You want to be alert, fresh and awake at work. You’re hoping to feel energized and focused throughout the day. By 2:00PM, however, your energy sags. You have heaps of emails to get through, presentations to deliver and two more meetings to attend in the long hours ahead. You eat something quickly at your desk, drink another coffee and keep going, all while feeling more and more depleted. The demands, the deadlines and the extremely long hours leave you feeling exhausted.
You wonder if sustaining an optimal performance is just an elusive dream. March on! Do more! Push through! Keep going! This ethos of the corporate workplace over the last hundred years is grounded in a totally misguided notion: the assumption that, as humans, we operate in a linear and sustainable fashion.
The reality is that we’re not designed to run like our personal computers, continuously at a high speed for long periods of time. The beating of our hearts, our respiration, muscles, cellular function and, most importantly, mental concentration are pulse-like and not at all linear. We alternate through states of contraction and expansion. Our bodies and our brains function rhythmically. The human battery must be recharged, so brief periods of recovery and restoration are essential for peak performance.
Annual leave and weekends are great for recuperating. However, in order to be truly awake at all levels, the need for renewal is far more immediate and is, in fact, a daily prerequisite. A new and growing body of scientific research demonstrates that strategic renewal boosts productivity, mental stamina, job performance and, of course, health.
- First things first.
Do your most challenging and important work as soon as possible after you wake up, when you have the most energy. “One of the saddest mistakes in time management is our propensity to spend the two most productive hours of our day on things that don't require high brain focus (such as emails and calls),” explains Dan Ariely, Duke University Professor of Economics.
- Take a break at least every 90 minutes.
It’s not how long you take off that matters most, but how skillfully you use these very short periods of renewal. Get up from your desk and stretch your muscles by taking a short walk. The simplest way to recharge energy is by breathing. You can dramatically lower your heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension in as little as thirty seconds. Practicing mindfulness and meditation keeps your brain energized and oxygenated.
- Forget about balance.
If you're searching for "work-life balance", you'll always be disappointed because that balance you are hoping for just doesn’t exist. Most of life is filled with hard work. The key to being more alert and awake is to be super-disciplined in establishing sufficient recovery time and maximizing your time off. Think more of work-life integration, in that work and personal life should be allies.
- When you leave work, leave work.
Although it’s easier said than done, know when to stop! Your time outside of the office should be spent on you and the people you care about, not in your inbox. Research demonstrates that there may be up to a 60 percent increased risk for heart disease for people regularly working more than 10 hours a day. So when work is done, get out!
- Make sleep a priority.
Sleep doesn’t receive the attention it deserves. It’s undoubtedly the most powerful restorative tool we have at our disposal. In reality, even small amounts of sleep deprivation undermines your capacity for analytical thinking, creativity and mental focus. We can no longer overlook the important research showing the effects of improved sleep on cellular healing and optimal cognitive function. Most adults require at least 7 hours a night.
- Power up with a small nutrients boost every 3 hours.
Your brain requires a constant source of energy. A meal will only provide three hours’ worth of brain fuel, so make sure to eat a small mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack. A quick biscuit or chocolate will wreak havoc on your concentration and mood, causing spikes in sugar through sharp elevations in insulin and deep troughs of energy depletion. Some good choices include a piece of fruit with some almonds or vegetable sticks with hummus. Better yet, power up with a low-calorie, nutrient-dense smoothie mid-morning or afternoon. Boost your energy and keep awake all day at work with a fabulous NutriBullet smoothie filled with energizing and nourishing ingredients.
We may have resigned ourselves to the fact that stress, fatigue and exhaustion are simply part of life in the 21st century. This doesn’t need to be so! The good news is that you can keep awake, alert and energized at work and beyond with a few of these key lifestyle adjustments.