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. 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. The brain isn’t binary. It’s complicated and requires many factors to function at its highest level. 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.
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.
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.
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. 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. 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.
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. 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.
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. 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. 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.
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. 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.
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.
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).
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. 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.
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. 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.
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
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Author: Dr. Erik Reis: https://www.lifehack.org/feed