It’s difficult to nail down an effective, efficient workflow. There are many things to take into account — your diet, your environment and immediate surroundings, even the temperature in the room can impact how much, or how little, you’re getting done. We can spend a lot of time studying different strategies and attempting to make everything perfect, but sometimes no matter what we do, we just don’t see the results we’re hoping for in terms of increased productivity and output.
Well, I added something to my daily routine that helped me increase the quality of my work, function in a more clear-headed way, and ultimately become much more productive: I started working out in the middle of the workday.
I have to begin with the admission that I’m fortunate in that I am able to work remotely, and more or less dictate how, when, and where I do my job. That’s an advantage a lot of people don’t have, so it’s important to mention. I also have access to a gym, 24 hours a day, seven days per week, in my apartment building.
And I must bring up the circumstances under which I added my mid-day workout, and that allowed me to act as an observer as well as participant in seeing how it impacted my workflow. Due to a lingering (but relatively minor) medical issue, I had pretty much given up on serious exercise for a couple of years. After having said issue surgically repaired, with ample recovery time, I was able to devise an exercise strategy with the intent of not only getting back into shape, but also seeing how physical activity affected my productivity.
I’m happy to say it’s paid off.
I suspected it would, as science backs up the notion that physical activity is closely associated with improved cognitive ability. When I exercise, I find that my head clears, and I’m able to think with improved clarity. It also opens me up to an influx of ideas — something else that researchers have linked to exercise. But the real trick, I think, was adding the workout into my routine during the middle of the day, rather than in the morning (I would become exhausted earlier), or after work (I would miss out on the boost in cognitive function).
I came up with an exercise plan (including both weight lifting and cardio), and set the wheels in motion. It took a while to get the right pieces in place through trial and error, but I finally figured out what worked best for me.
First, I worked out at night. Then I tried going to the gym early in the morning. Finally, I settled into a routine at which I was going at around 11 a.m. or so, which is about five hours after I typically begin my work day (I’ve become a morning person). This, I found, was the ‘sweet spot’.
Essentially, I would (and do) spend the first chunk of my day responding to emails, outlining, and doing other tasks that don’t require my brain to be firing on all cylinders — all while waking up, drinking coffee, and eating my daily breakfast: three eggs, no yolk, on an English muffin. I am able to get the lion’s share of my work done this way, and leave the ‘surgical strikes’, or things that require some serious critical thought, for the post-workout period.
This is reminiscent of the time management hacks brought up in Tim Ferriss’ book The Four Hour Workweek, in so much that I was basically minimizing the time I was really ‘working hard’ throughout the day. It’s not an exact translation, but a similar principle for those of you familiar with the book.
I then head to the gym around the middle of the day, laptop in hand. I continue to work from the gym, finish up, head back, eat, drink, shower, and then tackle the tasks I had been putting off. That’s my workflow, in a nutshell.
Adopting this schedule has helped me become more efficient, but it wasn’t necessarily my output that saw a spike; it was more of an increase in quality. In fact, if I look back at the amount of work I was doing, I’m probably doing less. But I’m getting more bang for my buck. I’ve merely found a way to get the most out of the hours I am spending on the clock.
The difference has really been in quality. I’ve made fewer mistakes, and have been able to work more efficiently, think with more clarity, and even be more assertive and confident. The big difference has been in the intangibles, which can be hard to describe or measure — but I’m able to better get in ‘the zone’, for lack of a better term.
This was a big change, and it’s not something that everyone is going to be able to incorporate into their daily routine, unfortunately. And it was coupled with changes to my diet and sleeping patterns as well. But once I was able to nail it down, I’m reaping the benefits.
Will it work for you? The science suggests it should. But then again, everyone is different. Either way, if you’re looking to boost your productivity, try giving your routine a shakeup, or adding exercise if you aren’t already.