Maximise your results: Easy Upgrades for Better Health
Entrepreneurs, remote workers and office people in general know this very well: the more time spent in front of a screen, the more we seem to neglect other areas of our lives. In this post we will go over 7 really simple tweaks you can implement today in order to keep a more balanced routine and lead a healthier lifestyle.
The entrepreneur mindset is all about efficiency, maximizing results and working smarter. This is great for conjuring up ideas, implementing success strategies and making money. In today’s fast-paced competitive work environment the stakes are high when it comes to getting ahead (1). This ‘give it all’ attitude oftentimes leads to compromising our health over getting ahead at work.
Watch those buckets! AKA my Bucket Theory
Imagine your life consisting of a series of buckets, each bucket reflecting a specific area of it. Each bucket might represent different foundational aspects of a whole, balanced and happy existence.
Tony Robins has a Pyramid of Mastery, well, I have my buckets. Now, imagine each of these buckets are labeled things like "financial", "friends", "physical health", "career", etc. it wouldn’t be long before we noticed which buckets are getting overfilled and which buckets are empty.
It is absolutely normal to fluctuate, to have periods in which we overflow the Career bucket and have only a few drops in the Friends one. That's fine, it happens.
Nonetheless, it is important to check in with ourselves and be really honest, to see which areas are in dire need of attention.
As a fellow human I am not going to label any area of life more important than other. As an experienced coach an personal trainer, however, I do believe physical health (encompassing fitness activity plus proper nutrition) is the one bucket you should never neglect for too long. Nothing else will work in the long run if you do.
As a society, we are becoming more stressed (2), more overworked (3), and less healthy (4). Therefore, it’s safe to assume that the majority of us are focusing all our effort and energy into only a few buckets. Even if you are not an entrepreneur and your goal isn’t to make it onto the Forbes 100 list, the chances are you compromise your health over work.
Mind and body are the same thing
We are becoming more and more interested in growing the intellectual mind, in achieving extremely brain-driven goals which lead to disconnecting from our bodies and, as a result, we are experiencing serious declines in our health (5).
The body is not simply a vehicle in which to transport our brains around. When we use the body in this way it begins to show signs of neglect. We become exhausted, we start to feel tension in our muscles, we begin experiencing low-grade chronic pain, we gain weight, we get more colds and our sleep takes a nosedive.
If we don’t tune into these messages, then they become louder, back pain leads to taking time off work, we begin to develop serious health issues, our weight gain becomes a cause for concern to our doctor, interrupted sleep leads to insomnia or managing it with sleeping aids and pills and so what started out as a warning light on the dashboard has turned into a need for repair. I say this to highlight the importance of prioritizing your health.
Surprisingly, your biggest asset isn’t your creative flow, your productivity level, your ability to supersede expectations or meet your strict deadlines but actually your health.
Baby steps can take you far!
Health is the most critical piece of the puzzle and without it your work will absolutely suffer, whether sooner or later. Therefore, it’s imperative to put your health first, especially if you have been overlooking it.
You might think that you simply don’t have the time to cook from scratch, sleep 8+ hours a night, exercise 3-4 times a week and do yoga and meditate. I get you; sometimes taking care of the body can feel like a full-time job. However, it doesn’t have to be.
Sure, those things I just mentioned are ideal but you don’t have to aim for ideal you just have to aim for slightly better than where you are right now. Have slightly better habits. Move slightly more than you currently do. Improve your sleep quality by just a fraction.
I am going to show you how to easily implement very small changes that meet you where you currently are.
I’m going to share with you one of my favorite methods for creating slightly better habits. It’s a method I use with my clients and it has powerful results. It is known as the compound effect. The compound effect is based on the book by Dan Hardy by the same title and it’s a great read. The author does an exceptional job at giving action-based strategies to get better results in health, finances, work and any area that you want to improve, using very simple micro changes that require very little willpower to implement.
That’s the key. That’s where the secret lies. Not relying upon willpower and sheer determination and grit but choosing small actions that pack the biggest results.
7 (simple) ways to upgrade your health
1. Breaking the Soda Chain
Sugar gives energy, there is no doubt about it but it’s also responsible for rapid fluctuations in energy levels and the productive work you might squeeze out of a can of coke lasts far less than the sugar crash after.
Diet soda drinks are no better, subbing out real sugar for artificial sugar may be better for the waistline but research shows that sweeteners lead to more cravings (6), brain fog (7), and have been shown to be addictive (8).
