ARTICLE: “Stop Productivity Loss from Physiological Factors”

(Continued from last month’s article; factors number two through five of six total. Next month will complete our discussion of productivity loss from physiological factors.)

2. Diet

Many of us are burdened with food stressors that are workplace-related. There are so many eating temptations, with very few healthy alternatives. How about those trays of cookies, vending machines full of fat and sugar products, the Mountain Man, and the bottomless pot of coffee? Poor eating habits at work make you fuzzyheaded and less productive.

• Provide healthy alternatives. One of my clients in Denver, VISA DPS, offers one of the best little employee perks I’ve seen—fresh fruit in every break room—oranges, apples, and bananas are available for the taking. Steer clear of “sleepy foods” that have refined flour and sugar. That translates to bagels, muffins, cookies, pasta, donuts and bread items, which are common items on the catered breakfast meeting menu. Sleepy foods will “drop” you an hour later. So keep food on hand that contains healthy ingredients. Purchase the following items to keep in your desk drawer: snack boxes of raisins, dried fruit, low-fat granola bars, power bars, cans of juice, snack cans of fruit, nuts, and whole wheat bite-sized cereal pieces.

• Drink water. I went into my doctor about a year ago with a fairly consistent “caffeine” headache during the day. After asking some questions, he easily concluded that I was just slightly dehydrated…all the time. A lack of water is an often-overlooked trigger of daytime fatigue. The recommended amount of water is now 10 eight-oz glasses daily to counter caffeine, eliminate headaches, flush toxins, gives you better concentration and energy, and overall make you feel a whole lot better. Try not to miss breakfast. If you do, definitely eat lunch

• TAKE a lunch! I had a lunch date with one of my clients, and you would have thought she was vacationing in Hawaii. It had been almost three months since she had enjoyed a leisurely lunch at a restaurant. The National Restaurant Association did a study in 1999 that concluded that 1/3 of Americans forgo lunch at least once a week, which is incredibly damaging to your productivity. According to a 2001 study by Oxford Health Plans, for 32% of us, a typical lunch is trudging to the microwave to warm up soup or pasta and going back to our desks. Stop feeling guilty about taking lunch! If you’re so pressured that you can’t break to eat, get some perspective. Are those deadlines really life or death issues? If you’re panicking about some future event, ask yourself if you can’t just focus on one half-hour at a time. Taking time out to feed your body is not an indulgence that you can’t afford—it’s a necessity you can’t afford not to take. 

• Don’t go more than 6 hours without eating. The American Dietetic Association in Chicago says that people are less efficient on an empty stomach. Fatigue from low blood sugar levels leads to poor concentration. So your brain needs to get away from work to function optimally. You can’t expect your car to start if you don’t put gasoline in it, and your body is the same way. Also, it’s easier to catch a cold and other viruses when your body is weak from a lack of nutrients.

• Eat at regular times on a daily basis, AWAY from your office. You don’t even need an hour. An hour for lunch may be more time than is necessary. In the 1960s, the hour lunch was established because people drove home for noon meals. Now less than a fifth of Americans sit down at a restaurant for a meal. Try to start with 15 minutes. Go to a break room, sit down, turn off the cell phone, eat, and read a non-work related magazine. Or take a brisk walk around the building. 

3. Your Desk Space and Environment

If you don’t want your job to add to your emotional stress and decreased productivity, you need to ensure that your workspace isn’t physically hurting you. Spending hours in front of a computer can literally be a real pain and workplace injuries can be severe. OSHA and the National Academy of Sciences estimate that every year, nearly a million Americans are injured by common workplace activities like typing, surfing the net, or sitting at their desks. 

• Prevent blurry vision. Diffuse light around your PC to minimize screen contrast and glare. Keep your eyes aligned with the TOP of your screen. It’s much better on your neck to look slightly down, rather than slightly up. Refocus occasionally by staring at a spot at least 20 feet away.

• Combat carpal tunnel. Use a wrist guard or a desk with an adjustable keyboard tray. When typing, keep your wrists and hands straight, and your fingers loose and relaxed. When using your mouse, keep your forearms close to your side and face straight ahead. Don’t twist your body.

• Wipe out lower back pain. Choose a correct chair that allows you good back support and lets your legs relax at a 90-degree angle with your feet flat on the floor. Don’t cross your legs at the knees, which leads to varicose veins. Get up to walk around at least every hour! 

• Buy plants. Office air can be as polluted as that on the highway. Plants like the peace lily or Chinese evergreen can suck toxic chemicals out of the air. 

• Get good light. Office fluorescent lights that constantly flicker can act as a stimulant that saps energy. Switch to full spectrum lighting or sit by a window. 

4. Noise

Here’s one more reason to be jealous of coworkers who have their own offices. According to a recent study by Cornell University, an open environment, low-level noise—like keyboards, chatter, and the hum of a photocopier—leads to increased levels of stress hormones. What’s worse, participants in the study didn’t think they were as stressed as medical testing showed them to be.

Gary Evans, the study’s lead researcher, said that while the open office has become a way to increase community and facilitate teamwork, but it causes other problems. The study found that workers in noisier settings run out of steam more quickly. Also, they’re less likely to adjust their desks, keyboards, and chairs for better fit because they’re so busy trying to concentrate. Then their bodies hurt and make their productivity decline even further.

Try some noise busters to combat the situation:
• Use a white noise or nature noise machine
• Use noise-eliminating equipment like the Sonet Acoustic Privacy System, which is a desk speaker that sends out low, natural sounds to muffle noises (877-656-8090, or NoiseBuster headphones, (800-278-3526,
• Seek out quiet. A few times a day, find a retreat (such as an empty conference room) to work and give your ears a rest.

5. Leisure

Do you have surplus vacation time that you haven’t been able to use up because you’re so busy? According to the 2001 Oxford Health Plans survey reported in USA Today, one in six employees (roughly 18%) is so overworked that she or he is unable to use up annual vacation time. This despite the fact that the World Tourism Organization lists Americans as having the least vacation time in the industrialized world. In annual vacation days, Italy comes up first with 42 days annually, France 37, Germany 35, Brazil 34, Great Britain 28, Canada 26, South Korea 25, Japan 25, and the U.S. 13.

Dr. Alan Muney, chief medical officer and EVP at Oxford Health Plans, says that, “Vacation is not frivolous behavior; it’s essential to staying healthy and productive. Regular vacations are preventive medicine—they cut down on stress-related illness and save health care dollars.” 

Listen to what your friends and family members say about your work habits and then look at cues: Do you have other things going on beside work, such as hobbies or interests? Are you personal relationships faltering? According to the Center for Behavior Therapy in NY, “Workaholics get their sense of worth, value, and importance from work. This has nothing to do with whether or not they like what they do.” It’s important to see where your life is unbalanced and learn how to make time for relaxation, education, culture, family, and friends that are neglected because of your work habits.

© 2001 Laura Stack. All rights reserved. You are free to use portions of this publication in your company newsletter, provided the following credit is listed at the bottom:

Laura M. Stack, MBA, CSP, is “The Productivity PRO,”® helping people leave the office earlier, with less stress, and more to show for it. She presents keynotes and seminars on time management, information overload, and personal productivity. Contact her at 303-471-7401 or visit her website at