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Published on March 2, 2021

4 Effective Ways To Improve Your Work Performance Greatly

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4 Effective Ways To Improve Your Work Performance Greatly

Peak performance in the workplace is essential for company growth and high-levels of productivity, but what’s easy to do is also easy not to do.  Searching “work performance” in Google pulls up 4,180,000,000 results in less than one second. To say that work performance is a buzzword is a complete understatement.

Everyone and their mother are interested in finding the latest gadgets and hacks to optimize their workplace productivity and output. Companies are caught between a rock and a hard place as they attempt to navigate the uncharted waters of working from home while keeping their employee productivity levels high. Sadly, if businesses had prioritized the essential components of creating quality company cultures, instilling trust in their employees, and showing high-levels of empathy before the pandemic, most wouldn’t be finding themselves in this situation.

Work performance, a highly subjective term, essentially comes down to finding ways to maximize an employee’s use of time, energy, and results, as these are things that can be both measured and used as a marker for productivity. While time is fixed and can never be changed, energy levels are fluid in nature and can become depleted over time unless people know how to harness it, and results are the end product of productivity.[1] They can be measured and, to be frank, are usually independent of the time or energy it takes to reach an end goal.

To truly understand how to maximize performance and work output, we need to understand what controls these factors.

The brain controls everything, which is why no single “hack,” pill, therapy, or product will be the cure-all for maximizing productivity at work.[2] The brain isn’t binary. It’s complicated and requires many factors to function at its highest level.[3] So, if you genuinely want to improve your performance at work, you must heavily invest in the maintenance of maximizing your brain and cognitive output.

1. Move Your Body to Activate Your Brain

If we were able to bottle up the effects of physical movement into a pill, it would be a blockbuster drug for the rest of eternity due to the exponentially growing body of research showing how effective exercise is in improving brain function cognitive processing.[4]

While physical exercise has traditionally been used to improve our physical structure, lose weight, and increase cardiovascular endurance, the game has completely changed with the growing number of research showing its beneficial effects on mental and psychological processing.[5]

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Physical exercise is one of the most influential activities one can do to improve their mental performance, which then improves your performance at work. It can change DNA expression and create molecules of emotion that can improve your mood, provide mental clarity, and change the way your brain processes information.[6]

Movement vastly increases blood flow to the frontal lobe, a region on the brain responsible for cognitive processing, high-level thinking, and maintaining mental alertness.[7] It also increases oxygenation to the body, which improves your body’s ability to create energy and maintain mental focus for long periods. And while physical exercise can be one of the most efficient ways to activate the brain, it can also help you lose weight, which can also have detrimental effects on your productivity.

Research has shown that visceral fat stored around the body can decrease your brain’s ability to focus and concentrate due to the inflammatory markers fat creates throughout the body.[8] By losing weight and exercising, your can dampen inflammatory processes that are clogging your drain pipes of processing while also improving circulation and oxygenation to tissues that need it the most. And guess what? It doesn’t cost you a penny to take the initiative to get out and move.

Studies have shown that physical movement for as little as 10 minutes duration can provide significant benefits, vastly increasing your brain’s ability to update your internal software for enhanced memory and processing capacity.[9]

2. Take a Break to Get Ahead of Your Workload

People love talking about the number of hours they put into their work, with forums and LinkedIn posts chock full of individuals boasting about how many hours they dedicated to projects during the week. While this may sound great in theory, we know it’s full of fallacies and lies because it doesn’t jive with what neuroscience tells us about brain function.

Studies show that the brain has a maximum processing time of about 90 minutes before we start to see cognitive processing decline in quality.[10] As we continue down this path towards longer hours with no breaks in-between, we begin to see a vast increase in simple processing errors and mistakes, which mean lost time taking steps backward to retrace your steps to fix your errors.

It also means the brain can no longer perform at the levels it initially started with, making the tasks more challenging to complete and increasing the amount of time it will take to finish a project. We’ve seen this play out in endless scenarios, but they hold weight when taken from medical emergencies and surgeries.

