The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine recently published a study concluding that women who work more than sixty hours a week are three times as likely to have diabetes, heart disease, and cancers, along with four times the risk of arthritis, than women who work forty hours or less. The message is clear: We’re working ourselves to death.
While there’s no easy solution to our endless to-do lists—not to mention that there’s a lot of value to having "work" to do, whether inside or outside the home—using our time more efficiently could mean less hours in the workplace and more time for personal care. If this sort of productivity can help us lead healthier lives, sounds like it’s high time to make it a priority.
During the summer, it can be hard to keep up our productivity levels, especially when everyone else seems like they’re on vacation—if not physically, then in their daydreams. Here are our top ten picks to help you best use your time so that you can spend more of it doing what you love.
01. Follow This Simple Morning Routine
Instead of scrolling through social media, follow these four rules for a more productive day: skip the screen, drink water, stretch, and do one creative thing. Whether it’s a daily yoga routine or the latest in a series of attempts to touch your toes, your body is sure to wake up more than if you’d spent the first fifteen minutes of the day in bed. Your creative activity could be journaling or listening to your favorite song. Starting out on the right foot is the perfect way to alleviate stress before the day’s even begun.
02. Dress for Success, According to Science
We’ve all heard that the way you dress is important to your success. But Verily writer Caitlin Miller reports on studies revealing that it’s not just about what you wear but how clean they are. "If you’ve got a big day coming up or simply want to put your best face forward—physically and mentally, don’t let your clothes be an afterthought. From a clothed cognition standpoint, you’re only hurting yourself by not wearing your best—and cleanest—clothes."
03. Eat Protein for Breakfast
In a study published by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a protein-filled breakfast led to beneficial changes in appetite, hormone and neural signals that control food intake regulation. Adolescent women who had a high protein breakfast increased daily fullness and reduced late-night snacking of high fat foods. Here's your excuse to sub bacon and eggs or yogurt for bagels and pastries.
04. Sneak in a Workout
Morning, noon, or night, it doesn’t matter—convenience is key to regular exercise. There are always little ways to exercise at work, like ditching the elevator and taking the stairs or sneaking in core workouts while sitting at your desk. It may sound counterintuitive, but exercising is essential to keeping you energized throughout your day.
05. Catch Up on Missed Sleep
It may seem pretty obvious, but getting a good night’s sleep is just the thing to turn your ordinary day into your most productive one. The key to getting those quality eight hours? Stick to a schedule to avoid what researchers call "social jet lag." Know when you should start powering down for the day and starting your bedtime routine. Whether it’s reading a book or taking a bubble bath (or both), your nighttime ritual is the way you let your body know it’s time for bed. And the second part of keeping that schedule is when that alarm goes off in the morning. Snooze buttons are absolutely prohibited. Studies reveal that those extra zzz's are a waste of time, and could even make you more tired.
06. Create a Productive Space
Oddly enough, the key to a productive work day may be more about your work environment than about you. Besides keeping your workspace clean and clutter-free, let in some natural light or keep a potted plant on your desk. Avoiding distractions, like background noise and smells, using headphones and a scented candle or aromatherapy diffuser can help you stay concentrated and reduce stress throughout your busy day.
07. Listen to the Right Music
Despite what you may have heard, listening to music can actually boost your productivity. But before you start jamming out to Ed Sheeran, there’s another part of the equation: the music should be word-free (unless you’re doing a mindless task). Luckily, a lot of pop music today comes in instrumental versions, so you can still listen to your favorite tunes. If pop isn’t really your thing, listening to jazz, classical, ambient music with natural sounds, or dance tunes can work too. Verily writer Christine Warner notes, however, that when you’re learning something new, it’s time to turn the music off. Warner advises swapping those headphones for a thinking cap and focusing.
08. Say No
In a society that values busyness as much as ours, it's easy to find yourself stuck with an assignment from your boss that would force you to skip lunch or a favor for a friend that you just can’t squeeze in. Remember, it’s OK to say no. Busyness is not synonymous with productivity. And if you’re worried about what your boss or friend will think when you break the news, Verily contributor and therapist Julia Hogan has some helpful tips to maintain your relationships and your sanity.
09. Take a Break
There’s a very fine line between busy and burnt out. That said, taking breaks throughout the day is essential to staying productive. If you’re starting to feel like it should be Friday by now but it’s only 11 a.m. on a Tuesday, it's time to take a quick break. Go for a walk around your building or take your lunch break outdoors. When you get home, don’t settle in front of the computer screen for another Netflix binge—stop by the library for that book you’ve been meaning to read. When taking a break means the difference between healthy productivity and burnout, it’s not selfish—it’s necessary.
10. Give Yourself Permission to Take Care of Yourself
That brings us to our last and favorite point. If there’s no time for leisure during your crazy schedule, there are many fixes to avoid stress-induced habits you may have. Productivity aside, at the end of the day, the most important thing for your health is that you're taking care of yourself. If you're not giving yourself the basic needs, proper care and “me time” you deserve, productivity is already off the table. So permit yourself a half-hour to recharge, identify what you value most, and set boundaries to protect them. You'll be happier, and healthier, for it.
Photo Credit: Lauren Miller