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Last Updated on February 7, 2018

You Might Have Missed This Simple Way To Increase Your Work Performance

You Might Have Missed This Simple Way To Increase Your Work Performance

When it comes to productivity and time management, you’ve no doubt seen (and maybe) used some of the countless apps and tech tricks that are designed specifically to help with these life skills. Many people put all their faith in these external tools and techniques because the apps and tips are easily found on the internet. Some people seem addicted to trying out the latest ones.

If you’re a regular reader of Lifehack, you’ll know that we have plenty of articles that feature these apps and tech tricks. All these techniques are useful, but if you’re not careful, you may forget one of the basics of productivity – your personal energy levels.

On this point, I want to introduce to you the 3 Tiers of Productivity.[1] These can be explained as a pyramid, with the base (and biggest part) made up of fundamentals, the middle part of psychology, and the apex (and also the smallest part) consisting of details.

    The fundamentals part is the least sexy, and therefore, typically attracts the least interest. However, it’s actually the most important part. Fundamentals refers to adequate sleep, a healthy diet, a clean environment, and knowing exactly what you’re going to do. In other words – how you manage your personal energy. If you’re not as productive as you’d like to be, then you may be lacking personal energy.

    Why Your Energy Levels Are Low, and Why This Matters

    If you’re like most people, you probably respond to rising demands in the workplace by putting in longer hours. However, this takes a toll on your physical, emotional and mental health. This inevitably leads to declining levels of engagement, increasing levels of distraction – and a significant dip in your productivity.

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    As I mentioned in the introduction, once our productivity takes a hit, we gravitate towards “magical” tools and tricks to help us keep on track. But there’s a problem with this. Namely, that most of these tools and tricks focus almost exclusively on psychology and details. They fail to address the fundamentals, thus leaving us with an artificial, and oftentimes unsustainable boost in productivity.

    If you want to be a productivity superstar, then you need to get the fundamentals right. Luckily, there is a little-known method that can help you out with this.

    How Natural Cycles Help You Perform Better

    Most people aren’t aware that their personal energy is determined by natural cycles known as ultradian rhythms. These are recurrent periods or cycles that are repeated throughout a 24-hour day.

    When you work with instead of against the ultradian rhythms, you will perform better. When your energy levels are high, you can concentrate on the tasks at hand; when your energy levels hit rock bottom, this is the best time to rest.

    Psychophysiologist Peretz Lavie conducted a series of experiments that revealed the following:

    1. In the morning time, we get sleepy every 90 minutes.
    2. In the afternoon and evenings, we get sleepy at two specific times: 4:30pm and 11:30pm.

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      These daily cycles reveal when we’re most likely to feel at our best – and when we’re most likely to feel too groggy to continue.

      Align with Your Natural Cycles and Boost Your Performance

      You must get the fundamentals of personal energy right if you’re to reach the heights of the super-productive.

      It all starts with getting adequate and regular sleep (at least eight hours per night). Good sleep allows you to rest and rejuvenate. It gives you the energy to get on with doing what you want to do. In turn, this leads to a significant boost in your performance. You’ll also find yourself easily surpassing the energy and productivity levels of people who don’t sleep well.

      A Federal Aviation Administration study of pilots on long haul flights shows the vital importance of resting when your energy levels are low:[2]

      “One group of pilots was given an opportunity to take 40-minute naps mid-flight, and ended up getting an average of 26 minutes of actual sleep. Their median reaction time improved by 16% following their naps. Non-napping pilots, tested at a similar halfway point in the flight, had a 34% deterioration in reaction time. They also experienced 22 micro sleeps of 2-10 seconds during the last 30 minutes of the flight. The pilots who took naps had none.”

      You may not be aware of this, but sleep can also help you solve problems. For instance, it’s not uncommon to wake up with the answer to a problem that you’d earlier been unable to resolve. Find out more about this in another article Why Sleeping on a Difficult Problem Helps You Get the Answer

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      Clearly, if you can learn to follow your natural daily cycles, you’ll be able to do your best work when you have the most energy, and you’ll also know the most suitable time to take naps, rest and sleep.

