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The trick to being productive and happy all at once

The trick to being productive and happy all at once

Productivity has always been a key word in my view of myself. Not in a stakhanovist way where I would try to get an ever increasing amount of work done at any cost: I dropped my I-need-to-impress-my-dad-complex pretty early in life. I mean a more “balanced” productivity, where I would consistently do a certain amount of quality work while keeping enough free time for personal projects.
So about a year ago I set out on a path to achieve both an improved professional performance and a more satisfying personal growth.

Focus on optimising your personal time

I started reading every research and productivity blog that I could find to get up to speed. After some time, I realised that all that literature had one big shortcoming: the bulk of what I found was centered around work environment, its organization, and what individuals can do about it.

Unfortunately, when it comes to your work environment, what you can do on your own has a whole set of limitations. So once you have done everything in your power, you are pretty much left with two paths: looking for solutions at work that would not solely depend on you, or leave it alone and shift on to the second phase of the plan, namely optimising your personal time. I decided to focus on the latter. It was a better call than I could ever have suspected.

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Are you enjoying your free time or simply filling it?

Below is a graph of my “entertainment activities” over the last year acquired through Smarter Time.

Looking closer into its content shows it consists mostly of playing video games and watching TV. The trouble is, I knew outright I often play a game or watch a TV show as a “filler activity”. When we reach a point when we feel we can’t work anymore, we are naturally tempted to go and do any familiar stuff that can help us reboot our brain. But we don’t necessarily get any satisfaction from engaging in activities that are too familiar, don’t exactly relax us but don’t stimulate us properly either.

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A year of fun

    Time to step back and reassess, I thought. What could I do to make my work/life balance feel more productive? How could I get some satisfaction (and I tried)? I already said I wasn’t looking for more work time – after all I can only work so much. What I wanted, I realised, was to extend the feeling of achievement I was getting from work into my personal life.

    After digging a little deeper inside my data, I found a little activity I and many people seem to overlook: “Reading”. I do a lot of things on my smartphone, including almost all of my reading. So I can check very easily how much time I spend on my Kindle app.
    And the results surprised me. Over the past few months, I have been reading on average 45 min/day. A couple of days last year were at a 10h high (must have been the London rain keeping me home), but this is actually the most regular of all my personal activities. It’s one of the very few things I do every day.

    Create something

    However I felt that reading more would not cut it either. I did not want to just engage in another passive activity and make reading into a “TV brain reboot” unsatisfactory thing. I realised that if I wanted to be productive in my personal life, I needed to actually “produce” something.

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    So I decided to turn my reading into its creative counterpart, and I started writing. I won’t list it all here, but I did try my hand at different genres and formats. I may even have a story I really want to finish. Most importantly, I experience a level of fulfilment through that activity that no other stuff I do in my downtime can compete with.

    Mind you, writing is still a tiring, involving activity, and I still need my idle times and brain-dead-TV-moments. But reducing the proportion of those to the strict minimum has only perks. I feel more alert, I can feel myself growing intellectually, and the guilt I felt from wasting time has disappeared because I waste so much less of it! I am more relaxed and less tired. As a side effect, I also feel more productive at work, which leaves me a bit more free time and makes me more satisfied, in some sort of virtuous circle. It’s a win/win situation.

    Do what means something to you

    I am sure for other people the answer would have been different – sports, arts, social time, volunteering, the list of activities that can mean something to someone is never ending and depends entirely on who you are. What matters, though, is that they mean something to you. It makes a world of difference.

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    I set out on a journey to increase my productivity, but I found something more important than that: a balance that brings me happiness. Which brings productivity. And demonstrates the infinite importance of taking the time to properly know yourself.

    Featured photo credit: Flickr, Sc0o via flic.kr

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    Last Updated on March 30, 2020

    Why You’re Feeling Tired All the Time (And What to Do About It)

    Why You’re Feeling Tired All the Time (And What to Do About It)

    Feeling tired all the time?

    Have you ever caught yourself nodding off when you’re watching TV, listening to someone drone on during a meeting or even driving a car?

    I know I have, especially when I worked 70 hours per week as a High-Tech Executive.

    Feeling tired all the time may be more widespread than you think. In fact, two-fifths of Americans are tired most of the week.[1]

    If you’re tired of feeling tired, then I’ve got some great news for you. New research is helping us gain critical insights into the underlying causes of feeling tired all the time.

    In this article, we’ll discuss the latest reasons why you’re feeling tired all the time and practical steps you can take to finally get to the bottom of your fatigue and feel rested.

    What Happens When You’re Too Tired

    If you sleep just two hours less than the normal eight hours, you could be as impaired as someone who has consumed up to three beers.[2] And you’ve probably experienced the impact yourself.