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Studies have shown that doctors performing medical procedures and making diagnoses at the 17th to 19th hour have an intoxicated individual’s equivalent mental capacity with a .05 BAC.[11] Does that make you think twice about booking your next surgery?

Taking a break from your work doesn’t mean you should sit and scroll through social media sites or be a troll on Reddit. You need to break away from work and do something that will replenish your energy stores and stimulate your brain. Taking a walk, laughing with a coworker, or even closing your eyes and doing meditation for a few minutes can vastly improve your performance at work and recovery time without skipping a beat of productivity.

3. Sleep Like Your Life Depends on It (Because It Does)

Sleep is a superpower. All organisms in the animal kingdom sleep to some extent, which provides some pretty compelling evidence about the importance of sleep and its role in our general health.

Sleep isn’t just a time to take a break—multiple chemical and physiological processes take place while we sleep, helping us regenerate tissue and restore our bodies to a high level. We now know that while we’re asleep, the fluid inside the brain (cerebrospinal fluid) increases in both flow and velocity to help the brain clear out toxins that build up throughout the day.[12] This internal housekeeping is a vital component of brain health and is theorized to be a hallmark sign of an aging brain.

Sleep has also been an influential factor in our mental health. It allows our brain to process information throughout the day and pose theoretical future situations through dreaming and lucid-like states of cognition.[13]

Memories are also filtered, consolidated, and stored with different sleep stages, which can significantly impact your performance at work and productivity over the long term.[14] If your boss always has to remind you of previous conversations in the boardroom, do you think they will trust you with major tasks and projects to get that next promotion?

Your memory can serve as your best friend in the workplace, which is why prioritizing sleep and making it a staple in your lifestyle can be a significant factor in your career trajectory—greatly improving your performance at work. Plus, sleep dysfunction can be one of the earliest signs of aging, especially in the early stages of neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s, MS, Alzheimer’s, and dementia.[15]

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4. Fast-Track Your Way to Success With Intermittent Fasting (IF)

Food will always be the fuel that powers our internal engine, so why do so many people make such poor food choices?

For many, it’s usually easier to blame a food than it is to blame our decisions or actions about choosing that food. Poor food choices lead to poor brain function, promoting excessive amounts of inflammation and high levels of blood sugar, which can inevitably tear down your body’s castle walls of immunity and self-repair mechanisms.[16]

Without drawing a line in the sand about which diet or dietary guidelines you should follow, it’s safe to say that in general, if your food came from the ground, it’s probably safe to eat. While keeping this in mind, there’s an even more critical caveat to consider: Intermittent Fasting (IF).[17]

Although fasting has been around for millennia and played a pivotal role in religious ceremonies for thousands of years, it has recently made a comeback in the public eye due to its remarkable capacity to prolong life and protect our DNA.

Fasting from food (especially foods that increase our blood sugar levels) can significantly influence the body’s ability to repair and do internal housekeeping, which is a constant battle that never ends. Fasting from food allows the body to route coveted resources to other remodeling projects in the gut, brain, and body, facilitating a sort of “taking out of the trash” scenario to improve cellular efficiency and output.

With fasting, we see inflammation levels decrease, blood sugar levels drop off, insulin sensitivities increase, and we’re able to get rid of old cells that slow down the rest of the chain in command.[18] These senescent cells are old cells that are too energy-intensive for the body to demolish, so they stick around and slow down other cellular processes, kind of like the slow group in golf that holds up the rest of the course for the entire day.[19]

Fasting can also give our brain additional energy reserves through the production of ketones created from the breakdown of fat within the body. This process serves multiple purposes of getting rid of unwanted weight and fueling the brain on high-octane fuel.[20] And the best part about fasting? It costs you NOTHING. Zero. Nada. Zip. It will decrease your grocery bill and help you lose weight, increase your energy levels, sleep better, have more sex drive, and make your brain work at a higher capacity.

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Putting It All Together

It will always be up to you to decide how to implement these tools. No one else can make these choices for you, so if you’re looking to take your game to the next step to hit that promotion, finish that project, or improve your status within your company, choose one of these habits and own it for the next 30 days.

