We live in a time of endless distractions, yet we’re expected to be more productive than ever.
This weird conundrum (‘must maintain strong social media presence and reply to all emails at same time as excelling in career and working on a creatively fulfilling side hustle’) has fueled the rise of ‘bio-hacking’ – the practice of trying to optimise our brains and bodies through ideas such as BulletProof coffee, which fuses caffeine with butter and promises to keep you super focused.
Another trend has been the rise of meditation apps like Headspace and Buddhify, designed to guide us to clarity in a cluttered world.
But what are the real keys to staying on track, when it comes to getting stuff done? To get the expert low-down, we spoke to Michael Townsend Williams, author of DO Breathe - Calm Your Mind. Find Focus. Get Stuff Done. A productivity coach who counts Tate Britain, The Royal Academy of Arts and Lululemon among his clients, he discovered the hard way what going too fast does to us.
Starting his career in advertising, he thought that the only way to have an enhanced state of wellbeing would be to be less productive. However a yoga practice, coupled with the discovery of productivity bible ‘Getting Things Done’ by David Allen, resulted in the belief that, when you’re more organised and productive, your wellbeing is enhanced, too. His philosophy now is that you can work fewer hours, more intelligently and, in doing so, achieve more.
“What I commonly say to people is that most of your stress is self inflicted. It’s by people not saying ‘no’, overreacting unnecessarily or not managing themselves very well,” he says.
Here’s his pro advice on making it happen.
Take ten, every hour
It’s incredibly important to give yourself a break, so take ten minutes pause for every hour of work. According to Michael, the US army have researched this and discovered that, of people analysed, those who were given decent, regular breaks were more productive in the long run than those who stayed at the grind.
“Don’t just sit on Facebook of Instagram, pause and try to get outside,” says Michael. You could download the BreatheSync app, which guides you through quick breathing exercises to hone your wellbeing. Try it for two weeks and we guarantee you will notice a difference.
Use your evening wisely
“Don’t finish a stressful day, get hammered to try and forget about it,” says Michael. “If you’re over-stimulating yourself in the evening, you’re less likely to have a good night’s sleep and a ripple effect will take place.”
The upshot? “The next day you’re tired and emotional and you’re more likely to create more stress and more problems.” Not a wise idea. Instead, have a bath or read before bed to wind down. Get on this chill out train every day for a week and you’ll have a goldmine of energy and clarity of mind.
“Firstly get as much [sleep] as you can, as regularly as you can, to maintain your mental and physical health,” Michael says.
As a believer in cognitive load theory, in which it’s accepted that the brain can only handle a finite amount of new information at any one time, he says: “If you don’t give your mind and body rest, your capacity to cope decreases dramatically.”
It doesn’t need to be a 60 minute spin class with strobe lighting and an instructor who looks like someone from Baywatch. “It could be even a brisk walk to the tube station,” says Michael. “It’s extremely important to make sure you move everyday, for both your physical and mental health.”
Remember to re-fuel your body afterwards, with a blend of protein, carbs and healthy fats. If you’re an on-the-go type, try a squeezy Arla Protein yogurt pouch (we’re big on the mango flavour) or top up your lunch with a bottle of Arla Protein milkshake. Health is wealth, people.
Have a full lunch break
“If you have an hour, ensure you take a good full hour, so that you give yourself rest,” Michael says. Again, allowing yourself time to re-charge makes you more productive overall, as when you get back on task, you’ll be more focused, more productive and less likely to make mistakes.
Leave work on time
“If I was running a business and people weren’t taking regular breaks I would find that to be a huge problem,” Michael says. “Companies with wellbeing initiatives still haven’t caught up with that idea and think of employee wellness in terms of things like free fruit and massages.”
A wrung-out, shattered brain is not conducive to top level creative ideas or the attention to detail that your boss is after, so heed these words.