There is more pressure on the average employee today than any other time in history. Companies are cutting resources yet expecting greater outcomes, every industry is feeling the pain and no one is immune.
Business guru Charles Handy said that working in the 21st century is described by the formula ½ x 2 = 3. Translated, this means half the number of people doing twice the amount of work expected to get three times the result. The pressure to get more done in less time is driving us to the brink of burn out, causing us to take stress leave and putting excessive pressure on our relationships. Part of the fall out from this pressure is that most people have stopped taking breaks during the day, they arrive at the office put their head down and don't put it back up again until it is time to go home. Morning tea is a thing of the past, the lunch hour is dead and afternoon tea doesn't even get on the radar. However is working constantly during the day the answer? I think not.
As a performance consultant working with thousands of people each year I believe the single largest contributor to stress, burn out and poor performance is an improperly structured workday. It is physiologically impossible to be productive and focused your entire day; your ability to get work done fluctuates at different times of the day and follows the natural rhythms of the body. Every function in our body (sleep, digestion, alertness, even your energy levels) is controlled by our natural bio-rhythms. Unfortunately most of the habits we have in a day actually work against our natural rhythms rather than with them. The key to lasting energy, happiness and high performance is getting the external world and your internal world in sync with each other. Here is a daily plan to help you get your internal world and external world working together.
6am: Get regular
One of the most critical aspects of a sleep routine is a regular bed and wake up time (of these two the wake up time is the most important). Falling asleep and waking up involves a number of complicated processes, for example your body prepares itself to wake up long before your eyes open by increasing body temperature, releasing various hormones, elevating blood pressure and heart rate. When you are in a regular sleep routine your body gets used to the pattern and it makes going to sleep and waking up much easier. A sign that you have your routine right is when you consistently wake up minutes before your alarm clock is set to go off. The biggest challenge in maintaining a regular sleep routine is sticking to it on the weekends. When we dramatically alter our sleep pattern on the weekend we can give ourselves a mini case of jet lag. If you feel the need to catch up on sleep over the weekend the key is to go to bed early and get up at your normal time rather than sleeping in past lunch.
6:15 Get moving:
Some exercise early in the morning before breakfast is the ideal way to kickstart your day. First of all exercise gets more blood and nutrients to your brain and helps you to be more alert when you get to work. Also exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, which are not distant relatives to Flipper but chemicals that elevate your mood and leave you feeling good. In addition low glucose and insulin levels in the morning maximise the burning of body fat during exercise and the exercise will elevate your metabolic rate for the rest of the day.
7:00 am: Break the Fast
A solid breakfast is needed to ensure that you have enduring energy levels during the day. The two main things to include in your breakfast are protein and carbohydrates that are low in glyceamic index. Examples are: Omelette with wholegrain bread
Fruit smoothie with yoghurt and fruit
Muesli and nuts
Skipping breakfast is just plain stupid, so don't do it!!
8am to 11am focus on the big stuff
During this time the majority of people are at their most effective. This is the time to tackle your most important tasks that require the most thought and problem solving. Don't spend this time doing mundane tasks, leave clearing the inbox to times when you are less effective.
11 am: Fuel up and get some sun
At 11am there is a natural drop in our blood glucose levels, the result is a slump in our energy levels and a corresponding drop in performance. This is the time to have your first meal of the day. Yes you heard right! Have lunch early, this will help you to keep your energy levels high. In fact a number of schools tested 11am lunchtime and found that students were far more alert and focused as a result. The easiest choice is a whole grain salad sandwich with protein (chicken, ham, tuna). Direct sunlight each day on our body helps to keep our circadian rhythm (the rhythm that controls when you are awake and asleep, as well as hundreds of other functions) in check. Most people don't see the sun as they get to work when the sun is rising, stay in doors all day, and leave as the sun is setting. A lack of sun puts you at risk of seasonal affective disorder syndrome (SADS). SADS increases your chances of feeling down and depressed.
1 pm: Remember to breathe
When we get stressed our body releases stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. Prolonged exposure to these chemicals has a negative effect on our brain and our ability to focus, solve problems and come up with new ideas. When we slow our breathing down and do some relaxation we stop producing these chemicals and produce something new called Nitric Oxide, when this hits our brain we produce endorphins and dopamine which make us feel good and help us think better.
2:30 pm: Lunch # 2
At around 3pm we get a dramatic drop in glucose levels and a drop in our temperature. This leaves us feeling very tired and drowsy. We have all experienced 3:30 itis. The way to avoid this is to stabilise your glucose levels by having a meal just before this. In this meal include some protein to stimulate brain function. An easy idea is fruit and nuts (almonds, walnuts). A meal at this time will also stop your cravings in the afternoon and stop you from pigging out when you get home.
6:00 pm: Switch to home channel
As you are travelling home start to switch your mind set to fit into family mode. A lot of people rush home at the end of the day and take their office mind set home with them and they run their home like their office. The mindset of your home is a lot slower and sedate than the office, so slow down on the way home.
7:30 pm: Have a happy meal
The final meal of the day should be small in volume (this will reduce the stress on your digestive system and help you to feel more energetic in the morning) and based on vegetables. Vegetables are high in fibre as well as vitamins and minerals. Science tells us that any population who live long healthy lives has a high intake of vegetables. With dinner include a small amount of lean protein especially oily fish like salmon, tuna etc. This type of fish contains high levels of Omega 3 oils, which improve our mood and our health.
9:00 pm: Dim the lights and slow down.
Whether our environment is dark or light impacts on our ability to get to sleep. A part of your brain called the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus (SCN) detects light input from the eyes. The SCN controls the secretion of Melatonin, a chemical that helps you sleep. When the SCN senses light on your eyes it shuts down Melatonin production, likewise when it senses darkness it releases Melatonin. Therefore as the evening progresses, start to dim the lights around the house. Bright artificial lights will prevent melatonin release so avoid switching on the Hollywood lights around the mirror just before you go to bed.