Keeping health above work
Many people like to work. Many people do not. If browsing websites about productivity, one is probably in the former camp. One way or another, it is important to keep health in mind.
There are a couple of things which can make a healthy lifestyle. Food, sports, sleep. The number of hours just working plays a big role. Despite loving work, less is often more.
During the work, it is important to have regular breaks. After work, forcing oneself to actually have a break is a good start. There is no need to think about work-related things all night.
If not being able to finish all work necessary within the standard working time, doing overwork seems to be the go-to solution. People who love working can’t stop working. However, it is rarely a good solution and usually just result in less productivity, overall.
First of all, working too many hours comes with its own set of issues. After a set amount of working hours, no human can give his or her one-hundred percent anymore. Most people are burned out rather quickly, and just prolonging the hours of work will not actually give a plus in net result.
Working 8 hours at 100% or working 10 hours at 80% would be mathematically the same net result. Setting aside, whether that is actually the same, let’s take a closer look at this example.
Most people do not work at 100% all the time. There are ups and downs, more productive hours and less productive hours. Wouldn’t it be the best, to just get the most out of the normal working hours, instead of prolonging them artificially? More time spend at the desk will rarely mean that things get done. There are studies, which back this theory1: too long working hours introduce errors due to the lack of concentration; and most people asked in studies claim to even lose productive working hours due to fatigue.
The most used word on this website is productivity. It could also be efficiency. When wanting to be productive, it is also about being efficient.
Being efficient with ones work. This can mean finishing early. More time with family, more time with hobbies. When being done with a days load of work after 8 hours, no need to extend to 10 or 12. It also results in more time for a healthy lifestyle – sports, sleep, food.
There are various studies on how too long working hours can affect health. Not only a reduction of productivity: Bad health could mean sickness. If getting sick, there is no productivity anymore.
The same studies also found a correlation of working hours to a lack of concentration. After 10 hours or more, who can still concentrate as well as in the beginning? Maybe finishing some emails, some low effort work. There is no point in doing the deep, important tasks at night after hours of other work. Take a rest, start the next task fresh in the next morning.
During work: Regular breaks
Resting is important for the mind to keep up. Regular breaks during work can help the mind keeping up. There are various approaches to this. A famous technique is called Pomodoro.
In Pomodoro, work time is split up into parts of 25 minutes. Every 25 minutes, there will be a short working break, usually around 5 minutes. Then, after finishing four such cycles, so approx. every two hours of work, there is a longer break, maybe half an hour.
There are lots of apps and tools for this. For example, Focus Keeper. This is intended to help the mind keep up. Regular breaks are important for concentration.
After work: A work-life balance
Having a good balance between work and life is a challenge. But it has its positive effects. Off-time naturally gives the brain a chance to rest, and to keep up. After spending time out of work, it is easier to concentrate during work. Leisure time is as equally important to productive work, as the work itself, and workflows.
The same is true for weekends and holidays. It is easy to stress oneself about work-related things. It is not so easy not to. But shutting off will actually improve the productivity. A well-rested mind can work more effectively.
The importance of sleep
Sleep is important for work. This is backed by research. Researchers found that fatigue-related symptoms cause an average cost of $1967 per employee per year to businesses. This is also time and money lost in personal productivity.
There are various ways to improve sleep. Of course, first, sleeping more. By going to sleep early and making more time to sleep.
Often, it is hard to fall asleep – too many things in the mind. To help with this, a regular sleeping schedule helps tremendously. When having too many things in mind, it is an indicator of doing too many work related things just before sleep.
It is best to have some private time before sleep. Maybe spend time with family or play some video games. Do not proofread an article related to work, just before sleep. This will be in mind all night, destroying a chance for rest.
Sleep hygiene should be a thing to care about. Drinking alcohol before sleep can vastly reduce the depth of sleep. The same is said to be true for blue screens. Using the phone in bed is a bad habit. Night-shift functionality built into the operating system or apps like flux can also help with this.
