Productivity starts before you sit down at your home office, before you open the first email of the day or before you even have your first cup of coffee.
Many more of us are now working from home. This brings challenges, including finding the motivation to be productive whilst maintaining a sense of wellness.
Don’t ever forget; you’re the most important thing in your productivity. Which stands to reason, right? If you can’t function how can you possibly be productive? The good news is that focusing on self-care doesn’t have to complicated.
The following 6 wellness habits are based on my years of experience as a military officer and the latest scientific research into health, wellness, and productivity.
In the military we had a saying:
“Sleep is a weapon: arm yourself”
This simple phrase recognizes how important it is that we get enough sleep. Without sleep, we eventually die, so it’s not surprising that the less sleep we get, the less productive we are.
The quality of our sleep also plays a big part in our productivity and overall wellness.
Most of us can think of a time when we’ve collapsed into bed on a Friday night after way too many whiskeys/tequilas. Sure, we might sleep until midday, but somehow we still felt tired the next day. That’s because the quality of sleep was bad, Really bad.
Alcohol prevents us from reaching REM sleep – the level of rest which really lets us recharge.
Getting 8 hours of sleep on a consistent basis should be what we should be aiming for. I try to make sure I get this amount each night. Without it, I just know that the next day my productivity and overall mood will be…uninspiring.
Check out this TED clip by Dan Gartenberg,which goes into more depth on that all-important deep sleep
If you struggle to get to sleep, here are a few methods you can use to set you up for a restful night in the sack:
- Don’t sit in bed checking your phone before bed. Smartphone light (even with night mode on) has shown to prevent the onset of rest within our brains. Remember those things called books? Try reading a few pages of one of those instead.
- Avoid TV before bed if possible, especially shows with tense storylines.
- If you find your mind going over all the tasks you need to do the following day when you should be sleeping, try writing those jobs down on a list instead.
- Get into drinking herbal tea before bed. Out for dinner? Skip the post-dinner espresso.
2. Start your mornings the right way: that means exercise
I know I won’t be the first person to make this point, but starting your day in the right frame-of-mind is going to have a huge impact on how the day pans out.
Why is it that the military starts off by making their bed every morning? Then head out for a functional exercise workout?
Because exercise has so many benefits. It reduces stress, improves mental wellbeing, energises you for the day, improves your immune system, reduces your risk of heart disease…the list goes on.
And why make your bed?
Because it puts you in the right frame of mind for being productive. Just in the same way that tidying up the kitchen before you head out the door in the morning keeps you in an organised state of mind. These little things can have a big impact on how we approach tasks throughout the day.
A typical morning routine to set you up for success:
- Wake at dawn. Rather than reach for your phone to check notifications, get up and neatly make the bed
- Drink a glass of water and stretch out your main muscle groups
- Head out for a 30-minute run, or smash out a session of my 20-minute bodyweight workout routine
- Then, energised and motivated from the endorphins (feel-good hormones released during exercise), brew a cup of fresh coffee and write a list for the key tasks of the day.
Related: How to Stay Fit at Home
3. Eat Healthy
There are no surprises here and the old saying rings true: you are what you eat.
If you shovel low-quality fuel into your body, the output will also be low quality.
This doesn’t mean strict fad-diets. Most people struggle to keep them going for much longer than a few weeks and quickly lose motivation.
The key here is a healthy approach to eating. There’s an increasing amount of scientific research to support the idea that a healthy diet, which leads to a healthy digestive system, not only improves physical health but also improves mental health.
As the years have gone by, my diet has become healthier and I’ve noticed the benefits along the way.
