8 Habits to Adopt to Increase Your Productivity
This blog does not intend to provide diagnosis...
In this article:
- What Are Habits?
- Eat a healthy breakfast
- Be judicious with caffeine
- Eat your frog
- Proper supplementation
- Give yourself a break
- Ditch multitasking
- Progress, not perfection
- So, are you ready to adopt these new habits?
Competing commitments, crushing deadlines, back-to-back Zoom meetings, an overflowing inbox, working out, grabbing lunch … There's so much to do that it may feel impossible to increase your productivity.
Relax. By breaking bad habits and adopting new ones, you can increase your productivity and feel energized and accomplished, rather than exhausted and overwhelmed.
Habits are rituals and routines—like walking the dog, meditating, or making coffee—that we automatically perform day-after-day. We have hundreds of habits. Some, like brushing your teeth or tying your shoes, are ingrained. Others, like going to the gym or taking a daily multivitamin, require work and focus to become regular routines. Still others—like mindlessly consuming junk food or constantly checking email—are bad habits that can negatively affect wellness and productivity.
We are creatures of habit. Research from Duke University shows that approximately 45% of behaviors tend to be repeated in the same location almost every day. According to Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, habits consist of simple cue-routine-reward loops. For example, let’s say you want to start strength training regularly using resistance bands to increase your metabolism and ability to lift heavy objects. Instead of stashing the bands in your dresser drawer, you leave them by the TV remote. Turning on the television becomes your cue to perform your routine. After you complete your exercise routine you reward yourself and refuel your muscles by consuming a delicious drink made with protein powder.
Breaking a bad habit is a little trickier. Rather than exercising willpower, which is easily eroded and isn’t nearly as powerful as people think, the best strategy is to replace a bad habit with a good one. For example, every afternoon you feel tired and hungry (your cue) which triggers your routine visit to the vending machine where you buy a candy bar and a soda.
To break the habit, simply stash healthy snacks like dry roasted edamame, almonds, or pumpkin seeds in your desk and buy a colorful water bottle and drops to enhance the water’s flavor naturally without all the sugar and calories. When you get the urge to eat (your cue), instead of buying a candy bar and soda you can create a new routine: You grab your healthy snack and water bottle and take a brisk walk. Your reward … you feel energized and less stressed. Over time this simple swap also helps you to shed the pounds and manage your weight, reinforcing the new routine and extinguishing the old.
Now you understand how habits work. Here are 8 habits to make that can increase your productivity.
While skipping breakfast and getting to work may feel like the best way to get more done, eating right in the morning jump starts your metabolism and will have a big, positive impact on your productivity all day long. Eating a healthy breakfast fuels your energy hungry brain, which uses 20-25% of the body’s energy in the form of glucose (aka blood sugar) so you can focus.
The best breakfast to sustain your energy levels and productivity is a combination of protein, healthy fats and complex, rather than refined, carbohydrates. This means skipping the bagel, muffin, or donut. Instead, have a breakfast sandwich or wrap made with eggs or refried beans and salsa, or a peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat. Or try hot or overnight oatmeal with toppings like chia and flax seeds accompanied by a glass of water mixed with high-protein collagen powder.
According to a Gallup poll, 64% of Americans drink at least one cup of coffee a day. Studies show that consumption of moderate caffeine—which is a central nervous system stimulant—can improve cognitive function and memory. Research conducted at the University of Barcelona found that combining caffeine and glucose (i.e. healthy carbs) can improve the efficiency of brain activity. Caffeine also helps increase levels of the feel-good chemical dopamine, as well as energy, especially when you’re tired. It also has been shown to reduce inflammation, which in turn can help alleviate pain that can keep you from being as productive as you’d like to be.
To maximize caffeine’s impact, rather than drinking your tea or coffee first thing in the morning when cortisol (your stress hormone) production is highest, wait an hour or two until your natural energy levels start to dip. To maintain focus and enhance productivity, instead of chugging a nitro brew, consume small amounts of caffeine throughout the day. Drink a small cup of coffee or choose green tea, which is lower in caffeine and has numerous health benefits including improving blood flow and lowering cholesterol. Studies have also shown that green tea intake may improve cognitive function.
You may also want to try drinking an energy beverage made with guarana, a plant native to Brazil. One study found that it helped people pay attention to projects and complete them more quickly.
However, too much caffeine can interfere with a good night of sleep, make you jittery, and increase anxiety. In general, the safe limit for healthy adults is up to 400 mg a day.
