October 14th, 2019

Boosting Productivity – Lifestyle Factors

We all have days on which we just don’t feel like we’re at the top of our game.  The slightest murmur distracts you from the task at hand and time seems to run backwards.  It’s an inevitable byproduct of being human; we’re not machines.

We need to give ourselves the best chance of keeping these sorts of days to a minimum; it won’t happen by magic.  Over the next two weeks we’ll be looking at how you and your staff can increase your productivity.  Some of the factors will lead to major increases and others will be more marginal that will need to be accumulated with other marginal factors.

This week, lifestyle factors…

Sleep

We still don’t know for sure why humans need to sleep but the leading theories revolve around bodily reparation and memory formation.  Poor sleep can lead to feeling tired, groggy and irritable the next day, all of which have obvious impacts on productivity.  Irritability can also affect the productivity of those around you.

The main symptoms of poor sleep quality include:

Improve your sleep quality by:

Sleep tech

Sleep tech falls into two categories: 1) gadgets that track sleep and provide data for analysis; and 2) devices that attempt to help improve sleep quality.

Sleep trackers come in two flavours.  The most popular form are wearables, such as the Oura ring of Fitbit Inspire, but non-contact trackers are available.   These tend to be pads that slip under your mattress, such as the Withings Sleep, or app-controlled devices that sit on your bedside table, like the ResMed S+.  The best sleep trackers will analyse your data and provide you with an action plan.

The tech for improving sleep quality can be broadly split into three categories according to the problem experienced:

It’s important to note that sleep tech alone probably won’t improve your quality of sleep so should be viewed as useful tools in an overall strategy rather than a magic bullet.

Diet

As the old saying goes, we are what we eat, and our diet has a huge impact on our health and how we feel.  Food is our body’s primary source of essential nutrients and energy.

Essential components of diet

“Essential” in this context means that our body cannot make them itself so we need to obtain them by ingesting food.  Deficiency in any of these components can lead to serious conditions but most of us would first experience sluggishness, tiredness, difficulties concentrating, irritability, vision problems and difficulty sleeping – none of which are conducive to a productive day.

Detailed below is every dietary component that is essential for proper body function and the best sources from which they can be obtained.

Nutrients

You’ll note that fat and protein are essential, while carbohydrates are not.  This is because your body can synthesise glucose without the need to ingest carbohydrates

*These are the sources of “complete” protein, meaning all of the nine building blocks that comprise the various forms of protein are present in the one food source.  Plant protein is usually “incomplete” so if you are vegetarian or vegan you need to plan your daily meals carefully to ensure your protein needs are met

 

Vitamins

Major minerals

These include calcium, chloride, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and sulphur.  These are mostly found in dairy products, whole grains, nuts, spinach and soy.

Trace minerals

The trace minerals include chromium, copper, fluoride, iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, selenium and zinc.  These are mostly found in meat, poultry, dairy products, whole grains, fish and legumes.

Combating deficiency with multivitamins

The scientific literature on the efficacy of multivitamins is mixed at best so the best way to obtain your nutrients, vitamins and minerals is how nature intended, through your diet.  Vitamin D, however, is difficult to get from food sources so the current advice from the NHS is to take a vitamin D supplement in winter when sunlight is reduced.

Energy

We need enough calories to meet our daily energy requirements.  Typically, women need around 2,000 calories per day and men 2,500 calories per day.  You will need more or fewer calories than this depending on your size and activity levels.

To understand how we can increase productivity by tailoring our diet to our energy requirements, we first need some basic biochemistry.

The body gets calories from food by breaking it down into usable energy sources, largely fatty acids and glucose.  An individual item of food will be made up of one or more of the three macro-nutrients: fat, protein and carbohydrate.  You get 9 calories from each gram of fat consumed and just under 4 calories from each gram of protein or carbohydrate consumed.

Carbohydrates are (relatively) simple molecules that are broken down into glucose, which the body can use for energy.  Highly refined carbohydrates – such as sugar and flour – are broken down very quickly by the body while the unrefined carbohydrates found in whole foods – such as fruit and vegetables – take slightly longer.

Protein is a more complex family of molecules comprised of amino acids that the body largely uses to build and repair muscle but can also be broken down into glucose and used for energy.  The breaking down process for protein takes twice as long as it does for unrefined carbohydrates.

