer, is shining through as the true way to maximize your potential. Timing is everything, friends. Today we’ll discuss how to life-hack your day to be more productive, less stressed, and more energetic. I’ll show you some simple habits you can build into your routine to help you win each day!
Get a Real Alarm Clock
Your phone doesn’t cut it, friend.
You’ve probably heard this before, so why haven’t you done it yet? One of the worst ways to start out your day when it comes to your mindset, attitude, emotions, and productivity is to immediately look at your phone when you wake up.
A new survey from consulting firm Deloitte shows that 43 percent of consumers check their phones within five minutes of waking up, and 17 percent check them immediately.https://www.realsimple.com/work-life/technology/deloitte-mobile-survey
People who wake up to their phone alarm usually start their day with endless scrolling and reading through the news. Yes, the light from your screen helps your eyes wake up, and yes it’s good to be informed. But is this really a good way to start your day?
Anxiety is the norm these days, and it’s been connected to excessive cell phone and social media use. Starting your day off with something that scatters your mind and makes you anxious isn’t the best recipe for a good day. You get to choose what you’ll start your morning with, which can set the course for your entire day.
Give a real alarm clock a try and see how it impacts your mind and mood!
“Win the Day”
Keeping in step with the first tip, “winning the day” involves not touching your phone until the end of your morning routine.
Don’t wake up to your natural light alarm clock and then grab your phone to scroll through while you make your morning coffee. Get up, have your coffee and breakfast, take a shower, read something that sparks creativity or promotes mental health, then reach for your phone. Get as far as you can in your morning routine before going online.
Your stress levels will go down, you’ll be intentionally setting the tone for your day, and it will help you truly win each day.
I stole this from Mark Sayers, a pastor at Red Church in Australia. He’s encouraging his church to start their day with Jesus in one way or another: reading the bible, praying, silence and solitude, worship, etc. He’s influenced me to read and pray before opening up any apps or email. I’m better off when I don’t start my day putting out fires.
But even if you don’t share my beliefs -OR have an extensive morning routine- you can still benefit from this with a cleared mind, lowered cortisol levels, and increased creativity. Start your day with an inspiring audio book while you get ready, a good workout, your favorite album, or create the discipline of listing things you’re grateful for while your coffee is brewing.
You’ll benefit from making every effort to set the tone for your day instead of starting out on a reactive note. This small step will be a huge boost to your mental health.
Take Strategic Breaks
These next three sections were inspired by a fabulous book, When: The Science of Perfect Timing, by Daniel Pink. If you love nerding out on psychology or life hacking, this is for you! I loved it.
I found the chapter on strategic breaks in When so fascinating that I read it twice. Some of Pink’s top tips for productivity, lowering stress levels, and boosting creativity and energy were around how and when to take breaks.
Working Long Hours Makes You Less Productive
Research is showing that working over 40 or 50 hours a week can decrease productivity, creativity, and energy and skyrocket stress levels. In fact, a study from Stanford University showed that employee output falls dramatically after 50 hours per week, and “falls off a cliff” after 55 hours. If someone works 70 hours a week they produce nothing more with those extra 15 hours. Yikes. We need to retire the part of our culture that claims longer hours will get you ahead. I love this quote from Daniel Pink in an interview:
One of the things that I’ve discovered and in fact changed my own behavior on is that my view always was amateurs take breaks; professionals don’t. And it’s the exact opposite. Professionals take breaks. Amateurs don’t. Breaks are part of performance. They’re not a deviation from performance.Daniel Pink, NPR Interview
We were made to rest, and we are better humans and better employees (or employers) when we take time away.
So, we need to work smarter, not longer, right? Taking strategic breaks throughout your day will boost your brainpower, clear your mind, and leave you feeling refreshed.
If we know we’re just spinning our wheels after hour 50, it’s important to learn how to maximize our work days with strategic breaks.
What Should These Breaks Look Like?