The goal with this is to make it into a lifestyle, not a diet or short-term focus. You can have our cake and eat it too. It will just take hard work and dedication on your end.

These habits may seem daunting, but try to remember that brushing your teeth, taking a shower, and getting dressed for the day used to be a daunting task for you when you were growing up. Habits become effortless because you do them more often, allowing your brain to use less energy and mental real estate to finish up a task.

Turning these tasks into daily habits will allow you to neurologically and cognitively maximize your personal and professional life. Make the hard choices now to live an easy life later.

More Tips on Excelling at Work

Featured photo credit: Austin Distel via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Workfront: The Right Way to Measure Work Performance: Results, Not Tasks
[2] NCBI: Major Structures and Functions of the Brain
[3] NCBI: Physiology, Cerebral Cortex Functions
[4] NCBI: The Influence of Exercise on Cognitive Abilities
[5] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Physical Activity for a Healthy Weight
[6] Scientific American: How Exercise Affects Your Brain
[7] SpringerLink: Acute Effects of Physical Exercise on Prefrontal Cortex Activity in Older Adults: A Functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy Study
[8] The Journal of Clinical Investigation: Visceral adipose NLRP3 impairs cognition in obesity via IL-1R1 on CX3CR1+ cells
[9] Harvard Health Publishing: Need a quick brain boost? Take a walk
[10] Psychological Review: The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance
[11] BMJ Journals: Moderate sleep deprivation produces impairments in cognitive and motor performance equivalent to legally prescribed levels of alcohol intoxication
[12] Scientific American: Deep Sleep Gives Your Brain a Deep Clean
[13] NCBI: Does improving sleep lead to better mental health? A protocol for a meta-analytic review of randomized controlled trials
[14] NCBI: About Sleep’s Role in Memory
[15] NCBI: Sleep dysregulation, memory impairment, and CSF biomarkers during different levels of neurocognitive functioning in Alzheimer’s disease course
[16] ASPEN: Diet and Inflammation
[17] NCBI: Effectiveness of Intermittent Fasting and Time-Restricted Feeding Compared to Continuous Energy Restriction for Weight Loss
[18] NCBI: Fasting induces an anti-inflammatory effect on the neuroimmune system which a high-fat diet prevents
[19] NCBI: The role of senescent cells in ageing
[20] NCBI: Short-term fasting induces profound neuronal autophagy

More by this author

Dr. Erik Reis

Peak-Performance Leadership Consultant

How to Deal with Digital Distraction to Improve Your Focus How To Lead And Manage a Remote Team 7 Effective Ways To Motivate Employees in 2021 How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication How To Give An Undivided Attention To Be More Productive

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Last Updated on September 5, 2021

How To Be Proactive At Work: 7 Habits To Build

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How To Be Proactive At Work: 7 Habits To Build

I don’t know about you, but it was nearly impossible for me to be proactive at work last year.

Every week, I would map out my game plan and color-coded my calendar. But when I tried to set things in motion, I faced ten-foot barriers that would force me to change direction. I’d have to reschedule meetings, push deadlines back, and reorganize my life because of all the twists and turns. Pivoting became my life, and it was taking over every part of it.

When I think back to 2020, it was like trying to survive the Tour de France blindfolded. By the end of the year, I was worn out, and I was in no mood to organize my 2021 goals. Being proactive was the furthest from my mind. In many ways, I didn’t even want to dream about new projects.

When January 1st entered the scene, I crawled back under my covers and hoped for the best—or at least a year that would be more predictable with less pivoting.

You want to be hopeful for this year, but a part of you is afraid of another year filled with more barriers and you’re tired of trying to survive the chaos. You’re not alone.

Over 100,000 businesses have permanently shut their doors because of Covid-19.[1] Start-Ups aren’t getting a second chance.[2] And according to Pew Research, one in four adults still have a hard time finding money to pay their bills.[3]

This reality is not the most inspiring for those of us who are business leaders. If anything, it feels like the grim reaper is right around the corner to destroy our dreams and add us to the rising number of failed companies.

Being proactive is one of the most challenging things to muster right now. But it is one of the most imperative traits that we need to embrace.