I know that giving up fizzy drinks is a tall order but you can certainly aim to reduce your intake. If quitting cold turkey seems unreasonable then do one of the following options:
1: Cut down by 1 soda per week (or per day), at a time of the day you will miss the least
2: Drink a glass of water for every glass of soda
If over the course of the day you drink 8 sodas (and now 8 glasses of water) you will lower your soda intake without much effort. It’s just not very comfortable to carry so much liquid and you will most likely naturally drink less sodas in the day. To take this a step further, buy only the amount of cans you are going to consume and do not keep extras in the cupboard.
2. Different Spaces for Different Tasks: Eating and Sleeping
Our environment plays one of the biggest roles in developing and maintaining negative or healthy habits. It should be the first place you look when addressing your health. What is your current environment like? Where do you eat? Where you work? Where do you rest?
Don’t work where you eat!
When possible try to eat in a different setting. Whether at home or at the office, don’t eat at the desk and certainly don’t eat whilst typing. Use those 20 minutes to truly disconnect from work. Focus on chewing your food and be fully present when eating.
Mindlessly eating whilst at the computer has shown to interrupt digestion (9) and lead to overeating (10). If you are working from home, take the leftovers from last nights dinner and sit at the dining table.
Don’t work where you sleep!
Working in bed might be tempting but it’s crucial for you to start ingraining health habits and setting work boundaries so you can enjoy your personal life. If you work in bed, your sleep is more likely to be disturbed (11), and your sleep quality will significantly reduce (12) and you will start to associate being in bed with working. Overall, this is a recipe for disaster and will not help set up and maintain healthy sleep habits.
The bedroom is solely for sleeping, if you have to work late, then work late in your office chair, not on your pillow.
3. Stretching Intervals
When we are fully immersed in a task it can be almost impossible to pull ourselves away from the computer. However, the brain needs a break. The most productive people work for 52 minutes before taking a short break.
You may not have 30 minutes to dedicate to a daily practice but you absolutely have 5 minutes every 60 minutes to stretch. Set a timer to go off on your phone at .55 to the hour. Choose 5 stretches to hold for 60s each and then go back to work. If you aren’t sure what stretches to do here are my 5 ultimate stretches for office works. If you do this stretching interval in a 7-hour workday you will have done 35 minutes of stretching. By the end of the week, that’s almost 3 hours of stretching, from 5 minutes.
4. Setting Boundaries
The time it takes you to complete a task is the amount of time you have given yourself to complete it. This is known as Parkinson’s Law (13). If I say “I have to write this blog post today” I am automatically giving myself all day to write it, which means I will probably spend 3-4 hours on it. However, if I say “I have to write a blog post in 60 minutes”, I will write it in under 60 minutes.
Urgency creates productivity. Start setting timers for your tasks. Additionally, start setting boundaries.
Do not answer work emails after working hours and do not work through every lunch break or every 5 minute scheduled stretching time. Start valuing your personal limits. Choose 1 small thing you want to set a boundary with and see it through for 3 weeks and then revisit it. For example “I will check my emails 30 minutes before 5pm when I finish work”. Schedule the amount of time you think you will need to respond to the emails (but make it shorter than you want to).
5. Tuck yourself in
Everybody talks about the miracle morning, morning rituals and routines but few people discuss the wind-down time before bed. If you simply can’t get the 8-9 hours that’s recommended then aim for 30 minutes more than what you’re currently getting. We can’t make ourselves sleep more but we can be in bed 30 minutes before we currently are getting in bed. If you only sleep 5 hours and 40 minutes and you get in bed at 11.30pm. Then aim for 6 hours of sleep by getting in bed at 11pm. You don’t have to be sleeping at this time but you can send your body signals that it’s ok to start preparing for sleep.
Over the course of weeks or months, gradually increase your time in bed. Use the compound effect; a minimal increase of time in bed (without your phone) will lead to sleeping better. To optimize your sleep even more, try blackout blinds or a nightshade, keeping the temperature low, having a dim night-light on for reading and putting your phone on airplane mode.
6. 10 reps of something
I wouldn’t be a good Personal Trainer if I left movement off the list. I know that sometimes dedicating 1 hour to a workout 3-4 times a week just isn’t on the cards. It should be a priority but it isn’t.