Pink cited research claiming people are usually productive for around 50 minutes at a time, so we should take a short break once every hour. This will boost our focus and keep our brains ready to work and problem solve.
These breaks should include:
- Moving around – like walking around your office or to your break room
- Outside, if possible. People benefit from taking breaks near a window more than without one.
- A short duration- only a few minutes are needed to feel invigorated and refreshed!
Find what works for you, whether it’s your Pomodoro timer or until you feel out of the “zone.” Try to be intentional and don’t allow yourself to get to the point where your wheels are spinning.
Avoid a Sad Desk Lunch at All Cost
It’s probably no surprise that the benefits of strategic breaks extend into your lunch break. No mic drops here ;)
Stop powering through your lunch.
Although #saddesklunch is a popular enough hashtag you may think it’s just a part of life, it’s not. Taking a full break for lunch- as in stepping away from your desk, your work, your phone, etc is the most refreshing thing you can do. Your productivity and problem solving should be improved, and one study even showed employees who had lunch away from their desks were better able to handle the stresses of their job over the course of a year vs. their sad desk lunch colleagues. You’re not a machine, friend.
Studies show even talking about work can lead to the same areas being triggered in your brain as actually working, so sit with your coworkers if you want, but don’t talk about work. Give it a rest. You’ll only benefit from it!
Breakfast Lunch is the Most Important Meal of the Day
I struggle with the temptation to work through lunch too, but Pink argues that lunch is actually the most important meal of the day. Getting the energy and nutrients from your food is crucial this time of day for brain functioning and energy levels, and since you’ve most likely already worked a few hours, your mind desperately needs this time away to shift gears and recharge.
Go with the research, friend. Step away from your desk, take a break, and get more done in less time. Bonus: since multitasking prevents us from realizing how full we are (and, um, stress eating isn’t good for the waistline) you might just eat less calories and lose weight! That is, unless your replacement is always hitting up the Chipotle next door.
Prepare for the Afternoon Slump
No matter how much coffee you have, what time of day you got up, how much work you’ve done, the afternoon slump is coming for you. It is no respecter of persons. Most people experience brain fog, wheels spinning, and lethargy sometime around 2 or 3pm each work day.
Let’s face it, you may be “working” but you’re not actually getting much done at this time of day. Instead of fighting it, embrace it. Here’s how:
Take a Break
Remember, it doesn’t need to be too long, but find a window or step outside and don’t think about work for a few minutes. Breathe and clear your mind.
Grab a Snack &/or Coffee
Now is a great time to consume nutrients and to make sure you blood sugar levels are helping your brain make decisions! Caffeine at this time of day is perfect, if it’s not too late and will keep you up at night. If you’re more sensitive to caffeine, you could try something with less milligrams per cup, like green tea, decaf, or even a square of dark chocolate.
Psssst: Eating every 3 hours or so is a great way to help prevent binge eating and gaining weight!
Take a Nap
You may have already heard of the coffee nap. Pink refers to it as the “nappucino.” And it may be the answer to your afternoon sleepiness.
I used to teach AP Psych and I’m pretty sure if my students remember only one thing I taught them, it will be about power naps and our sleep cycles. Because of our brain wave patterns, a 20-30 minute “power nap” is about all you can do before you get into the deep waves that make you feel really groggy when you wake up. A 20-30 minute nap can give you the alertness that you need.
Caffeine takes about 25 minutes to get into your system. So, we put these two powerhouses together with their new celebrity name, and bam! You’re more alert and focused. Drink your coffee quickly (studies show 200mg of caffeine is best), lie down for about 20 minutes or so, and then you should feel more alert than if you just did one or the other. Not every office is hip enough to have a nap station, so this might not be an option for everyone, unless you don’t mind drooling on your keyboard in front of your colleagues.
Avoid Decision Fatigue
I know everyone points to Steve Jobs and his turtle necks for the case for making fewer decisions each day, but if you’re not willing to commit a fashion crime in the name of productivity, I understand. There are other ways you can keep your mental stamina throughout your day by simplifying your life and/or making certain decisions ahead of time.