Fat is the most complex molecule of the three and is broken down into (mostly) fatty acids which the body then breaks down further to get energy.  This process takes longer still.

An aspect of highly refined carbohydrates is that they “spike” blood glucose levels to beyond the body’s usual working levels.  The body breaks down refined carbohydrates so quickly that glucose is effectively dumped wholesale into the bloodstream very soon after eating.

You must utilise this glucose quickly because your body will release insulin, which is the hormone that removes excess glucose from the blood.  It does this by shovelling it into your fat cells where it is converted into fat.  This is why you can still feel sluggish, tired and hungry in the afternoon even after eating lunch – the classic “carb crash”.  Fat and protein don’t trigger this insulin response to anywhere near the same degree.

What we can glean from the above are some handy food strategies to keep our energy flowing:

Diet tech

There are plenty of apps – such as MyFitnessPal – to help you monitor your calorie and nutrient intake, with many also providing vitamin and mineral consumption.  See where you’re deficient and take the appropriate action.

Water

Your body is 60% water so it should be obvious that drinking water is vital for proper brain and body function.  It keeps you hydrated, regulates your body temperature, protects your tissues, spinal cord and joints and aids in digestion and waste removal.

The symptoms of dehydration can be make it difficult to concentrate or perform tasks and include tiredness, headache and dizziness.

How much water do you need to keep these symptoms at bay?  Most guidelines suggest an average person needs 8 glasses (around 2 litres) per day.  This doesn’t mean you should drink 8 glasses each day, though, because you will get nearly two thirds of the water you need from your food.  You therefore need around 700 millilitres of drinking water each day.

If you are active or in a hot environment then you will need to drink more than this.  Helpfully, our bodies are really good at telling us when we need to drink – we get thirsty.  You should, ideally, try to avoid getting thirsty so the optimal strategy is to sip water throughout the day rather than drink in batches.

Alcohol

Alcohol is a depressant, which means it slows various sections of your brain and central nervous system.  Alcohol will make you feel sluggish, make it difficult to form memories and will impair vision, decision-making and your ability to assess risk.

The “come down” or hangover from alcohol, includes headache, nausea, vomiting, low mood, tiredness and anxiety.  A good percentage of you already know this, though, am I right?  I certainly recognise all of those symptoms!  And these are just the short term effects.  The long term health effects are serious and well-documented.

All of the above is not particularly conducive to operating at peak performance so alcohol is best avoided during the working week and especially avoided during the working day.  And not just because of the unpleasant side-effects.  Alcohol has a knock-on effect on other areas that affect productivity, namely sleep quality and diet.

Exercise

Being active carries an enormous number of benefits.  In many cases, the activity doesn’t need to be that intense with a brisk 15 minute walk bringing many, although not all, of the same advantages as 60 minutes of resistance training.

The main benefits of exercise include:

The exercise needs to be regular and at least three times per week.  Ad hoc exercise falls by the wayside very quickly so you will be best devising a formal routine and sticking to it.  Change up your routine every couple of months or so to avoid getting bored.

Exercise tech

Again, there are plenty of apps across multiple exercise disciplines with many coming with pre-written routines and challenges.  Strava is good for running while the Bodybuilding.com app has resistance routines across the whole gamut of experience, from novices to long-time lifters.  Resistance training novices may also benefit from a personal trainer to ensure that proper technique is adopted from the outset.

Disclaimer

Remember, before embarking on a new fitness regime it’s always worth consulting with your GP.

In summary

It’s easy to see from the above that focusing on one area is probably not going to yield productivity results in its own right.  You’ll need to consider a holistic approach.  For example, introducing a fitness regime to improve sleep quality will still fail if you don’t remove that extra strong, double-shot of espresso immediately before bed time.

On to Workplace Factors

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Business advice Staff

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Director

John manages a wide portfolio of owner managed businesses and oversees the smooth operation of the firm’s payroll department.

After obtaining his degree in mathematics from the University of Liverpool, John joined Jonathan Ford & Co in 2004 and qualified as a chartered accountant four years later. John likes to keep abreast of developments in tax and accounting and is responsible for the mentoring of junior staff.

Outside of work, John enjoys keeping fit and is a Liverpool FC season ticket holder.

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