Unproductive busyness has become the scourge of our times. According to a Harvard study, many of the things we choose to do are merely justifications to keep ourselves busy. What’s the answer as you exhaust yourself with a day job, a podcast, a start-up business on the side or anything else you decide to squeeze into your life as evidence of a successful working life? Start with taking the time to reflect and getting rid of habits that sabotage everything you do.
Everywhere you look people are locked into Hunchback of Notre Dame slumps as they peer at computer screens and smartphones. A habit that’s not only bad for body alignment, it can lead to tension headaches, neck and back pain. Correcting your posture doesn’t begin and end with looking taller and more dominant, it means developing a neutral spine to reinforce the three natural hollows of your body – at the base of the neck, the middle and lower back. Calling time on slouching boosts mental performance and concentration because it increases testosterone production and improves your ability to relax and focus on problems.
Erratic working hours and the pervasive impact of electronic and digital devices, especially late at night, play havoc with sleep patterns. Longterm sleep deprivation can lead to obesity, metabolic upsets and poor overall health. But even a week or two of interrupted slumber leads to daytime drowsiness and poor job performance. To sharpen up your responses, try blackout shades and sleep masks and stop looking at any type of screen two hours before you go to bed. If you have accumulated a five-hour sleep debt during the week – the average amount – you need a one-and-a-half hour lie-in on the weekend to get back on track.
In a perfect world you would always be able to take a lunch break. Stepping out of the office in the middle of the day ramps up energy. But if you have to eat at your desk, switch off temporarily by not checking your emails, continuing to work or talking shop. Eat more slowly, too. Gobbling your food makes you more prone to snacking later in the day.
The wrong food choices – fast or takeaway meals heavy with sugar, fat, salt and white flour – can leave you feeling bloated, tired and stressed. To feel more energetic and productive, stoke up on vegetables, fruits, wholegrains and lean proteins for steady energy through the day, not the sugar and carb highs of fast foods.
A stack of international s tudies have shown that trying t o do too much at once wastes more time than it s aves. Too much multi-t asking can als o reduce brain function. Even enthusias tic support ers of “the new way of working”, such as Google, have realised that emplo yees who don’t f ocus on a task or problem becaus e they are distracted by emails, social media and open br owser windows are unproductive workers.
There used to be a myth that Japanese office workers worked the longest hours in the world, until it was discovered the vast majority were chained to their desks only ‘looking’ as if they were working. Everyone has to work longer occasionally, but if your job bleeds into your personal life all the time, your performance suffers.
Constant stress weakens the immune system. Your body is less able to fight off the effects of colds and flu and you can become more prone to anxiety and depression, says Aussie wellness expert, Blair Norfolk. He recommends taking one plant-based multivitamin supplement daily and getting 15 minutes of sun exposure a day. Sun is a natural immune booster and protects the body against autoimmunity.
Health and diet gurus peddle many claims about the brain and body-enhancing benefits of mega-doses of vitamins and supplements. But before you attempt to get boundless energy from a bottle, even water-soluble vitamins which aren’t stored by the body can have unintended effects. Vitamin B6, for example, contributes to a healthy nervous system, but ingesting more than 100 milligrams a day can lead to nerve damage. More than 2000 milligrams of Vitamin C can lead to diarrhoea and kidney stones.
Any form of exercise strengthens brain circuitry, so choose a routine you will stick to. Fitness trackers, gym workouts and other goal-oriented exercises work well for Type A personalities. More social, collaborative types should opt for group activities such as spin classes and calisthenics. Swim, walk, hike or cycle… just generally stay active. ■