Eat your frog is a famous statement from Mark Twain who said, “If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first.” What Twain meant is, tackle your toughest task of the day first thing in the morning. With your hardest assignment completed, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment and relief. Not only will this habit ignite productivity, it can also help to prevent procrastination.
To get in the habit of eating your frog, at the end of each day or first thing in the morning make a to-do-list. Each day before you begin working, pick the top three items that you must accomplish. Put the hardest and most important task at the top of your list—that’s your frog. And just do it!
While nothing replaces a healthy diet, getting into the habit of taking a good vitamin and mineral supplement that’s right for your age and gender can help enhance focus, energy, and productivity.
Make sure to get adequate Vitamin D (many people are deficient especially in the winter) which is important not just for focus but also immunity and bone health. The Bs, especially folate, niacin, and B-12 all play a role in energy production. Also important is Vitamin C which is needed to make norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter that controls attention. To enhance your brain health and ensure optimal productivity, make sure to get enough Omega-3 fatty acids. Good food sources include fatty fish, like salmon and sardines, and walnuts, chia seeds and flaxseeds.
While you may think working nonstop increases productivity, the opposite is true because most people can’t maintain focus for more than an hour or two. By taking regular breaks you’ll accomplish more especially if much of your work involves a computer. Research published in Ergonomics found that frequent short rests from computer work, about three minutes, increased productivity and wellbeing.
The best strategy is to make a habit of scheduling work in short blocks followed by a break. Experiment and see what works best for you. For example, try working for 25–30 minutes and taking a 5-minute break or working for 90 minutes and taking a 10–15-minute break.
One simple habit to try during your break that can boost your mood, focus, and productivity is to take a whiff of essential oils. Good ones to try include lemon, rosemary, peppermint, and sweet orange.
In addition, set a reminder on your phone or computer to get up, stretch, and move around every hour. You’ll reduce your risk of heart disease and gaining weight and your back will thank you. Research also shows that using a standing desk and alternating standing and sitting can improve your mood, increase energy levels, and make you more productive.
I know what you’re thinking: Doing a million things simultaneously increases productivity. That’s a complete myth. Research from Stanford University found that heavy multitasking reduces efficiency and can impair cognitive control. Writing your work presentation while watching the news and making supper is like plugging the toaster, microwave, and hair-dryer into the same outlet. Not only will you blow a brain fuse, you’ll increase stress and decrease your attention span. Slow down and do only one thing at a time. While you’re at it, eliminate distractions by only checking email a few times a day and turning off your cell phone.
In addition, if you tend to get overwhelmed or have a tendency to procrastinate, break large tasks down into simpler units and tackle them one item at a time.
Perfectionism erodes self-worth, stifles creativity, and thwarts new ideas all of which can have a negative impact on productivity. In addition, perfectionism can slow you down by fueling procrastination. Rather than focusing on doing everything perfectly, get in the habit of doing your best, accepting yourself flaws and all, and focusing on progress rather than perfection. At the end of the day make a list of all your achievements and everything you did accomplish. You’ll feel fulfilled and recognize how productive you were. If you are struggling with a task and trying in vain to get it right, ask for help. A coworker’s forte may be your flaw and visa-versa.
Finding a balance between work and play and taking time to care for your body, mind, and spirit is one of the best productivity habits you can make. If you want to be highly productive, get 7–8 hours of sleep a night, exercise regularly, eat healthy meals and snacks, stay hydrated, and engage in activities that light you up and help you recharge.
Habits: whether they are good or bad, you can take concrete steps to affect your relationship with them, and help yourself be a more productive, happier person.
- Josep M Serra Grabulosa, Ana Adan, Carles Falcón, Núria Bargalló. “Glucose and caffeine effects on sustained attention: an exploratory fMRI study”. Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental. DOI: 10.1002/hup.1150 (2010). https://www.bmedreport.com/archives/19920
- Borgwardt, S., Hammann, F., Scheffler, K. et al. Neural effects of green tea extract on dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Eur J Clin Nutr 66, 1187–1192 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1038/ejcn.2012.105
- ROBERT A. HENNING, PIERRE JACQUES, GEORGE V. KISSEL, ANNE B. SULLIVAN & SABINA M. ALTERAS-WEBB (1997) Frequent short rest breaks from computer work: effects on productivity and well-being at two field sites, Ergonomics, 40:1, 78-91, DOI: 10.1080/001401397188396. https://doi.org/10.1080/001401397188396