productivity multipliers

The three “productivity multipliers” [PMP #126]

When we think ways to improve our productivity, we usually think about things like which tools and apps to use or better ways of managing our time and prioritising tasks.

This stuff is all well and good. But there are three things you can optimise to improve your productivity that often get overlooked. In fact, I view these three variables as “productivity multipliers”. In other words, if you keep everything else unchanged, these three things, if optimised, will drastically increase your output with no other changes to your routine or systems required.

The three “productivity multiples” are diet, exercise and sleep.

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You’ve probably read about the importance of sleep, diet and exercise before. Even so, a lot of people still sacrifice sleep or don’t get enough exercise. It’s very easy to develop bad habits and in this post, I’d like to share some tips for optimising your sleep, diet and exercise so you can multiply your productivity!

Keeping everything else unchanged, optimising these three “productivity multipliers”, will drastically increase your focus, efficiency and output with no other changes to your routine or productivity systems required.Click To Tweet

If you’ve tried everything to be more productive and you’re still struggling, perhaps take another look at your sleep, diet and exercise.

For me, sleep, diet and exercise are non-negotiable parts of my life. They’re not things that I’ll try to get right if it’s convenient of if I have enough time. Just like going to work is non-negotiable, so is my sleep, diet and exercise. That’s how seriously you need to take this.

The multiplication effect

First off, let’s look at what can happen when you start to pay more attention to your sleep, diet and exercise.

When optimised, you’ll notice the biggest change to your focus, attention and energy. This means:

  • You’ll be less distracted by other people, notifications and temptations. This is because a lack of sleep and a poor diet can literally reduce your willpower and make you less disciplined.
  • You’ll be able to focus for longer without taking breaks. I’m not saying breaks aren’t necessary, but you will be able to work in longer sprints. Personally, I’m not a fan of the Pomodoro technique or working in 25 minute bursts because after 25 minutes I’m just getting into a deep work state. I’ll often work for multiple hours before taking a break and this is made possible through better sleep, diet and exercise.
  • You are less likely to experience a mid-afternoon lull in energy. This means you can operate at a higher level for much longer.
  • You are less likely to make mistakes. Author Shawn Stevenson makes this abundantly clear in his book, Sleep Smarter. A lack of sleep has been shown to directly impact your reaction time and increases the likelihood of making mistakes.
  • You’ll notice an improvement in your creative and critical thinking. Your brain requires energy to think and process information. But if your body is prioritising its available energy to digest a carb and protein rich meal, then your ability to focus will suffer.
  • You are less likely to get sick. Think about how much your productivity suffers when you’re ill. Not just because you might need to take a few days off, but even as you’re recovering you tend to be less focussed and have less energy. When you get more sleep, exercise and have a healthy diet, you are far less likely to get ill. In the last few years, I’ve only been ill a few times and it’s usually just a mild cold in the winter. I can’t even remember the last time I had to take a day off.

As you can see, even if you made no changes to your work habits or systems, by prioritising sleep, diet and exercise you can drastically improve your output and efficiency.

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So, what can you do to improve your sleep, diet and exercise?

How to get a good nights sleep

First off, let me say that I have found no better resource out there for learning about the importance of sleep than Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson (you can also read my book summary). The book contains 21 highly practical tips you can follow to get a better night’s sleep. Shawn’s book is well researched and he does a great job of breaking down the science behind his tips.

