There are some people whose busy schedule just burns them out, and they go home without any energy left. Yet others that seem to have infinite energy even though their scheduled is filled to the brim. I used to be in the former group, just fatigued everyday because I try to do too much. But through a lot of experimentation, I figured out to have energy all day, even when I’m really busy. It doesn’t have to do with genetics. It just has to do with having the ability to manage both time and energy.
If you want to conserve your energy but productive at the same time, read on. If you follow these tips, I suspect that you will have more energy but still get things done.
Get Good Sleep
Get some quality sleep. Get between 6.5 to 7.5 hours of actual sleep. You don’t need anymore than that but any less than that and you will feel it the whole day. In fact, only 3 percent of the population can function optimally on less than 6 hours of sleep. And a metastudy consisting of over 1 million people aged 32 to 102 showed that people who slept 6.5 to 7.4 hours a day had a much lower mortality rate (during the 6-year study) than those who slept 8 hours or more. The study was published in the Archives of General Psychiatry in 2002.
The fact is that sleep is the most important element for your mood and energy. Sleep well and you will have bountiful energy. Don’t sleep well and you will sluggish all day.
Cut Down on Meat (From Land Animals), Sugary Foods, and Highly Processed Foods
Although some meat in your diet is good, we eat way too much meat in our modern diet, especially red meat. Meat makes us sluggish because the body has a hard time digesting it and breaking it down because of its high fat content. I’m not dissing fats in meat at all; as a matter of fact, I feel that fats in meat are essential to a healthy diet. However, if you want to have energy all day, eat a lot of veggies, a little bit of grains, a little bit of fruit, some seafood, and a little bit of meat. I think 2-4 oz of red meat is sufficient for a meal. And if you are worried about protein, there are plenty of other ways to get protein besides meat.
Processed foods and sugary foods also zaps your energy. While sugary foods can give you a short burst of energy, the energy will rapidly decline and leave you feeling lethargic. When you eat sugar, your blood sugar shoots up. Your body response to this increase in blood sugar by having the pancreas pump out more insulin to the bloodstream. But the insulin will quickly lower your blood sugar and your body will feel sluggish. Processed foods have a lot of chemicals in them that makes it tough for the digestive system to process and also can cause inflammatory reactions in the body by causing the immune system to overreact.
Take Short But Frequent Breaks
The most productive employees actually take a 10-20 break after every 50-60 minutes of work. The brain and body is not designed to just sit for hours on end without getting up and about. As many evolutionary biologists have said, we have evolved to move our bodies. The key to keeping your focus sharp and your body loose is to get up every hour and do some walking or stretching, even if it’s just for 5-10 minutes. The brain is like a muscle, long sustained use of it will tire it out. It needs rest in order to recover.
To take a break, you need to entirely detach from your work and work environment. That means you would need to get away from your work area. For your break, you should be getting up and doing something physical, like stretch or go for a walk. The act of walking or doing something physical enhances connectivity brain circuits important to concentration and focus.
If you have time, take one long break to do some rigorous exercise like running or some high intensity interval training. This will really recharge your body and give you that second wind you need to continue with your work.
Take Naps In the “Nap Zone”
Naps are great for you, don’t feel guilty about taking them. But if you are going to take a nap, take it in the so-called nap zone. John Medina talked a bit about the nap zone in his book Brain Rules. The nap zone is the time in which our homeostatic sleep curve and our circadian arousal curve converge; one drive trying to keep you awake and the other drive trying to make you go to sleep. In other words, this is when the body starts feeling fatigued. But the only thing we need to do to revitalize the body again when the two curves meet is to take a nap. The nap zone is anywhere from 1:30pm-3:30 pm, depending on your chronotype and how early they start your day. Studies have shown that naps up to 90 minute between these hours did not disturb nighttime sleep patterns.
Your nap doesn’t have to be long. Studies found that even 15 minute naps yielded huge benefits in cognitive functioning. A NASA study found that pilots who took a 26-minute nap improved performance by 34%.
Exercise in the Morning
Although exercising at any time in the day is better than not, there seems to be a general consensus among the scientific community that cardio in the morning has slightly more benefits than at any other time in the day. A study conducted showed that people who exercise in the morning have more restful sleep. Additionally, since exercise is known as a mood enhancer and a highly effective tool for managing attention issues, exercising in the morning will make for an extremely productive 4-5 hours before lunch. A study conducted using Naperville Central High School (and later the whole Naperville district) showed that students who ran one mile before school starts performed much better in school than students who didn’t exercise or only exercised in their Physical Education class.
But if you are not a morning person, then you can either force yourself to get up earlier and get in some cardio or you can choose to exercise later on in the day. After morning, the second best time to exercise is lunch because it will give your afternoon renewed focus.
Get a Standing Desk
One of the best things I ever did for my productivity was getting a standing desk. You’ve probably heard that sitting is the new smoking right? Well there’s reason for that. Studies have found that sitting at a desk all day increases your risk of getting all kinds of chronic diseases. This is probably due to the metabolic changes of being on your butt all day.
But aside from chronic diseases, sitting makes you sluggish. When was the last time you feel asleep while sitting down? You’ve probably done it a few times right? But when was the last time you fell asleep while standing up? You’ve probably never done it. I know I haven’t. Standing (or sit-stand) desks allows you to keep blood flowing ugh your body, your muscles loose, and prevent problems with the back, neck, and shoulders. Of course, you don’t have to stand the whole day while you are working, but if you are standing at least 50 percent of the day, it will do wonders for your well-being and energy level.
You can get a nonadjustable standing desk from Ikea or Amazon for anywhere from $50 to $200. If you buy a nonadjustable standing desk, you can buy a bar stool to use for sitting. Adjustable standing desks run anywhere from $200 to $800 depending on quality and ease of adjustment.
Sample Schedule for a Productive Day Full of Energy
Here is a sample schedule that would follow encompass all the advice in this article. Again, this is just a sample schedule. Chances are, your schedule will deviate from this depending on how your day is scheduled.
- 5:30am: Wake up and exercise. Either 10 minutes of hard circuit cardio/HIIT or do 20 minutes of steady state cardio. Yoga is also a good option if you do not like cardio in the morning.
- 6:00am: Get ready to start your day (shower, commuting, looking at calendar and tasks for the day)
- 7:30am: Get settled in/check your e-mail/etc…
- 8:00am: Work (with 3-5 breaks). Do your most difficult and cognitively demanding tasks during the late morning as that is when your brain is most awake.
- 11:30am: Light lunch with minimal meat, some carbs, some seafood, some fruit, and a lot of veggies.
- 12:30pm: Finish up your cognitively demanding tasks (include 2-4 breaks that include something physical)
- 2:30pm: Nap
- 3:00pm: Finish up your work (with 1-2 breaks)
- 6:00pm: Tidy up and get off work
I believe in the 6 to 6 rule. In an ideal day, my work hours would be from 6am to 6pm. After that, I can rest guilt-free. The breaks are extremely important. The breaks are what allows you to be focused and productive all day. If you are bad at remembering to take your breaks, set an alarm for yourself.