Try these healthy eating tips:
- Avoid processed food. I try to create dishes from scratch and eat wholesome food where possible. My rule of thumb – if I can’t pronounce the ingredients, I try not to eat it
- Avoid alcohol during the week. I love a drink now and again, but by making a rule that I don’t drink from Monday to Thursday, I’m able to keep a lid on my alcohol intake
- Embrace coffee. Caffeine has been shown to be an effective and healthy stimulant if consumed in moderation. I don’t have more than two cups a day, but I see my coffee ritual as a daily treat to myself
- As time goes by, I have reduced my red meat intake dramatically and now eat a lot more plant-based food. Studies are suggesting that plant-based diets improve general wellbeing, provided the diet remains well-balanced…
4. Unleash the Power of Lists
Lists are an incredible way of quickly planning and prioritizing your day ahead.
If you’re not already using them on a daily basis, start now and watch how your productivity and sense of achievement improves.
By capturing even the smallest task on a list and crossing it off when it‘s completed, we can give ourselves a mental boost when we achieve tasks.
It doesn’t have to just be a set of tasks for that day either. You can have tasks for the week and month too. It’s a great way of organising your life at very little cost and by getting these tasks on paper, your stress levels also reduce because you’re no longer juggling these individual jobs in your mind.
This positive impact on our mental health from list-making was shown in a study by professors Baumeister and Masicampo from Wake Forest University. They were able to conclude that simply making a plan to get tasks done can significantly reduce our levels of anxiety and stress.
5. Dress for the day you want to have
We know that how we dress sends a message to others. But it also has an impact on how we see ourselves, our mindset, wellbeing, and ultimately our productivity.
Just in the same way that making your bed each morning will set you off in a positive, organised frame-of-mind, so will having a shower and putting on clean presentable clothes. This approach is a cornerstone of military life, and for good reason.
With a lot of people now working from home, it’s becoming easier to sit around all day in lounge pants. If no one sees you – what does it matter what you wear? Just wear what’s comfortable, right?
In fact, just taking the time to put on proper clothes puts us into a productive state of mind. It’s actually better for mental well-being too.
In 2012, researchers from Northwestern University found that wearing specific articles of clothing had an effect on the wearer’s psychology and performance. The study showed that our mood is influenced by what we wear, with measurable effects on our mental state.
So, if we wear lounge-pants, we feel lazier. If we wear clothes associated with productivity, like a shirt and chinos, we are more likely to feel productive.
6. Say ‘no’ to taking on unreasonable requests
Generally, we all want to be liked and respected by our co-workers, boss, family and friends.
Often, it can feel that for us to build up this respect, we need to agree to do things for others.
I’m sure we’ve all been in the position where we take on extra work for our boss and we’re are secretly thinking “I literally do not have time for this with all my other tasks right now!”
The result is often that we don’t fully commit to the agreed task or one of our other commitments. Our performance drops and the quality of our work also decreases.
This is not going to help build up the respect we’re looking for.
Sometimes, although it can feel like we’re letting someone down, saying ‘no’ is the right thing to do. Often, it actually builds a greater level of respect in the long-run, particularly in the work environment.
Of course, it’s all about balance. We need to say ‘yes’ to tasks we can and are willing to do. But being the ‘yes-person’ is not something we should be aiming for,
A study into how assertiveness and the power of saying ‘no’ contributed to mental health concluded that those people who feel they are able to say ‘no’ to additional work had a better state of mental health than those who felt less able to say ’no’.
Saying ‘no’ to your boss
It’s not always easy, but here’s a technique I’ve picked up and it works like a charm. When your boss asks to you do extra work and you know you don’t have time for it, rather than saying no, respond with:
“Ok, that should be fine. Just to help me plan, which piece of work would you like me to prioritise: [list all the other work your boss has you doing plus the new task you’ve been set]”
In this clip, Kenny Nguyen talks about the power of saying ‘no’, and how it prepares us for the perfect time to say ‘yes’, and mean it!
With many more of us working from home and potentially more isolated than we were previously, looking after our own mental wellness is more important than ever. Using a few simple methods we can not only improve our mental wellbeing but also improve our productivity.
Interested in learning more about applying a military-style approach to your home fitness, nutrition, and rest routine? My Bodyweight Workout Training Program takes a deep-dive into these ideas and shows you how you can start using them in your life today.