Food, exercise and sleep.
There are three simple things you can tweak to improve productivity. What you eat, how you move and how you sleep. Improve these three areas of your life and you will find yourself to be much more productive. Think of it as a healthy life hack that has major benefits.
Let's start with exercise. When you exercise your body will experience positive changes in your ability to deal with stress, to concentrate, how much energy you have and your overall sense of well being. Exercise increases blood flow to your brain which will improve your ability to concentrate as well as your ability to think clearly. When you exercise the increased blood flow actually creates new blood cells.
Not only will exercise physically improve your brain but it can enhance your mood, help your memory and increase your ability to focus.
Performing aerobic exercise has a major impact on improving focus and the ability to make decisions. Walking, running, swimming laps and other aerobic activities will help in this area. Classes are also great for aerobic exercise, so if you have access to Zumba classes or kickboxing that is also a great way to sharpen your focus.
However, learning balance, such as in yoga or weight training, will help you really sharpen your concentration and focusing skills. Yoga also improves mood and self satisfaction, so I like to do yoga once or twice a week. It goes great sandwiched in between weight lifting sessions. Right now my schedule is Weight Lifting on Monday, Wednesday and Friday then Yoga on Tuesday and Thursday. I try to warm up by walking first.
If I manage to stick to my Monday through Friday gym routine, I don't do a specific workout on Saturday and Sunday. I do try to get in a good long walk on Saturdays, usually downtown or at the Farmer's Market or maybe doing some sight seeing with the kids or a relaxing Nature Walk.
I'd like to say I reserve Sunday for rest completely, but I have not mastered that skill … yet.
Now on to FOOD!
Here's a list of the top 10 foods you should be eating to improve your concentration.
- Salmon – Salmon is one of nature's best sources of DHA, an essential fatty acid important for brain health. Your brain mostly fat. Sixty percent of it is composed of fatty acids, the long snake-like building blocks of fat molecules required for proper brain structure and function.
- Blueberries – combats brain aging, just call them brain berries! Just skip the blueberry muffin filled with white flour and canola oil and eat this Salmon Steak with Blueberry Sauce instead!
- Avocados – avocados improve blood supply and oxygenation to your brain, just a quarter avocado per day can produce noticeable improvement. (source) I like to dip carrots in my guacamole instead of tortilla chips, try it!
- Dark Chocolate (yay!) – Compounds in dark chocolate boost memory, attention span, reaction time, and problem-solving skills by increasing blood flow to the brain (source) I really like Lily's Dark Chocolate because it is sweetened with Stevia, but there are lots of good brands of Dark Chocolate, try them all!
- Coconut oil – coconut oil MCTs improved cognitive function (source) I use coconut oil every day, but one of the easiest ways to get in a good dose is to put coconut oil in your coffee. *I do not put coconut sugar or honey in my coffee, but I have tried it this way and it is delicious. For daily consumption I just use coffee + coconut oil and blend 🙂 As a bonus you can add MCT Oil (Medium Chain Triglycerides) for improved brain performance.
- Green tea and other teas, such as Pu'erh and Oolong – increases the brain’s effective connectivity, meaning the causal influence that one brain area exerts over another which leads to improvement in actual cognitive performance. (source) You can make a great latte with green tea and Garam Masala; try my recipe here.
- Turmeric – ” is also capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier, which is one reason why it holds promise as a neuroprotective agent in a wide range of neurological disorders.” (source) You can use Turmeric to boost your health in many ways!
- Walnuts – full of vitamin E and helps prevent cognitive decline, throw them on a salad or eat them by the handful. Try this Green Bean Salad with Walnuts!
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil – nourishes and boosts your brain with antioxidants and more, protects your brain from dementia. Try making your own salad dressings using olive oil. Try this Sweet Basil Dressing on some baby greens!
- Garlic – garlic is packed with vitamin B6, manganese, and other natural elements proven to reduce inflammation and platelet buildup in your blood and arteries which is not only good news for your heart, but the increased blood flow to your brain may also ward of age-related cognitive decline!
- Mineral Salt (replace that nasty table salt in the blue canister with some Real Sea Salt, Celtic Sea Salt or Pink Himalayan Sea Salt) it really can improve your memory! (source)
Getting it all done and resting well
I have conversations with my friends about getting it all done. I think many of us feel like we are constantly multitasking, trying to stay on top of all the jobs we juggle. I often say I can do ONE of my jobs well at a time, but not all of my jobs well at the same time. Can you relate?
My daughter Ivy insists that it is impossible to multi-task, and though what she says may have some merit as your brain really is just switching quickly back and forth between activities, I still argue that I multi-task on a daily basis.
Research shows however, that if you want to increase your productivity level, you should avoid multi tasking. So, when you want to really concentrate, on say, writing a blogpost or a lesson plan, or even just making a menu plan or grading papers, whatever it may be that requires your full attention, follow these tips:
- Unless you are anticipating an emergency, put your phone on do not disturb or airplane mode
- Instead of looking at social media or your email accounts multiple times throughout the day, set aside a certain time to check and manage both. I have found that I accomplish much more when I limit my social media time to once per day. As for email, I set up one email account that I use exclusively for subscribing to newsletters. That way I can get through my business and personal email inboxes in a reasonable amount of time
- Spend time relaxing or in meditation. I have a habit of spending the first moments of my day reading my Bible and praying, which helps my mind to focus.
- If you insist on multitasking, make sure the tasks are compatible. For example, my daughter Haley gets ready for her day while listening to podcasts. She is a treasure trove of information and stays on top of the latest trends and techniques by doing so. She could spend that time listening to music, but instead she feeds her mind with useful information. While I do the dishes or clean, I usually listen to audio books. We also listen to them while driving around town. This type of multitasking is ok.
- Music. While music is ok for doing repetitive tasks, it's not really a good idea to listen to music while studying, especially music with lyrics. On the other hand, ambient classical music can work just fine for studying or creating. In the end, do what works for you.
On a final note, getting enough sleep is one of the most important things you can do to improve your ability to concentrate. So if you are skimping on sleep, it's time to correct that. Sleep is vital to survival. Research shows that a clear, alert brain allows us to focus, learn and remember information, and to be creative.
On the flip side, when we're sleepy, we make tend to make more mistakes and are less productive in school and at work.
Time to increase your productivity!
“Perfection is Achieved Not When There Is Nothing More to Add, But When There Is Nothing Left to Take Away” French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery is a great reminder that often, less is more.
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