    Here are some common examples of what happens when you’re feeling tired:[3]

    • You may have trouble focusing because memory and learning functions may be impaired within your brain.
    • You may experience mood swings and an inability to differentiate between what’s important and what’s not because your brain’s neurotransmitters are misfiring.
    • You may get dark circles under your eyes and/or your skin make look dull and lackluster in the short term and over time your skin may get wrinkles and show signs of aging because your body didn’t have time to remove toxins during sleep.
    • You may find it more difficult to exercise or to perform any type of athletic activity.
    • Your immune system may weaken causing you to pick up infections more easily.
    • You may overeat because not getting enough sleep activates the body’s endocannabinoids even when you’re not hungry.
    • Your metabolism slows down so what you eat is more likely to be stored as belly fat.

    Are you saying that feeling tired can make me overweight?

    Unfortunately, yes!

    Feeling tired all the time can cause you to put on the pounds especially around your waist. But it is a classic chicken and egg situation, too.

    Heavier people are more likely to feel fatigued during the day than lighter ones. And that’s even true for overweight people who don’t have sleep apnea (source: National Institutes of Health).

    Speaking of sleep apnea, you may be wondering if that or something else is causing you to feel tired all the time.

    Why Are you Feeling Tired All the Time?

    Leading experts are starting to recognize that there are three primary reasons people feel tired on a regular basis: sleep deprivation, fatigue and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).

    Here’s a quick overview of each root cause of feeling tired all of the time:

    1. Tiredness occurs from sleep deprivation when you don’t get high-quality sleep consistently. It typically can be solved by changing your routine and getting enough deep restorative sleep.
    2. Fatigue occurs from prolonged sleeplessness which could be triggered by numerous issues such as mental health issues, long-term illness, fibromyalgia, obesity, sleep apnea or stress. It typically can be improved by changing your lifestyle and using sleep aids or treatments, if recommended by your physician.
    3. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a medical condition also known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis that occurs from persistent exhaustion that doesn’t go away with sleep.

    The exact cause of CFS is not known, but it may be due to problems with the immune system, a bacterial infection, a hormone imbalance or emotional trauma.

    It typically involves working with a doctor to rule out other illnesses before diagnosing and treating CFS.[4]

    Always consult a physician to get a personal diagnosis about why you are feeling tired, especially if it is a severe condition.

    Feeling Tired vs Being Fatigued

    If lack of quality sleep doesn’t seem to be the root cause for you, then it’s time to explore fatigue as the reason you are frequently feeling tired.

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    Until recently, tiredness and fatigue were thought to be interchangeable. Leading experts now realize that tiredness and fatigue are different.

    Tiredness is primarily about lack of sleep.

    But fatigue is a perceived feeling of being tired that is much more likely to occur in people who have depression, anxiety or emotional stress and/or are overweight and physically inactive (source: Science Direct).

    Symptoms of fatigue include:

    • Difficulty concentrating
    • Low stamina
    • Difficulty sleeping
    • Anxiety
    • Low motivation

    These symptoms may sound similar to those of tiredness but they usually last longer and are more intense.

    Unfortunately, there is no definitive reason why fatigue occurs because it can be a symptom of an emotional or physical illness. But there are still a number of steps you can take to reduce difficult symptoms by making a few simple lifestyle changes.

    How Much Sleep Is Enough?

    The number one reason you may feel tired is because of sleep deprivation which means you are not getting enough high-quality sleep.

    Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of high-quality, uninterrupted sleep per night. If you’re sleep deprived, the amount of sleep you need increases.

    So, quantity and quality do matter when it comes to sleep.

    The key to quality sleep is being able to get long, uninterrupted sleep cycles throughout the night. It typically takes 90 minutes for you to reach a state of deep REM sleep where your body’s healing crew goes to work.

    Ideally, you want to get at least 3 to 4 deep REM sleep cycles in per night. That’s why it’s so important to stay asleep for 7 or more hours.

    Research also shows that people who think they can get by on less sleep don’t perform as well as people who get at least seven hours of sleep a night[5] So, you should definitely plan on getting seven hours of deep restorative sleep every night.

    If you are not getting 7 hours of high-quality sleep regularly, then sleep deprivation is most likely reason you feel tired all the time.

    And that is good news because sleep deprivation is much simpler and easier to address than the other root causes.

    It’s also a good idea to rule out sleep deprivation as the reason why you are tired before moving on to the other possibilities such as fatigue or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which may require a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

    4 Simple Changes to Reduce Fatigue

    Personally, I’m a big believer in upgrading your lifestyle to uplift your life. I overcame chronic stress and exhaustion by making these four changes to my lifestyle:

    1. Eating healthy, home-cooked meals versus microwaving processed foods or eating out
    2. Exercising regularly
    3. Using stressbusters
    4. Creating a bedtime routine to sleep better

    So, I know it is possible to change your lifestyle even when you’re working crazy hours and have lots of family responsibilities.