But first, let’s be clear, what does being proactive mean?

Defining the Term “Proactive” In-Depth

The word proactive often floats around the workplace, usually by well-meaning managers asking employees or their team to, “Be more proactive!” But have you ever stopped to think about what that actually means?

The dictionary definition of proactive is, “acting in anticipation of future problems, needs, or changes.”

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Being proactive is about dealing with any obstacles or challenges before they even happen. Simply put, a proactive person plans ahead.

For example, you’re buying an older home. The seller tells you that it has a sturdy foundation and an engineer confirms it. Most people would be satisfied with this answer.

A proactive person, however, would think beyond what’s presented and look into any potential issues. They may ask questions like, “How long is the lifespan of the foundation?”, “Is it earthquake ready?”, or “Does insurance cover the foundation?”

Depending on the answers, proactive people would respond accordingly and put safeguards in place to avoid these problems or minimise its impact. While it seems like a lot of resources and effort are spent at the beginning, it can actually lessen your stress and save you time and effort because you’re either preventing a problem or already have a solution at hand when the challenge arises.

This doesn’t mean that proactive people never have to put out fires on occasion. However, when you have a proactive mindset, most of the issues that come up seemingly out of left field are already something you’ve considered. And this makes you better equipped to handle situations calmly and enact a solution.

If you want your business to succeed this year, you need to be proactive at work. Situations around the world are constantly changing and you never know what the next month, year or even hour might bring and how it would affect your work. Planning ahead and preparing for the future is incredibly vital in our current climate.

Proactivity vs Reactivity

We can’t discuss proactivity without exploring the other side of the coin: Reactivity.

Being reactive is the complete opposite of being proactive. A reactive person doesn’t feel the need to address a problem until it’s already occurred. They simply react to a situation because it’s already there.

Spontaneity and the ability to address problems as they arise is important in leadership, and in life. After all, we cannot predict the future no matter how hard we try. But oftentimes reactive people encounter problems because they refuse to take action even though there have been warning signs of imminent trouble.

Reactivity also comes from a place of panic. Because you have not thought or planned ahead, you react instantaneously. You may not offer the best solution because you haven’t had time to fully review the situation, and maybe even create more problems.

It won’t be easy, but it will be a lot easier with the following practical habits that I’ve put together for you. These tools will make all the difference for you and your organization.

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7 Practical Habits to Turn Reactivity into Proactivity

Even proactive people can exhibit reactive behavior. No one is perfect and the corporate and business world can be unpredictable. But you can turn things around and be proactive even when you have not anticipated challenges that face you. Here are some tips:

1. Don’t Be Busy

Repeat after me: only do what is necessary—no more and no less.

If you’re anything like me, as soon as January 1st comes along, you cram in all your five-year goals into one packed year. You love seeing your schedule filled. But being busy isn’t the same as being productive. Being proactive requires you to take a step back, reevaluate your priorities, and actually take things off of your plate before adding new goals.

The brain is not designed to always operate at full capacity twenty-four hours a day.[4] It needs a break. If we’re constantly immersing ourselves throughout the day with frivolous tasks, then we don’t have time to concentrate on our goals.

This year, I’m taking a break from the chaos and learning to do fewer tasks with more investment.

Think of it this way. Planning takes time. It’s like painting an apartment. Before you can add color to the drab walls of your living room, you have to plan and prep the area. The same is true for being proactive at work.

2. Stop Trying to Run Everyone’s Race

If you want to direct the narrative of your life, you need to take a step back and get rid of the clutter. Figure out what you can delegate and then, focus your energy away from the distractions. Not every email needs a reply, and not every job is right for you.

Shakespeare said it best,[5]

“To thine own self be true.”

These six words need to become your mantra.

If you want to reach your goals this year and be proactive, you need to walk forward with laser focus. If you compare yourself or your business to the next big thing, you won’t contribute anything except a lesser copy of yourself and your organization.

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Part of being proactive is being creative. You have to be able to see the different angles and nuances in a situation or project in order to anticipate potential issues and come up with creative solutions. If you’re constantly looking over someone else’s work, you’re not focusing on what’s in front of you. And you could end up missing a lot of obstacles that you could’ve avoided if you were paying attention.

