I’m not a nutritionist, health trainer or sleep expert but I have a story from a client about a big transformation he made recently.
I enjoy being productive and want to improve my output. Part of me thinks that I’m somehow addicted to some chemical my brain releases while I’m working and being productive.
Conveniently, I have a demanding full-time job and lots of hobbies I’m always trying to work on. My challenge is to find out how to be more productive and how can I deliver on my goals more efficiently so that I have a bit more free time. I decided to attack this problem in three ways.
One day it dawned upon me that my diet was actually getting in the way of that productivity high. I was tired, nodding off at my computer and ending the day with a disappointingly small amount of work completed. My trick was to ingest caffeine when that happened but it never really worked. Eating something sugary didn’t provide a real boost either.
So I went the other way, keeping sugar low, eliminating soda, cutting back on caffeine, and embracing salads and lean meals more.
I completed a 2-day juice cleanse (you only drink specialty juices for 48 straight hours), and it really helped with kicking some of my cravings and getting me on the path of eating a lot of vegetables and avoiding carbs and sugars. I also stopped eating after 8 pm, and if I had a snack it was something low calorie.
My problem was working until late at night trying to get ahead of my tasks or working on a project that I was really excited about. I tried to push through when I got sleepy and just trying to finish a few more things on my list. It made those hours very inefficient and carried over to the next day, hurting my productivity.
My solution was to require 7.0 to 7.5 hours of sleep, every night of the week except one weekend night. If I missed any time then I had to squeeze in a nap to make it up. Sleep became my #1 priority. I set my phone alarm for 10:20 pm, giving me 10 minutes to put away my tasks and start my bedtime routine. Working straight up until bedtime was causing some restlessness which I’m still working through. I either need to cut off my work time earlier or try some meditation.
The last change was exercise. Diet and sleep alone were big strides but I wanted to be extraordinary when I sat down to do my work. This meant being in good shape through cardiovascular exercise and strength training.
I was already reasonably active but decided to try P90X. I purchased adjustable dumbbells and some other equipment and put it in my garage. I only lasted 45 days, but it got me in the habit of working out 6 days per week. Plus, I felt great.
What happened? The results weren’t obvious at first. The first week I was still groggy and had bags under my eyes. I still had cravings that I gave into occasionally and sometimes my body was sore from the exercise. After 4-6 weeks, most of that went away as my body started consistently receiving:
- 6 or 7 nights per week of 7.5 hours of sleep
- lots of salads, smoothies and reasonable snacks
- 3 days/week of cardio vascular exercise and 2 days/week of strength training
My weight hasn’t changed much but I can see changes in my body shape, now that I’m 4 months into these new habits. I went on vacation and splurged on my diet but countered that with longer runs more often. The sleep has been the hardest part but I’m doing it – I listen to my alarm. What’s great about all of this is that I’m happy and optimistic all day. I don’t feel sluggish most afternoons.
While I didn’t measure my productivity difference, I realize that I’m more effective at work. Meaning, I’m actually thinking about issues and solving problems on a larger level than I did before. The work will always be there but now I have a better quality of life, feel better about myself and I’m more efficient with my time when I’m working.
Figure out how you are going to get 7.5 hours of sleep each night. My advice is to set an alarm to GO to bed. When it goes off tell yourself, “There’s nothing I can get done tonight, that I can’t get done tomorrow faster with a good night’s sleep.” I also think about the sluggish feeling and the poor results that will come up the next day. It’s negative but motivates me nonetheless. The key is to form a habit and make it a priority over work.
Set a plan for moving to more vegetables and fewer sugary foods. Remove tempting sugary, salty and starchy foods from your home and workplace. Start to incorporate fruit, vegetables and lean proteins. Research some healthy recipes. When you go to the grocery store, look at the items you put on the cart. What percentage of your items are healthy, natural options? See if your company or your health insurance program gives you access to a health coach – it’s a very good investment! Load up on vegetables and find creative, fun ways to consume them multiple times EVERY day.
Experiment to find the best times to exercise at least 3 days per week. There are two times when I do my workouts: early in the morning or immediately after work. Trying to exercise after dinner just doesn’t work for me.
Figure out what is easy for you. I shortened my strength training workouts but do them more often – it works for me. Watching a good movie or show while on my exercise bike makes me look forward to my next workout. Game of Thrones has been wonderful motivation for working out at 6 in the morning!
Please note that you need to check with your own health professionals before following my path. Good luck and don’t worry if you fail – the next day is a new day and a great day to get back on track!