“Without rest, a man cannot work; without work, the rest does not give you any benefit.” — Abkhasian proverb.
“Getting in shape isn’t just about looking and feeling better, it’s actually smart business.” — Susan Solovic, American small business expert.
We all know we do better, more productive work when we feel well. And yet, we’re stuck in a vicious cycle: when we work long hours and run short on time, we cut into our precious free time—the time it takes to do the things that keep us healthy: exercise, eat and drink properly, and sleep enough. So we find ourselves in an unproductive, unhealthy rut.
Clearly, productivity alone doesn’t keep us healthy. In fact, the exact opposite is true. As psychotherapist Nathaniel Branden points out, “Productive achievement is a consequence and an expression of health and self-esteem, not its cause.”
Branden, a one-time partner of novelist/philosopher Ayn Rand, was an early leader in Rand’s Objectivist movement. He later became a pioneer in the psychology of self-esteem, emphasizing its value as a psychological need. Some refer to him as the father of the self-esteem movement. Few would seem better qualified to link good health, both mental and physical, with productivity.
The Big Five
So while health doesn’t automatically produce productivity, it prepares you for it. After all, you can’t do your best work when you feel poorly. You’ve surely noticed how sluggishly your brain works after a bad night’s sleep or a missed meal, and how distracting a growly stomach can be, and how low self-esteem can create nagging anxiety. Now, compare all that to workdays when you felt in tip-top condition, bursting with energy and good health. I’ll bet you performed very well on those days.
You can’t control all the factors contributing to good health, but you can control most of them. I find these five most important to me:
1. Sleep. The typical adult requires 7-9 hours of restful sleep per night, though recent research suggests that many of us can get by on six. Among other things, sleep helps you fend off infection and illness, because your body does most of its cellular repairs while sleeping. Besides knitting up the ravell’d sleeve of care, it also forces you to stay in one spot while your muscles rest and recover, and allows your mind to clear the slate and process what you’ve learned or experienced during the day. REM sleep helps you absorb new motor skills and gives your body the time to manufacture a steroid, DHEA, which keeps the wakefulness steroid, cortisol, in check. Good sleep may even help you maintain a decent weight. Sleep deprivation produces a natural appetite stimulant called ghrelin, while depressing the production of leptin, an appetite suppressant.
2. A good diet. Maintaining a good diet is all about ensuring you get the nutrients necessary to keep your personal productivity machine in good working order, without adding weight that will slow you down and drain your energy. So don’t just count calories; balance protein, fats, and carbohydrates properly, and be sure you get all the vitamins and minerals you need to remain healthy. And remember: how you eat is as important as what you eat. While you don’t have to limit your diet to lettuce leaves and carrots at every meal, you definitely need to exercise portion control in order to keep your weight down, especially as you get older and your metabolism slows.
3. Hydrate. The human body consists mostly of water, so you’ll need to drink liquids throughout the day. But take care. Coffee, tea, and soda, while fine in moderation, contain caffeine—a diuretic that pulls much-needed water out of your system. To avoid too many calories, steer clear of sweet drinks as well. I recommend you keep a bottle of water on hand and take an occasional swallow to make sure you’re getting the water you need. While the 8 x 8 rule—eight eight-ounce glasses of water a day—is an old wives’ tale, drink at least a quart daily.
4. Exercise. Ironically, the more active you are, the more energy you have. That’s because exercise helps you keep your weight down and gets the blood pumping. If possible, set an exercise routine you can stick to, whether it involves 10 laps in the pool each morning, a brisk walk twice a day, or visiting the gym three times a week. Otherwise, sneak in subversive exercise: walk up stairs to the next floor to go to the restroom, do squats or leg lunges while talking on your hands-free phone, watch TV from your treadmill, park at the far end of the parking lot, and so on. You’ll feel better for it.
5. Mental health. Though some researchers argue you’re more likely to succeed if your self-esteem isn’t too high (therefore forcing you to prove yourself constantly), life is always easier when you’re at least happy. So surround yourself with things that make you happy: an ego wall, pictures of family and pets, optimistic sayings, funny cartoons, plants, whatever it takes to keep your spirits high. Be sure to take your breaks—including vacations—and get serious about having fun.
It’s All Connected
In many ways, the Big Five are inextricably interrelated: sleep impacts weight as well as mental health, as do exercise and good diet; too much weight from poor diet and lack of exercise can contribute to self-esteem issues; happiness can convince you to take care of yourself…you get the picture. So strive to get each of these factors under control, and your productivity will start to scale upward.
How does your health affect your work and productivity? Please share any tips and tricks that work for you.