    After I made the 4 simple changes in my lifestyle, I no longer felt exhausted all of the time.

    In addition, I lost two inches off my waist and looked and felt better than ever.

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    I was so excited that I wanted to help others replace stress and exhaustion with rest and well-being, too. That’s why I became a Certified Holistic Wellness Coach through the Dr. Sears Wellness Institute.

    Interestingly enough, I discovered that Dr. Sears recommends a somewhat similar L.E.A.N. lifestyle:

    • L is for Lifestyle and means living healthy including getting enough sleep.
    • E is for Exercise and means getting at least 20 minutes of exercise a day ideally for six days a week.
    • A is for Attitude and means thinking positive and reducing stress whenever possible.
    • N is for Nutrition and means emphasizing a right-fat diet, not a low-fat diet.

    The L.E.A.N. lifestyle is a scientifically-proven way to reduce fatigue, get to the optimal weight and to achieve overall wellness.[6]

    And yes, there does seem to be an important correlation between being lean and feeling rested.

    But overall based on my personal experience and Dr. Sear’s scientific proof, the key to not feeling tired all of the time does seem to be 4 simple changes to your lifestyle.

    L — Living Healthy

    Getting enough high-quality sleep every day is the surefire way to help you feel less fatigued, more rested and better overall.

    So, whether you’re sleep deprived or potentially suffering from fatigue or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, you probably want to find a way to sleep better.

    In fact, if you aren’t getting enough sleep, your body isn’t getting the time it needs to repair itself; meaning that if you are suffering from an illness, it’s far more likely to linger.

    As unlikely as it sounds, though, fatigue can sometimes make it difficult to sleep. That’s why I’d recommend taking a look at your bedtime routine before you go to bed and optimize it based on sleep best practices.

    Here are 3 quick and easy tips for creating a pro-sleep bedtime routine:

    1. Unplug

    Many of us try to unwind by watching TV or doing something on an iPhone or tablet. But tech can affect your melatonin production due to the blue light that they emit, fooling your body into thinking it’s still daytime.

    So turn off all tech one hour before bed and create a tech-free zone in your bedroom.

    2. Unwind

    Do something to relax.

    Use the time before bed to do something you find relaxing such as reading a book, listening to soothing music, meditating or taking an Epsom salt bath.

    3. Get Comfortable

    Ensure your bed is comfortable and your room is set up for sleep.

    Make sure you room is cool. 60-68 degrees is the ideal temperature for most people to sleep.

    Also, it’s ideal if your bedroom is dark and there is no noise.

    Finally, make sure everything is handled (e.g., laying out tomorrow’s clothes) before you get into your nice, comfy bed.

    If your mind is still active, write a to-do list to help you fall asleep faster.[7]

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    Above all, be gentle with yourself and count your blessings, some sheep or whatever helps.

    This article also offers practical tips to build a bedtime routine: How to Build a Good Bedtime Routine That Makes Your Morning Easier

    E — Exercise

    Many people know that exercise is good for them, but just can’t figure out how to fit it into their busy schedules.

    That’s what happened in my case.

    But when my chronic stress and exhaustion turned into systemic inflammation (which can lead to major diseases like Alzheimer’s), I realized it was time to change my lifestyle.

    As part of my lifestyle upgrade, I knew I needed to move more.

    My friends who exercise all gave me the same advice: find an exercise you like to do and find a specific time in your schedule when you can consistently do it.

    That made sense to me.

    So, I decided to swim.

    I used to love to swim when I was young, but I hadn’t done it for years. The best time for me to do it was immediately after work, since I could easily get an open swim lane at my local fitness club then.

    Also, swimming became a nice reason for me to leave work on time. And I got to enjoy a nice workout before eating dinner.

    Swimming is a good way to get your cardio or endurance training. But, walking, running and dancing are nice alternatives.

    So find an exercise you love and stick to it. Ideally, get a combination of endurance training, strength training and flexibility training in during your daily 20-minute workout.

    If you haven’t exercised in a while and have a lot of stress in your life, you may want to give yoga a try because you will increase your flexibility and lower your stress.

    A — Attitude

    Stress may be a major reason why you aren’t feeling well all of the time. At least that was the case with me.

    When I worked 70 hours per week as a High-Tech Executive, I felt chronically stressed and exhausted. But there was one thing that always worked to help me feel calmer and less fatigued.

    Do you want to know what that master stress-busting technique was?

    Breathing.

    But not just any old breathing. It was a special form of deep Yogic breathing called the “Long-Exhale Breathing” or “4-7-8 breathing” or “Pranayama” in Sanskrit).

