If you’re a sales or marketing leader – or cover another demanding role – staying focused, effective and productive throughout a busy day can be challenging.
Back-to-back meetings, staff emergencies, complex processes, juggling high-level strategic thinking and fire-fighting… These are just some of the things thrown at you on a daily basis!
We hear you. Pitcher’s resident health and fitness expert, Robin Good, to the rescue! This year, Robin has been providing Pitcher with much-loved live health and fitness sessions via Zoom (you can find the recordings here). I jumped on a call with Robin to pick his brain on how we can all get healthier and ultimately be more productive, too.
We get right into it:
Q: What are your top 3 tips for staying healthy whilst working (from home)?
1. Take active breaks!
“Have an active break a minimum of two to three times per day. Set specific times throughout the day to take 10-15 minutes – these should be scheduled! Go out for a walk and grab some fresh air. This allows you to take a step back from your work and get your daily steps in. This way, you keep your activity levels up, which is much needed because, when you’re working from home, your physical activity levels drop significantly.”
Robin adds: “For me, I do this at the start of every day, before I even get my morning coffee.
As soon as I can, I get outside because I know I’m going to be locked in for a couple of hours.”
2. Have a proper schedule
“Having a proper schedule for when you work and (as in the previous point) for when you take breaks is important. Try to do one thing at a time and dedicate time for each task plus breaks.”
“This also goes for lunch. Don’t just eat lunch whilst you’re on a Zoom call. Really take the time to sit down and eat calmly and plan it into your day.”
“This can be really difficult to stick to, especially if you feel that you have a million things to do. But, planning time for meals and breaks and setting boundaries between work and leisure time is crucial for maintaining productivity,” says Robin.
“Try to avoid the temptation to order some fast food and eat whilst you are on a call. Eating a real meal costs you maybe 15-20 minutes if you take it slowly, but the gains will be greater,” he adds.
3. Be prepared for busy days
“Be prepared and have food available for your working from home days. This means going to the supermarket in advance and buying healthy ingredients for some easy meals.”
Robin explains further: “People always say, ‘I don’t have any time to cook’ or ‘I don’t have these ingredients at home’. But there are lots of healthy meals that only take 5 minutes to prepare! Fast can be healthy, too, if done right”.
“Just be prepared because if you don’t have the food at home, you’re going to be tempted to order the food in or eat something quick and unhealthy. When you order food, it’s often not the most healthy because food takeaways usually don’t care about your health – they care about the taste.”
“You need to set your environment up for health, but it’s not as hard as you might think! For example, a frozen veggie mix can be great for anyone that needs a quick and healthy addition to their meal. Often people feel that it’s hard, but it doesn’t need to be.”
Q: What health myths would you love to bust once and for all?
There are a lot of myths out there! These are the biggest ones, according to Robin:
- “People may think that eating all kinds of salads is healthy. But then they don’t consider that sauces like mayo and various dressings can be very unhealthy and fatty. Check your dressings – less is more!”
- “Gluten-free doesn’t equal healthy. A gluten-free product can still be full of sugar and saturated fats. Check the nutritional information label on the product.”
- Here’s a shocker: “Just because it’s ‘homemade’ (meaning not pre-packaged or canned) doesn’t mean it’s healthy! Even if you cook everything at home, you can still put yourself at risk for cardiovascular disease and become overweight if the foods you use are not smart choices.”
Q: How can a real lunch break boost your productivity?
Since Robin mentioned how important it was to have a real, slow lunch break, I wondered just why it’s so important. As someone who often eats whilst still working and can scoff down food, or rather, inhale it, I felt compelled to ask.
He says: “It’s about conscious eating and mindfulness. If you eat mindlessly, your body might not even register that it’s had food, you don’t feel you’re eating, and you’ll end up eating more and not feeling full. This mindless eating causes people to overeat. When you eat slowly, your body gets more time to signal the brain that you’re eating, so satiety kicks in faster.”
“Of course, nobody’s perfect. It’s something I struggle with myself,” he says. “If we aren’t conscious or mindful when we do something, then you take the ‘experience’ out of it.”
Everyone is different, of course – sometimes it’s the opposite. When people are stressed or busy, they can get their energy from pure adrenalin and coffee, which isn’t healthy either.
“So you need to learn how to slow down and be present.”
Q: Sounds great, gimme some other productivity and health hacks!
Robin explains this philosophy further: “It’s simple and sounds counterintuitive. When we take a break and step back from what we were working on, it allows your mind to take a step back and process. It helps you to see things with a bit of perspective.”
I exclaim: “Oh yes, that’s why you often get your best ideas in the shower or when you go on a walk!”
Robin replies: “Exactly. Sometimes you actually don’t need to work, sometimes you just need a break and to process things”.
So, if we just take a moment and notice our patterns and how we get through the day on autopilot, we identify our unhealthy ways when we’re swept away by busy work.
Robin continues: “Take a 15-20 min break and just switch off. Go out in the sun and get some vitamin D (exposing your skin to the sun). If you still feel you need to keep your brain active, listen to a podcast. If you have a dog, all these habits will automatically already happen, as you take them out every day.”
