You’re hoping to feel energised and focused throughout the day. Yet by 2pm your energy sags. You have heaps of emails to get through, presentations to deliver and two or three more meetings in the long hours ahead. You eat something quickly at your desk, drink another coffee and keep going, all the while feeling more and more depleted.
The demands, the deadlines and expectations together with the crazy pace, leave you feeling exhausted. You wonder whether sustaining an optimal performance is just an elusive dream. “Faster, bigger, more and more.” This ethos of market economies over the last hundred years is grounded in a totally misguided notion; the assumption that as humans we operate in a linear and sustainable fashion.
The reality is that we are not designed to run like a computer or digital device; continuously at high speed for long periods of time. Humans are not linear. Our bodies and our brains function rhythmically. The beating of our hearts, our respiration, muscles, cellular function and most importantly mental concentration is pulse-like and alternates through states of contraction and expansion. Brief periods of recovery and restoration are essential for peak performance. The human battery must be recharged. Annual leave is great, so too are the weekends if you are not working. However the need for renewal is far more immediate and is in fact a daily prerequisite. A new and growing body of scientific research data demonstrates that strategic renewal — including improved workouts, short power naps, longer sleep hours and regular power food snacks boosts productivity, mental stamina, job performance and, of course, health.
Here are the five strategies that are found to work best:
1. Take a break at least every 90 minutes.
It’s not how long you take off that matters most, but how skilfully you use very short periods of renewal. Get up from your desk and stretch your muscles. Take a short walk. The simplest way to recharge energy is by breathing. With your eyes closed, breathe in through your nose for a count of four, hold for four and breathe out for a slow count of four. You can dramatically lower your heart rate, your blood pressure and your muscle tension in as little as thirty seconds.
2. Make sleep your number one priority.
For far too long, sleep has not received the attention it deserves. It is undoubtedly the most powerful restorative tool we have at our disposal. In reality even small amounts of sleep deprivation undermine our capacity for analytic thinking, creativity and mental focus. We can no longer overlook the important research demonstrating the effects of improved sleep on cellular healing and optimal cognitive function. We have accepted the conventional wisdom that an hour less sleep allows an hour more productive time. This couldn’t be farther from the scientific truth. Over 95% of us require at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night in order to feel completely rested.
3. Pump up adrenalin and then switch it off
There is no better way to recharge your energy than by temporarily pumping up adrenalin levels. Use your lunch break to get to the gym, go for a run or if not possible take a brisk walk out of the office. The work out and then the post exercise adrenalin switch-off facilitates energy recovery and renewal before you get back to your desk.
4. Power up with a small bite every 3 hours
Many of us skip breakfast, eat a quick lunch at our desk and are ravenous for dinner. A quick biscuit or chocolate bar plays havoc with our concentration and mood, causing spikes in sugar and deep troughs of energy depletion. Even with three healthy meals, energy may still plummet. The brain requires a constant source of energy. Even the best super-food meal will only provide three hours of fuel. So make sure to eat a small mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack. Some of the best choices include a handful of mixed nuts, or a whole fibre cracker with some cottage cheese, vegetable sticks with humus or a piece of fruit with some almonds.
5. Power nap
Although this is near impossible for most office workers, a short power nap for 10-15 minutes is an undeniably powerful tool. Although the prevailing work ethic in most companies is that downtime is time wasted, the researched data is compelling. Cognitive function, creativity and overall performance levels have been showed to improve dramatically after a short power nap. Few employers will sanction naps, but even sitting back in your chair and closing your eyes for a few minutes can be restorative.