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    Here’s how you do “Long-Exhale Breathing”:

    1. Sit in a comfortable position with your spine straight and your hand on your tummy (so you know you are breathing deeply from your diaphragm and not shallowly from your chest)
    2. Breathe in deeply and slowly from your diaphragm with your mouth closed while you count to 4 (ideally until your stomach feels full of air)
    3. Hold your breath while you count to 7 mentally and enjoy the stillness
    4. Breathe out through your mouth with a “ha” sound while you count to 8 (or until your stomach has no more air in it)
    5. Pause after you finish your exhale while you notice the sense of wholeness and relaxation from completing one conscious, deep, long exhale breath
    6. Repeat 3 times ensuring your exhale is longer than your inhale so you relax your nervous system

    This type of “long-exhale breathing” is scientifically proven to reduce stress.

    When your exhale is twice as long as your inhale, it soothes your parasympathetic nervous system, which regulates the relaxation response.[8]

    Plus, this is a great technique for helping you get to sleep, too.

    N — Nutrition

    Diet is vital for beating fatigue – after all, food is your main source of energy.

    If your diet is poor, then it implies you’re not getting the nutrients you need to sustain healthy energy levels.

    Eating a diet for fatigue doesn’t need to be complicated, time-consuming though.

    For most people, it’s just a case of swapping a few unhealthy foods for a few healthier ones, like switching from low-fiber, processed foods to whole, high-fiber foods.

    Unless your current diet is solely made up of fast food and ready meals, adjusting to a fatigue-fighting diet shouldn’t be too much of a shock to the system.

    Here’re 9 simple diet swaps you can make today:

    1. Replace your morning coffee with Matcha green tea and drink only herbal tea within six hours of bedtime.
    2. Add a healthy fat or protein to your any carb you eat, especially if you eat before bed. Please note that carb-only snacks lead to blood-sugar crashes that can make you eat more and they can keep you from sleeping.
    3. Fill up with fiber especially green leafy vegetables. Strive to get at least 25g per day with at least 5 servings (a serving is the size of your fist) of green vegetables.
    4. Replace refined, processed, low-fiber pastas and grains with zucchini noodles and whole grains such as buckwheat, quinoa, sorghum, oats, amaranth, millet, teff, brown rice and corn.
    5. Swap natural sweeteners for refined sugars and try to ensure you don’t get more than 25g of sugar a day if you are a woman and 30g of sugar a day if you are a man.
    6. Replace ice cream with low-sugar alternatives such as So Delicious Dairy-Free Vanilla Bean Coconut Ice Cream.
    7. Swap omega-6, partially-hydrogenated oils such as corn, palm, sunflower, safflower, cotton, canola and soybean oil for omega-3 oils such as flax, olive and nut oils.
    8. Replace high-sugar yoghurts with low-sugar, dairy-free yoghurts such as Kite Hill Plain Yoghurt with 1g sugar or Lifeway Farmer Cheese with 0g sugar.
    9. Swap your sugar-laden soda for sparkling water with a splash of low-sugar juice

    Also, ensure your diet is giving you enough of the daily essential vitamins and minerals. Most of us don’t get enough Vitamin D, Vitamin B-12, Calcium, Iron and Magnesium. If you are low on any of the above vitamins and minerals, you may experience fatigue and low energy.

    That’s why it’s always worth having your doctor check your levels. If you find any of them are low, then try to eat foods rich in them.

    Alternatively, you might consider a high-quality multi-vitamin or specific supplement.

    The Bottom Line

    If you are tired of feeling tired, then there is tremendous hope.

    If you are tired because you are not getting enough high-quality sleep, then the best remedy is a bedtime routine based on sleep best practices.

    If you are tired because you have stress and fatigue, then the best remedy are four simple lifestyle changes including:

    • Enough High-Quality Sleep with Bedtime Routine
    • Regular Exercise You Love
    • Stress Reduction with Long-Exhale Breathing
    • Fatigue-Reducing Diet

    Overall, adopting a healthier lifestyle Is the ideal remedy for feeling more rested and energized.

    More Tips to Help You Rest Better

    Featured photo credit: Cris Saur via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] YouGov: Two-fifths of Americans are tired most of the week
    [2] National Safety Council: Is Your Company Confronting Workplace Fatigue?
    [3] The New York Times: Why Are We So Freaking Tired?
    [4] Mayo Clinic: Chronic fatigue syndrome
    [5] Mayo Clinic: Lack of sleep: Can it make you sick?
    [6] Ask Dr. Sears: The L.E.A.N. Lifestyle
    [7] American Psychological Association: Getting a Good Night’s Sleep
    [8] Yoga International: Learning to Exhale: 2-to-1 Breathing

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