As a productivity geek, I’m constantly tinkering, looking for that little tweak that will result in a big bump in productivity—or maybe just a little more peace of mind.
Perhaps surprisingly, most of the current research on energy management and productivity points to making changes that involve doing less rather than doing more.
Here are six relatively simple changes you can make to break the busy-ness cycle and improve your well-being and work output.
The good news is they’re probably all things you want to be doing anyway.
1. Eat breakfast
According to New York magazine, "between 1965 and 1991, the number of adults who regularly skip breakfast increased from 14 to 25 percent." And if you stand in line at Starbucks at 8:30 a.m., you know that the ranks of the breakfast-skippers are only growing. We all know that "breakfast is the most important meal of the day" but few of us act on it. The truth is there are few better one-stop options for improving general well-being. Numerous studies have linked eating breakfast with better general health, increased productivity and a lower body mass index. If you want to feel better, look better or just work better, there's one simple solution: eat breakfast—preferably foods with a low glycemic index.
2. Sit less
Most of us spend the greater part of our day sitting in front of a computer. In fact, the average person sits 9.3 hours a day—more than they sleep. All of this sedentary work is leading to increased cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes and lots of other unhealthy side effects. Surprisingly, even regular exercise when you’re away from your desk can't fully combat the negative side effects of long stretches of sitting. What's more powerful is breaking up that sitting as much as possible. Whether it's heading to the gym on your lunch break or just walking over to the water cooler once an hour, breaking the stationary cycle will up your energy—and your life expectancy!
3. Exercise in the middle of the day
To re-energize for a productive afternoon, there’s nothing better than exercising in the middle of the workday. Much like breakfast, exercise is one of those activities that improves almost everything, including productivity and focus. In a U.K. study that followed 200 workers, exercising on a workday significantly improved the subjects’ mood, calmness, productivity and problem-solving abilities. Here are the key findings according to the Daily Mail:
- 72 percent reported improvements in time management on exercise days compared to non-exercise days.
- 79 percent said mental and interpersonal performance was better on days they exercised.
- 74 percent said they managed their workload better.
4. Get an office pet
Scientists have long-theorized that having pets at work improves productivity and camaraderie, and recent studies back up this assertion—particularly when it comes to dogs. Here's a summary by Crain's of a recent study out of Central Michigan University:
Researchers found that having dogs present increases collaboration. In one experiment, they asked 12 groups of four people to create brief advertisements for an imaginary product. Some of the teams had dogs with them; the others did not. Afterward, participants were asked to comment on how they felt about their teammates. Those in the groups with dogs rated their colleagues higher on matters such as trust and team cohesion.
5. Travel regularly to improve your thinking
If you’re dealing with a nagging problem at work, putting some distance between you and the office can be extremely helpful. Not only will it give you better perspective, it also gives you (literally) the room to think more expansively and creatively. As journalist Jonah Lehrer writes in a recent Guardian piece, “Several new science papers suggest that getting away – and it doesn't even matter where you're going – is an essential habit of effective thinking.”
Lehrer goes on, “The reason such travels are mentally useful involves a quirk of cognition, in which problems that feel ‘close’—and the closeness can be physical, temporal or even emotional—get contemplated in a more concrete manner. As a result, when we think about things that are nearby, our thoughts are constricted, bound by a more limited set of associations. While this habit can be helpful—it allows us to focus on the facts at hand—it also inhibits our imagination.”
6. Use ALL of those vacation days
We tend to equate time with productivity. But, as anyone who's experienced a day with back-to-back meetings knows, expending a lot of time and energy doesn't mean you've produced meaningful results. In an article for Harvard Business Review, energy expert Tony Schwartz notes that "more than half of all Americans now fail to take all of their vacation days and 30 percent of Americans use less than half their allotted vacation time."
But that doesn't mean we're gaining productivity. Schwartz goes on to cite "a comprehensive study by Ernst & Young showed that the longer the vacation their employees took, the better they performed." Taking time off gives us perspective and renews our energy, which improves not just our productivity, but our effectiveness as well.
This post by J.K. Glei is based on research by the Behance team. Behance runs the Behance Creative Network, the 99% productivity think tank, the Action Method project management application, and the Creative Jobs List.