Stop looking around. Your purpose is not to run the race of someone else. If you want to be proactive at work, you need to stop comparing yourself to your neighbor and stick to running your own race. It’s the only way that you’ll win.

3. Make “Essentialism” Your 2021 Word

When you’re figuring out your 2021 goals, take time to weigh the cost. Ask yourself if it’s worth the investment. Being proactive means that you take into consideration all the variables before cementing your goals.

Before you map out your plan or get crazy with those highlighters, ask yourself these two questions:

  • Will this goal help create balance in my life?
  • Will this goal produce a return on investment?

If you can answer a resounding “yes” to both of these questions, then take these ideas and write them down on a piece of paper.

After you’ve compiled a list of 15 to 20 ideas, take a new sheet of paper and break it into two columns. The first section should contain a list of goals that take priority. These ideas would fall under the umbrella of being trend-related and financially profitable.

The second section should contain a list of goals that will increase your social proof and promote your priority goals. This column drives traffic and promotes awareness of your business and your product.

After you’ve compiled this list, break it in half and cut it down to three goals in each section. Three is the perfect number because it gives you leeway to pivot and bend if you need to make changes throughout the process.

The two excellent tools that have helped me develop a schedule of essentialism are Hilary Rushford’s Elegant Excellence Journal[6] and Jill Konrath’s book, “More Sales. Less Time.

Both of these tools have helped me focus on what’s important, make the best decisions for my business, and make a profit without sacrificing my health.

4. Order the Same Latte

When you look at the greats in the business world, they all encompass one thing: simplicity.

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If you minimize your choices and stick to the basics, you’ll have the ability to save time and focus your energy on decisions that require your creativity. Keeping up with the latest fashion trends not only sacrifices your time but also sacrifices your budget.

Remember, it’s not about looking successful. It’s about making choices that give you the ability to be successful.

Here are four things that you can do to save time to make you more proactive at work:

  • Buy multiples of the same outfit and mix and match throughout the week.
  • Order the same drink each day from the same coffee shop.
  • Prepare meals at the beginning of the week for lunch and dinner.
  • Set your alarm for the same time each morning, including weekends.

5. Don’t Pressure Yourself to Respond Immediately

It’s okay to be surprised or be blindsided. Sometimes things just happen that is out of your control. What you are in control of, however, is your reaction. There’s nothing wrong with not having a solution or response at hand. It’s okay to take a step back and think about it first before responding.

6. Put a Pin on It

If you find yourself being unable to come up with a good solution, you can put a pin on it. You may want to address another matter first, one you already know how to deal with. It may give you inspiration and confidence when you come back to your other issues. Unless of course the imminent problem is fire outside your door.

7. Prioritize What’s Important

The thing with problems that come up suddenly, is that they may have already caused damage you can’t reverse. You have to learn to accept the situation and instead of trying to solve the unsolvable, prioritize what’s important, see what you can salvage and take note of lessons that will help you in the future.

It’s impossible to be proactive if you feel rushed. But if you follow the above tips, you’ll gain more time in your schedule and have more energy to lead your business and operate with a well-organized game plan.

Final Thoughts

I think the majority of us are tired of feeling like we’re contestants in Survivor. After all, who wants to be filmed while living in the woods and surviving off of bugs and tree bark?

All kidding aside. This past year has been challenging. But we can learn a lot from these past twelve months.

If you want to be proactive, simplify your schedule, focus on your path, only take what you need, and be purposeful with your time and energy. Being proactive is not about filling up your schedule. It’s about creating balance in your life.

I know it seems daunting right now, and many of us are still trying to figure out how to pay this month’s rent with spare change from the couch. But if you take the time to prepare and figure out what’s a priority this year, you’ll not only meet your goals, you’ll enjoy the journey.

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You have all the tools you need to be proactive at work. Now, go map out your 2021 goals for the year!

More Tips on How to Be Proactive

Featured photo credit: Campaign Creators via unsplash.com

Reference

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