This said, you can perform 10 repetitions of an exercise. I got this one from Tim Ferris and his morning routine. Most people can’t go from never working out to going to the gym consistently. But you can go from doing nothing to doing 10 reps of something. Choose a specific time or times a day to perform 10 reps. Choose your cue/trigger and then perform the movement.
For example, do 10 bodyweight squats whilst you wait for the coffee to brew. Do 10 push-ups on your way to the toilet. I know it sounds silly but it’s a small, minimal effort habit that you can do in less than 30 seconds. I have a client who performs calf raises whilst she brushes her teeth and she uses these ‘waiting times’ as a way to stay active. It really works for her and it makes her feel good to prioritize movement. I do recommend choosing movements you like to make you stick to the habit.
BONUS: Upgrade your coffee Morning Coffee I am a lover of coffee; this black liquid magic is literally the reason I am excited to wake up. If you are a coffee-with-2-sugars-and-one-milk kind of person but you’re also all about energy and increasing brain function then I’d highly recommend upgrading your coffee:
1 tablespoon of coffee grinds 1 tablespoon MCT oil 1 scoop of collagen protein.
In the 5 minutes you’re waiting on your toast, porridge or eggs, whip out the blender, pour in your brewed coffee and add MCT oil and collagen. What you’ll get is a delicious frothy coffee with protein and healthy fats. MCT oil is similar to coconut oil but it is able to bypass digestion and go straight to the liver to be processed for immediate energy (14). Additionally, collagen protein is great for the skin, hair and nails, as well as bones, joints and connective tissue health.
7. Throw veggies on a plate
If you are working from home, then you have access to the kitchen. You might not have time to put together a healthy lunch in 20 minutes but you can grab a handful of greens and throw them next to last night's leftovers.
It might be hard to plan ahead and have roasted veggies and if you don’t want to prep a salad then go in the fridge and grab a handful of arugula/baby spinach. Make it a habit to always have a little fresh green on your plate, even if eating pizza.
Life can get really busy. Our goals and deadlines can easily drag us into mindless routines that are not going to be beneficial in the long -and not so long- run. We need to take some time today and reflect on the areas that are being neglected, especially if they are related to our health.
We may think we don't have the time, that real change will only come from some radical turn that simply can not be fitted into our lifestyle today, so we keep on postponing the moment of taking action. This is not necessarily true, remember the Compound Effect:
Small, smart choices + Consistency + Time = Radical Difference
Start now: pick a few of the simple hacks I have shared with you, you don't need to go all big if you don't think it's feasible for you today. Feeling better will have a positive snow-ball effect and you will soon find yourself ticking every number off this list.
I hope you've found this post helpful,
- (1) Workplace stress: A neglected aspect of mental health wellbeing: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5819024/
- (2) Work stress and mental health in a changing society: https://academic.oup.com/eurpub/article/18/3/238/517936
- (3) Chronic Overworking: Cause Extremely Negative Impact on Health and Quality of Life: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/333746827_Chronic_Overworking_Cause_Extremely_Negative_Impact_on_Health_and_Quality_of_Life
-(4) A systematic analysis from the WHO/ILO Joint Estimates of the Work-related Burden of Disease and Injury: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412021002208
- (5) The mind-body connection: not just a theory anymore: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/5263188_The_mind-body_connection_not_just_a_theory_anymore, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3115289/
- (6) Gain weight by “going diet?” Artificial sweeteners and the neurobiology of sugar cravings: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2892765/
- (7) Studies on the effects of aspartame on memory and oxidative stress in brain of mice: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23280025/
- (8) Intense Sweetness Surpasses Cocaine Reward: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1931610/
- (9) Mindful Eating: A Review Of How The Stress-Digestion-Mindfulness Triad May Modulate And Improve Gastrointestinal And Digestive Function: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7219460/
- (10) Eating attentively: a systematic review and meta-analysis of the effect of food intake memory and awareness on eating: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3607652/
- (11) The Relationship Between Sleep and Work: A Meta-Analysis: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/311096940_The_Relationship_Between_Sleep_and_Work_A_Meta-Analysis
- (12) Blue light emitted by screens damages our sleep, study suggests: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/08/170822103434.htm
- (13) The relationship between time pressure and performance: A Field Test of Parkinson's Law: https://www.jstor.org/stable/3000155
- (14) Short- and medium-chain fatty acids in energy metabolism: the cellular perspective: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27080715/