Hearing stories about ridiculously productive people can be intimidating, to say the least. Professionals waking at 4am after three hours sleep to embark on a quick half-marathon before they start their 18-hour work day? Sounds about as realistic as learning to be fluent in Ancient Greek in seven days.
Although the majority of us won't ever be in the cohort of these unicorns, there are little tips and tricks we can apply to our routines to contribute to better wellbeing. But how to know what advice to take?
There are so many variables that we can choose from, it's dizzying. Is it better to work out in the morning or at night? Does that unremarkable-looking, questionable-tasting multivitamin you pop every morning actually do anything? Or exactly how long, and what type of exercise do you need to be doing, before you start seeing results? As it turns out, a lot of experts have been wanting to ascertain the same information, and as such have compiled a list of the most common mistakes people make and how to fix them. Some realistic and achievable to-do's to ensure your day is firing on all cylinders.
THE BEGINNING OF THE DAY
CHOOSING AN AGGRESSIVE ALARM
Having the first piece of stimuli that enters your conscious every morning be an aggressive, irritating alarm is a very effective catalyst to a bad mood. Choose a gentle, soft-sounding and gradually increasing alarm to wake you; it'll allow you to come out of sleep more naturally and peacefully.
THINKING EXERCISE TAKES LONGER THAN IT NEEDS TO
Gone are the days of spending hours in the gym. Shorter workouts are making a comeback. Shayna Schmidt, a certified personal trainer and co-founder of fitness app Livekick, (a fitness service that facilitates yoga and fitness sessions over live video with a private coach), asserts that 10 minutes, seven minutes, six minutes or even four minutes of intense exercise combined with periods of rest can lead to a drastic improvement in fitness. "High-intensity interval training packs the benefits of a longer workout and more into just a few minutes. It may sound too good to be true, but learning this exercise technique and incorporating it into your routine can save hours at the gym," she said. Spending less (but more efficient) time in the gym means you've gained new minutes or hours to devote to a new hobby, work, your family, or anything else you may have been neglecting!
LEAVING YOUR BED UNMADE
It might be a small accomplishment, but making the bed sets the tone for the entire day. Perhaps no one has extolled this virtue of morning bed-making as well as a US naval admiral in a 2014 commencement speech: "If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that it's the little things in life that matter," he said.
THE MIDDLE OF THE DAY
Ah, the cousin of overcommitting. On our busier days, we tend to overplan in advance so we're able to fit everything in. But it's extremely easy to underestimate how long tasks can take us, only to then become stressed when we fail to achieve everything we wanted to do. "Try to plan around five realistic hours worth of important work to do and leave the rest of the day to deal with any unpredictability," productivity expert Penny Duncan said.
Evidence shows that prolonged sitting can be devastating to your health. It actively promotes many chronic diseases, even if you have an impressive bill of fitness. But there's a very easy way to combat this: moving every 30 minutes for at least one minute. This could just mean standing up from your desk. "People need to be really mindful of how sedentary their lives can become. When our bodies are immobile for too long, they don't function like they're supposed to," Ms Schmidt said. If you've never calculated the number of hours you spend sitting during a day or a week — we recommend doing so. It can be a great motivator.
DOING THE HARD TASKS LAST
It's very easy (and tempting) to start the day with the simplest tasks on our to-do list. But saving the hard jobs for later can be detrimental to our productivity. "Our willpower is strongest in the morning, so it's the best time to get the most dreaded task done," Ms Duncan said. Besides, getting your least favourite job out of the way first will set you up for a superb rest-of-day.
THE END OF THE DAY
ENTERING THE SOCIAL MEDIA VORTEX
When we're winding down from our already overstimulated days, the last thing we need is an influx of additional information. Checking our phone activates our brain, keeping us awake. Even a quick scroll through Instagram can drastically prolong our sleep. We have a tendency to exacerbate this habit by buying into the idea that we all need to be constantly connected and available at a moment's notice; that if we don't immediately respond to whatever notification has flung itself across our screens, the world will fall off its axis. Sleeping is a time to log off — from everything.
ADOPTING A NEGATIVE BIAS
A negative bias is our pervasive tendency not only to notice negative incidents more willingly but to also fixate on them more vividly — a destructive and punishing habit. A tactic to combat this is to try to liquidise those thoughts as soon as you notice them.
Instead of becoming obsessed with past mistakes or conversations that can't be erased or edited, consider the situation from an unbiased perspective — what you've learned, and how you might apply that in the future. Your new mantra: reframe the situation, establish new patterns and savour positive moments.
The best part of these hacks is that they're all realistic. By ingratiating even a few of the above points into our daily routines, we can make a world of difference in our overall productivity levels. Who knows, you might even start waking up at 4am.