Then, “when you’re refreshed and feeling good, you can push again. You can actually be more productive if you DO take a break and come back refreshed. But obviously, take breaks within limits. You still have to put in the work and get things done.”
Although Robin doesn’t have a traditional office job himself, he understands the grind: “On those days when you just don’t feel like doing the work, no matter how hard you try, it’s actually better to take a break and get back to it when you feel more refreshed. Otherwise, you end up just spinning the wheels but not being productive at all, just draining yourself out.”
I ask: “Any last words about how to be healthier, food wise? We all want to, but sometimes it’s just sooo hard…”
Robin concludes: “Well, the will has to be there to make a change. If you’re motivated, you’re more driven to make a change. Remember to keep your eyes open for healthy options, both at home and away. When you go grocery shopping, you end up always buying the same things. Why not discover new healthy options that you haven’t tried before? Remember to focus on whole plant foods and eat the rainbow!”
Q: What’s the best way to manage your energy levels during a busy day?
We’ve all been there. Those days when you’re slammed with back-to-back calls. How can you keep your energy levels up during a super busy day?
Instead of starting to talk about caffeine, sugar levels and eating healthy (which I was expecting), Robin takes a step back:
“The way I see it, the first thing to address is the recovery you are getting at night. Our energy levels are influenced by how we start saving energy or how we recover during the night. If we have crappy energy levels, we need to help the body to recover. I would say the bare minimum is seven hours sleep.”
He continues: “Yes, this may vary individually. Sometimes we get less, but if you can keep it to a minimum of seven hours on average, that’s great. Otherwise you limit your energy, cognitive performance and ultimately, your life quality. You feel crap and get less sleep, which actually decreases your body’s testosterone levels. This can even impact your libido, cause weight gain and ultimately causes long-term sleep deprivation.”
Robin gives an example that hits home: “It’s like when you’re at the bar and your friend has had a few too many drinks and thinks he’s fine to drive home. Sure, he thinks he is fine, but you, as his less intoxicated friend, know he’s definitely not in a state to drive home. Same thing happens with sleep deprivation. You might think you’re fine, but actually you are operating in a weakened state.”
“We put sleep, nutrition and exercise on the same foundational level. The research is so clear that we’re actually more or less poisoning ourselves if we go into sleep deprivation mode.”
Q: So, what can we do to get better sleep?
Robin starts: “There are a few things you can do. You may have heard them before, but they’re all very important.”
- Get consistent. It’s about balancing your circadian rhythm so getting into the habit of going to bed at the same time and getting up at the same time is crucial. Even if you go to bed every night at the same time and get six hours of sleep, it’s still better than if you sleep irregularly but get seven hours. Having a regular sleep schedule means your body knows its time to recover and goes into sleep mode faster.
- Limit caffeine. Try having less, or ideally no, caffeine after lunch and definitely no caffeine before bedtime. So you might think twice about having that espresso after dinner! About five to six hours after you have a coffee, you still have half of the dose circulating in your blood. Some people think they can have it in the evening and still sleep fine. You might think you’re fine, but you’re impairing your sleep quality immensely.
- Limit blue light exposure. That’s right – tuck away that phone after 21.00! Put your phone and other screens to night mode or use blue light blocking glasses. You’ll fall asleep more naturally this way.
- Keep it cool. Set up your bedroom to be cool. This promotes sleep. Around 19°C (66°F) degrees is about right, and keep it as dark as possible. You basically want to emulate sleeping in a cave!
- Eat right. Have your last meal at least three hours before going to bed. If you eat too late this delays your digestion, your body goes into jet lag mode, your body clock shifts and you won’t recover as well.
- You can have carbs for dinner to relax and sleep better. Carbs don’t mean doughnuts, though! Think wholegrain carbs like brown rice, quinoa, wheat, or other healthy carb sources like lentils, beans and potatoes.
- Avoid and limit high-fat foods such as processed meats like bacon, dairy products like cheese, or highly processed foods such as chips or cookies. Fats slow down your digestion and will hinder your sleep quality when having them close to bedtime.
- Oh and, if you eat a high-fat food in combination with alcohol, Robin says: “That’s a poisonous combination! Not just health-wise but in relation to your sleep pattern.”
- Limit alcohol. Yes, you knew this one was coming. Unfortunately, alcohol has a negative impact on sleep quality. Many people think they sleep better when having a nightcap. Maybe you fall asleep easier, but your rapid eye movement (REM) sleep will suffer. That means your deep sleep will not be as good as if you were without alcohol.
- Sure, one glass of wine once in a while is perfectly fine. That won’t massively interrupt your schedule. If you can justify that it feels better for you, then it can also have the placebo effect, so that you actually do feel better after that glass of wine. But remember, that isn’t the case for everyone.
- Try not to rely on sleep medication either. In the U.S., this is quite common. Sleep medication actually disrupts your sleep rhythm and your ability to fall asleep naturally. (Robin wants to clarify he is not a medical professional, but this is the advice he gives to clients).
So folks, there you have it – the top tips on how to feel better and boost your productivity from a qualified health and fitness expert. We’re all on this journey together – let us know how you go, and we hope this has been helpful to you and your teams!
Check out Robin’s previous health and fitness recordings for Pitcher here.
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