You’ve probably heard the standard advice about sleep: make the room dark, no devices before bed, take a bath etc. In my personal experience, here are some things I’ve done that have had the biggest impact on my sleep:

  • Track your sleep. This is key because it supports everything else. There are loads of apps and devices you can use to do this. I personally use the Sleep Watch app and the Apple Watch. The app automatically detects what time I fall asleep and when I wake up during the night. And because it tracks sleep using the Apple Watch, it can measure things like heart rate dip which is an important indicator of sleep quality. It also goes without saying that what gets measured gets managed and if you track your sleep, you’ll be more aware of your habits and more likely to take steps to improve your sleep.
  • Be as consistent as possible. You’ll get a much better night’s sleep and it’s easier to maintain good habits if you are consistent. This means going to sleep at the same time each night. For me, that’s about 10-10:30pm. When you’re more consistent I find it’s easier to go to sleep as your body recognises it’s time to sleep. You also wake up feeling more refreshed and recharged. This is why tracking sleep is so important as it helps to measure consistency.
  • Set a sleep goal. I like to have a sleep goal to aim for. Mine is 7.5 hours. Setting this goal gives me something to aim for and measure so I can more easily recognise if I’m getting into a bad routine. It’s interesting because my wife, Hayley, recently started tracking her sleep. Now that she has a sleep goal she’s finding she’s much more likely to go to bed earlier so she can get a good nights sleep,

The Sleep Watch app display these important metrics so you can see how consistent you’re being and whether you’re hitting your sleep goals over time.

A report showing sleep phases and heart rate during the night.

A dashboard of sleep stats including consistency and overall sleep time.

Optimising your diet

Diet is a massive topic and I’m not a doctor or nutritionist. So let me summarise the rules that I’ve always tried to live by:

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.Click To Tweet

I love this little rule because of how simple it is. This is the phrase that Michael Pollen coined after years of research and writing about food. The phrase summarises everything he’d learned and all the best practices into a simple and easy to remember framework. You can learn more about Michael’s rules in his book Food Rules.

  • “Eat Food” means eating real food. That means no processed food with a long ingredients list and large amounts of sugar. Instead, eating whole foods and healthy fats.
  • “Not too much” means not always eating until you are full and reducing portion sizes.
  • And finally, “Mostly plants” means making fruits and vegetables a bigger part of your diet. I really like that Michael uses the word “mostly” and he’s even said a bit of meat and the occasional sweet treat is okay. We’ve made a conscious effort to reduce our meat consumption and it’s actually a lot easier than you’d expect.

As well as Michael’s rules, I always try to drink enough water and keep a bottle at my desk. I limit coffee to two cups a day. I NEVER drink fizzy drinks. I TRY to only drink alcohol at the weekend and it’s usually only a beer or two per night.

Getting consistent exercise

Finally, let’s talk about exercise. When you get into a good exercise routine, you can really take your energy to another level.

Getting exercise doesn't have to be hard. If you’re not a very active person the easiest thing to do is to start by taking a few walks during the week. Often people fail to maintain fitness goals because they try and do too much too soon and it’s unsustainable. Instead, you should focus on slowly building up your exercise routine.

  • The key to exercise, just as it is with sleep, is to make it consistent. I’ve always found time blocking has helped me to achieve this. By scheduling time for going to the gym or for walks at lunch, I’m more likely to hold myself accountable.
  • Accountability is often an issue for people. If this sounds like you, then find a gym buddy or do a team sport. One of the reasons I love CrossFit is for the community and the social side of it. It’s almost as if I’m going to hang out with friends and the exercise is a bonus.
  • Instead of walking on a treadmill for an hour or doing sets of 10 on various pieces of gym equipment, try doing something physical that’s also fun. You could play a sport, go for a hike or walk to work. Exercising doesn't have to feel like a chore. When you exercise has a sense of purpose, you’re more likely to sustain the habit.

Summary

As I said at the start, these things have to be non-negotiable. It’s easy to make excuses like you don’t have time to exercise or it’s more convenient to buy an unhealthy lunch. But it’s not just your productivity you are sacrificing. It’s your health, your well-being, your ability to support your family.

When you prioritise sleep, diet and exercise you’ll notice improvements in every aspect of your life, not just your productivity. This article could have been titled: “lifestyle multipliers”.

I hope I’ve helped you to think about your own health routines. If you have any questions or feedback, please let me know in the comments below.

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