Treating the body
Office work, academic work or similar usually stresses the head. The brain is the main factor. People often forget the body below it. Treating the human as a whole ecosystem will help with balancing out energy levels, creating a healthy and happy lifestyle.
Having a healthy diet
There is a correlation between malnutrition and reduced productivity, already discovered during the 70s7. A healthy diet is crucial for being productive at work. It raises energy levels, giving the brain its power.
Cooking costs time, junk food is quick and easy. But that is only the beginning of a vicious cycle downwards. Healthy food does not need to take time. Eating fruits during breaks, having some diversity in daily meals. Going to a restaurant regularly does sound expensive, but might be worth the expense for a healthier lifestyle, if the alternative is junk food.
Another important thing is: Do actually eat. Having a lunch break is essential. If getting sleepy after lunch, maybe it is a wrong timing or simply too much food. Skipping lunch or postponing meals just for being more productive is less productive in the end.
Doing regular workouts
Previously cited studies not only point out a relationship between productivity and malnutrition, but also its relation to workout. Everybody knows, that a regular work is good for the body. But did you know, that it is also good for your work?
A regular workout increases energy levels of the body. This helps for a more consistent ability to concentrate.
Letting the mind rest
Especially if involved in lots of thinking: Like work in research or academia, it might often be the case, that the mind is more exhausted than the body. If you feel, that this might be an issue and you are not able to control your thought processes in daily life as precise as you used to, it might be worth looking into meditation methods.
Trying out Mindfulness through meditation can help getting more aware of the surrounding world and own thought processes. Research suggests, that short term meditation has a positive effect on attention and self-regulation, which are traits that can also positively influence productivity. A good place to start would be the app Headspace (iOS / Android).
So, working hours, sleep, diet, workout. What is the message to take away? Being productive and having a successful work life does not mean dedicating all time to into one bucket.
Spreading out available time into other fields of life can and will tremendously help with productivity too.
A healthy lifestyle can help with productivity. This is equally important to knowing good workflows and having a comfortable way of tackling work.
Reducing work hours can increase the total net result of work. Doing less is sometimes doing more.
Having a balanced and regular diet can increase concentration and thus help with a productivity workflow. A diet, regular breaks, doing a workout. In the end, all of it is symbiotic.
Last, regular workouts help to create balance. It also has positive effects on sleep and creates the extra energy necessary for a successful workday.
- John Pencavel. “The Productivity of Working Hours.” Economic Journal (2015): 125 (589), 2052-2076. Link
- Sparks, Kate, et al. “The effects of hours of work on health: a meta‐analytic review.” Journal of occupational and organizational psychology 70.4 (1997): 391-408.
- Spurgeon, Anne, J. Malcolm Harrington, and Cary L. Cooper. “Health and safety problems associated with long working hours: a review of the current position.” Occupational and environmental medicine 54.6 (1997): 367-375.
- Bechtold, Stephen E., Ralph E. Janaro, and De Witt L. Sumners. “Maximization of labor productivity through optimal rest-break schedules.” Management Science 30.12 (1984): 1442-1458. Link
- Rosekind, Mark R., et al. “The cost of poor sleep: workplace productivity loss and associated costs.” Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine52.1 (2010): 91-98. Link
- Eckholm, Erik, and Frank Record. The two faces of malnutrition. Worldwatch Institute, 1976. Link
- Martorell, Reynaldo, and Guillermo Arroyave. “Malnutrition, work output and energy needs.” Capacity for Work in the Tropics (1988): 57-76.
- Tang, Yi-Yuan, et al. “Short-term meditation training improves attention and self-regulation.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104.43 (2007): 17152-17156. Link
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Dr. Marc A. Kastner
I am an assistant professor working on computer vision and multimodal understanding. I am interested in task- and knowledge management. In my free time, I blog on productivity workflows and apps.
For my professional portfolio, please visit: marc-kastner.com
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