      How to Take Care of Your Energy

      Want to get started with boosting your energy and productivity levels? Here’s my recommendations.

      Identify your energy cycle

      The first key thing to do, is to calculate your biological prime times. You can do this by:

      1. Cutting out stimulants or mood enhancers such as caffeine, alcohol or antidepressants.
      2. Turn off your alarm, and allow yourself to sleep and wake up naturally.
      3. Record your energy levels every waking hour, on the hour.
      4. Collect a minimum of three weeks of data.

      By doing the above, you’ll be able to determine your peak activity times – and your best times to rest and sleep.[3]

      Schedule activities according to your energy levels

      It’s critical that you know the effort and energy needed to complete upcoming tasks. Having this information will allow you to set the priority and importance of the tasks.

      You can then easily schedule the important tasks (or tasks that require a high level of concentration) at times when your personal energy is at or near its peak. Examples of these tasks include creative work like writing, or problem solving work such as learning to file your tax returns.

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      And of course the opposite is true. Tasks that need less thought-power or energy should be scheduled to take place during your low-energy periods.

      Break your work sessions into 90-minute blocks and take 15-minute breaks every 90 minutes

      When you break your work into 90-minute blocks, you’ll immediately experience a boost in your productivity. This is because 90 minutes is the ideal working duration before your mind and body needs to take a break. And how long should your break be? Well, it appears that 15-minute breaks are the ideal complement to the 90-minute sessions.

      By following the above routine, you’ll notice that you’ll have enhanced motivation to work because 90 minutes seems a manageable amount of time to work, especially when a 15-minute break is on the horizon.

      While the 15-minute break can be used to simply go for a walk, or make yourself a drink, you may want to consider taking a nap. Napping for just 15-20 minutes enables you to recharge your personal energy. (Be careful with longer naps, as these can disrupt your sleep cycle.) Read more about napping at work in another article A 20-Minute Nap at Work Makes You Awake and Productive the Whole Day

      As you can see from the tips in this article, to manage your productivity levels, you need to get the foundations right first. This means getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, ensuring your environment is clean and orderly, and most importantly, learning how to align your work with your natural cycles.

      Featured photo credit: Picjumbo via picjumbo.com

      Reference

      More by this author

      Leon Ho

      Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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      Last Updated on September 20, 2018

      8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

      8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

      You go to the gym to train your muscles. You run outside or go for hikes to train your endurance. Or, maybe you do neither of those, but still wish you exercised more.

      Well, here is how to train one of the most important parts of your body: your brain.

      When you train your brain, you will:

      • Avoid embarrassing situations. You remember his face, but what was his name?
      • Be a faster learner in all sorts of different skills. No problem for you to pick up a new language or new management skill.
      • Avoid diseases that hit as you get older. Alzheimer’s will not be affecting you.

      So how to train your brain and improve your cognitive skills?

      1. Work your memory

      Twyla Tharp, a NYC-based renowned choreographer has come up with the following memory workout:

      When she watches one of her performances, she tries to remember the first twelve to fourteen corrections she wants to discuss with her cast without writing them down.

      If you think this is anything less than a feat, then think again. In her book The Creative Habit she says that most people cannot remember more than three.

      The practice of both remembering events or things and then discussing them with others has actually been supported by brain fitness studies.

      Memory activities that engage all levels of brain operation—receiving, remembering and thinking—help to improve the function of the brain.

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      Now, you may not have dancers to correct, but you may be required to give feedback on a presentation, or your friends may ask you what interesting things you saw at the museum. These are great opportunities to practically train your brain by flexing your memory muscles.

      What is the simplest way to help yourself remember what you see? Repetition.

      For example, say you just met someone new:

      “Hi, my name is George”

      Don’t just respond with, “Nice to meet you”. Instead, say, “Nice to meet you George.”

      Got it? Good.

      2. Do something different repeatedly

      By actually doing something new over and over again, your brain wires new pathways that help you do this new thing better and faster.

