FOR THOSE WHO POWER THROUGH
It's no surprise that the way you treat your body can affect the way your mind works.
Working continuously and for long hours does not mean you're getting more done. Sometimes the best way to get something done is not to work on it for a while.
Sitting for long periods of time is just plain bad for you, but it's also bad for your ability to be productive. Standing up and moving around improves blood flow to the brain, which enhances cognition. Alan Hedge, an ergonomics professor at Cornell, suggests that workers try a combination of sitting, standing and walking to keep altering their body position and give their minds a break from work.
How to Make Desk Work More Productive
A timed combination of sitting, standing and walking can help you work at your best.
- Sit for 20 minutes and work.
- Stand for eight minutes and work.
- Stop working and take a walk for two minutes.
Take long breaks
Where were you the last time you had a great idea? Your desk? Or was it when you were in the shower, while you were walking your dog or driving your kids to school?
Working a 10- to 12-hour day may earn you points with some bosses, but it's not great for creativity. Instead of powering through, consider intentionally taking a break from a large project for up to 10 hours. That will allow new ideas to marinate in your subconscious, causing your neurons to make new connections.
Sleep is one of the most effective ways to take a long break, so try not to give it short shrift. Research shows that sleep allows our brains to make new and unexpected connections, leading to insights and breakthroughs — which explains why we so often have brilliant ideas during our morning shower.
Learn to identify the signs of mental fatigue, like reading the same sentence over and over websites or writing emails with no real goals or priorities in mind. Don't feel guilty about taking a break, or leaving for the day when you can think that your brain needs time to recharge.
Try a nap
It's pretty common to feel a "post-lunch dip" in the midafternoon. Your body naturally wants to go to sleep about seven hours after waking, and this is amplified by the effects of digestion. Unfortunately, this biological reality collides with an economic one: Most offices frown on napping.
If it's possible to take a 20-minute "power nap" at work (for example if you work at home), by all means do so. To best increase your energy, it may be a good idea to drink a cup of coffee before your nap. Research has shown that this method likely works because the short power nap helps clear the brain of the sleep-inducing compound adenosine. Caffeine, meanwhile, takes about 20 minutes to have its physiological effect — kicking in just as the napper is awakening.
If a nap is out of the question, however, train yourself to quickly recognize the signs of the post-lunch dip: drowsiness and an inability to concentrate. Then, get up and walk around, talk to a colleague at another desk or work on something less demanding of your brain power until the sleepiness passes.
When we feel overwhelmed at work, our fight-or-flight response tends to come into play, leading us to take quick, shallow breaths. This sends less oxygen to the brain, causing us to become even more stressed and to think less clearly. Counteract the effects of stress by breathing more efficiently.
Most people are vertical breathers, in that their shoulders move up when they inhale, according to Belisa Vranich, a clinical psychologist and breath instructor. Many people also breathe from their upper chest, whereas the biggest part of the lungs is in the middle of the body.
Horizontal breathing may seem unnatural at first, but it is actually the way animals and small children breathe. Working with your body rather than against it, you will maximize the blood flow to your brain – and your mental capacity.