First off, it’s my pet peeve when offices have unhealthy snacks. I believe they are diminishing their workers’ decision making capacity by forcing them to resist the sugary temptations, or give in and feel regret and experience an unhealthy blood sugar spike. I’d suggest talking to your HR person if you can; sorry about my rant. I get very angry about this, and also when people take up the whole sidewalk.
Simplify Your Life By Making Decisions Ahead of Time
A more reasonable option is to bring all your food to work – plan your lunch and any snacks ahead of time. Keep them healthy, and if you know you’ve got a sweet tooth around 4pm, bring a healthier option to satisfy your cravings rather than giving into the vending machine.
You can also lay out your clothes at night, write out all your to-do’s before you go to bed, make sure your workspace or your kitchen sink is tidy so you can start your next morning with less to think- or stress- about.
Just think about whatever has you scatterbrained outside of work. Find a way to simplify it. Downsize, Kondo your wardrobe, say no to plans, etc.
This meal plan can help solve your problem of what to eat this week!
Start Practicing Sabbath (even if you’re not religious)
Don’t hear this religious word and run away. Friends this is honestly one of the most life-giving things I’ve ever done. I’ve been ruthlessly cutting things out of my life and have recently been benefitting from all I shared with you today – but the Sabbath?! It’s an entire day to just be. And it’s exactly what you need.
And guess what? All those bennies we talked about from little breaks, a lunch without work, and spending less time on social media? They are all multiplied when you take an entire day off. Glory.
What’s a Sabbath? How Does This Work?
The Sabbath is an ancient Jewish practice where the Israelites didn’t do any work. They rested, delighted (I love this word), spent time with family, took naps, and worshipped God. And even secular studies show that people who take sabbaths are happier, healthier, and more efficient and productive.
The hubs and I just started in January and it’s been amazing. I feel the difference in my mind, body, and soul already. We’ve been starting Friday night through Saturday evening, taking a full day off from work and stressful conversations. All chores are done ahead of time and meals are prepped or eaten out. We’ve read, took long walks, went out for amazing food, played games, spent time with friends, etc. I can’t wait for Sabbaths spent in the summer sun!
I’ve had trouble getting off of my phone, but have been deleting social media apps each Friday night to keep me from scrolling.
I’m not an expert (a total newbie, actually), but our church just finished a series on this that’s worth a listen! AJ Swoboda’s Subversive Sabbath is such a thorough, interesting, and encouraging book to read on the topic. There’s a whole movement about a Secular Sabbath, too, if you’re skeptical about anything religious.
Figure It Out For Your Schedule
I think there’s a big learning curve, especially if you’re a parent. But stress is so rampant these days. I think it’s worth taking even an hour version of a sabbath for starters and see how that affects your health. And see how you act without your phone, without accomplishment, etc. It’s probably very telling of some addictions you have. The Sabbath can be a refreshing and humbling reminder that the world will still turn without you, giving you permission to take a breather.
The benefits include improved mental and emotional health, less stress, and longer life. The Seventh Day Adventist Church requires a Sabbath from their members, and you know what? The average adventist lives 4-10 years longer than the rest of us. It’s as if for every one day we take off, it’s added on to the end of our life.
At the very least, I encourage you to set healthier boundaries with technology. It’s not helping you with your attention span, your anxiety or depression, or helping you get the rest your brain craves.
I think we need to take our stress levels seriously, and follow the research. Working more hours doesn’t lead to better work! In fact, it makes you more prone to errors. And heart disease.
If these feel overwhelming, pick one or a handful and start somewhere. And give it some time to work. You won’t defeat anxiety by waking up to a real alarm clock one time. It’s about building in healthier patterns to help you win each day and each week. Over time you mind, body, soul, and work will notice the difference!
I’d love to hear anything in the comments that have helped you, or if you’ve tried any of these already!