Work better, do more in 2020: Get healthy so you can fire on all cylinders

Welcome to the first full work week of the year. Over the next five days, we'll explore 20 techniques that'll light your productivity on fire. Today, Day 4, we look at how to stay healthy so you can be your productive best.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor
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The fact is most of us have to be productive in order to get work done and get paid. Fortunately there are techniques you can use to fire up your productivity, fuel your motivation, switch on your inspiration, keep you healthy, help you quantify your life, and get back into the groove.

Before we kick off the list, one quick note: different techniques will work better for different people. I've used all these techniques from time to time and they've kept me on deadline and on track. There are also a lot more beyond what I'm discussing here. Feel free to share your favorites in the comments below.

For now, let's dive into tips for getting and staying healthy.

The full series

Exercise regularly

In the first article of this series, I discussed daily patterns. I recently added daily exercise to my pattern. Making sure I get in at least two 15 minute exercise sessions has become one of my big rocks for each day, at a higher priority than even my project work.

Stephen Covey used to talk about a big rocks strategy as a way of determining your priorities. The idea was that if you fill a jar with sand, there won't be room for big rocks. But if you first fill the jar with big rocks, there will be plenty of room for sand in the nooks and crannies. When it comes to productivity, putting in the big rocks first means making sure you get the most important things done each day.

By making exercise my biggest rock, I'm making sure I stay fit. There are a lot of additional benefits ascribed to exercise, which can help increase your focus, keep you healthy, make you feel better, help you burn off stress, and more. You don't have to work out twice a day like I do, but get some physical activity with regularity. It'll be a big win.

Eat real food

Author and Harvard professor Michael Pollan talks about eating "what your great-grandma ate." The idea is that back in the day, families didn't have access to supermarkets filled with frozen food, weren't constantly exposed to hyper-salient concoctions designed to fire taste buds, and food-like substances made up of chemicals rather than actual food.

My great-grandmother would not have known what to do with a microwave-ready omelette, for example. She wouldn't have understood fast food or the idea of eating out of a bag, and certainly wouldn't "cook" by logging into Door Dash or Uber Eats.

Instead, she made food out of food. Veggies, meat, chicken, grains, and other ingredients were combined into breakfast, lunch and dinner. Sure, there was flavor, but it was imbued with recognizable spices rather than chemical flavorants developed in a lab. Recipes were passed down from parent to child, not designed based on focus group reactions.

I struggle with this all the time. I'm very busy, so having to take hours out of my day to cook (and clean up) is often nearly impossible. I've lived off food delivery pretty much since I left college. But cooking and eating real meals is healthier. Ever since my wife and I started using the Home Chef food box service (which uses familiar ingredients, but saves time with selection), we've been healthier.

I'm not advocating a complete change in your diet. I am advocating you reduce the amount of junk food you put in your mouth and increase the amount of healthy food. If nothing else, you'll poop better. And nothing -- I mean nothing -- improves productivity better than a good poop.

Get up at the same time every day

This particularly fits those of us who work from home, because we remote workers tend not to have externally-imposed work schedules. But even if you commute and show up at work five days a week on time, consider extending that to all seven days. I get up at 8am every day, even Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays.

While the first hour is painful, I've found that getting up at the same time even on weekends helps avoid that incredibly painful Monday morning slam. Otherwise, you have to reset your daily clock hours earlier, and Mondays are hard enough as it is.

I'm a big believer in quantified health, so I track my sleep with my Apple Watch. Read this article to learn my usage pattern, which makes sure my watch is always charged. The app I use is called AutoSleep and has proven very informative.

Read an analog book

I used to read books all the time, but a few years ago I got out of the practice of reading paper. I read online, and on my smartphone. With a huge library of Kindle books available to me at any time, this seemed like an ideal way to go.

But paper books still offer something digital books don't. They allow you to both be in the world and escape the world at the same time. Sure, you can read on your smartphone in the dark, but to read a paper book, you need actual light -- even if it's just a candle. Moving through the pages requires a tactile action, and the books themselves have texture, smell, and a physicality that digital media can't reproduce.

Also: 41 books every techie should read TechRepublic

In terms of sparking your productivity, you can read something instructive and non-fiction or even lose yourself in a story. One may spark your imagination or teach you something, the other will give your brain that essential break it needs to get back to work later.

Oh, and here's our first tip-within-a-tip: In addition to paper books, consider audio books. I used to buy tapes and now we have an Audible account. But rather than listening to fiction when I'm driving, I use the time to learn something -- usually something outside of my normal interest area so I can round out my understanding and get insights into new areas and disciplines.

Our second tip-within-a-tip is this: screens are bad for sleep hygiene. If you want to improve your sleep, experts recommend turning off the light from screens. Instead, read a book using ambient light.


So there you go. As you get fired up for 2020, keep in mind these health and wellness suggestions. I listed four here, but there are many more. Feel free to add your suggestions in the comments below. And stay tuned for our next installment, get inspired for an innovative 2020 and beyond, coming tomorrow.

You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.

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