      Think back to when you were three years old. You surely were strong enough to hold a knife and a fork just fine. Yet, when you were eating all by yourself, you were creating a mess.

      It was not a matter of strength, you see. It was a matter of cultivating more and better neural pathways that would help you eat by yourself just like an adult does.

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      And guess what? With enough repetition you made that happen!

      But how does this apply to your life right now?

      Say you are a procrastinator. The more you don’t procrastinate, the more you teach your brain not to wait for the last minute to make things happen.

      Now, you might be thinking “Duh, if only not procrastinating could be that easy!”

      Well, it can be. By doing something really small, that you wouldn’t normally do, but is in the direction of getting that task done, you will start creating those new precious neural pathways.

      So if you have been postponing organizing your desk, just take one paper and put in its right place. Or, you can go even smaller. Look at one piece of paper and decide where to put it: Trash? Right cabinet? Another room? Give it to someone?

      You don’t actually need to clean up that paper; you only need to decide what you need to do with it.

      That’s how small you can start. And yet, those neural pathways are still being built. Gradually, you will transform yourself from a procrastinator to an in-the-moment action taker.

      3. Learn something new

      It might sound obvious, but the more you use your brain, the better its going to perform for you.

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      For example, learning a new instrument improves your skill of translating something you see (sheet music) to something you actually do (playing the instrument).

      Learning a new language exposes your brain to a different way of thinking, a different way of expressing yourself.

      You can even literally take it a step further, and learn how to dance. Studies indicate that learning to dance helps seniors avoid Alzheimer’s. Not bad, huh?

      4. Follow a brain training program

      The Internet world can help you improve your brain function while lazily sitting on your couch. A clinically proven program like BrainHQ can help you improve your memory, or think faster, by just following their brain training exercises.

      5. Work your body

      You knew this one was coming didn’t you? Yes indeed, exercise does not just work your body; it also improves the fitness of your brain.

      Even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions. But it’s not just that–exercise actually helps your brain create those new neural connections faster. You will learn faster, your alertness level will increase, and you get all that by moving your body.

      Now, if you are not already a regular exerciser, and already feel guilty that you are not helping your brain by exercising more, try a brain training exercise program like Exercise Bliss.

      Remember, just like we discussed in #2, by training your brain to do something new repeatedly, you are actually changing yourself permanently.

      6. Spend time with your loved ones

      If you want optimal cognitive abilities, then you’ve got to have meaningful relationships in your life.  Talking with others and engaging with your loved ones helps you think more clearly, and it can also lift your mood.

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      If you are an extrovert, this holds even more weight for you. At a class at Stanford University, I learned that extroverts actually use talking to other people as a way to understand and process their own thoughts.

      I remember that the teacher told us that after a personality test said she was an extrovert, she was surprised. She had always thought of herself as an introvert. But then, she realized how much talking to others helped her frame her own thoughts, so she accepted her new-found status as an extrovert.

      7. Avoid crossword puzzles

      Many of us, when we think of brain fitness, think of crossword puzzles. And it’s true–crossword puzzles do improve our fluency, yet studies show they are not enough by themselves.

      Are they fun? Yes. Do they sharpen your brain? Not really.

      Of course, if you are doing this for fun, then by all means go ahead. If you are doing it for brain fitness, then you might want to choose another activity

      8. Eat right – and make sure dark chocolate is included

      Foods like fish, fruits, and vegetables help your brain perform optimally. Yet, you might not know that dark chocolate gives your brain a good boost as well.

      When you eat chocolate, your brain produces dopamine. And dopamine helps you learn faster and remember better. Not to mention, chocolate contains flavonols, antioxidants, which also improve your brain functions.

      So next time you have something difficult to do, make sure you grab a bite or two of dark chocolate!

      The bottom line

      Now that you know how to train your brain, it’s actually time to start doing.

      Don’t just consume this content and then go on with your life as if nothing has changed. Put this knowledge into action and become smarter than ever!

      Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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