By lifestyle, I mean how you’re living your life. In this chapter we’re focusing on what you do when you’re not at work. One of the reasons I chose to start with lifestyle is that it’s something you can address without drawing attention to yourself at work. It’s also an easy way to show you that you can do something about your behaviours – once you become aware of them and their potential consequences beyond your front door.
If you’re still wondering what influence your lifestyle choices could possibly have on your productivity, type ‘sleep deprivation’ into your search engine of choice and hit ‘enter’.
Here’s a list of some of the effects of sleep deprivation* you’ll find that relate directly to work performance.
- Reduced alertness
- Shortened attention span
- Slower than normal reaction time
- Poor judgement
- Reduced awareness of the environment and situation
- Reduced decision-making skills
- Poor memory
- Reduced concentration
- Increased likelihood of mentally ‘stalling’ or fixating on one thought
- Increased likelihood of moodiness and bad temper
- Reduced work efficiency
- Loss of motivation
- Errors of omission – making a mistake by forgetting to do something
- Errors of commission – making a mistake by doing something, but choosing the wrong option
- Micro-sleep – brief periods of involuntary sleeping that range from a few seconds to a few minutes in duration.
*Source: Better Health Victoria
For more on the effects of sleep deprivation and the benefits of sleep see Why is sleep so important to your physical and mental health.
Living in separate boxes
We tend to divide our work and home lives into separate boxes and ignore the impacts each has on the other. You’re no doubt familiar with stories about workaholics, people who destroy their family lives by spending too much time at work. Those stories actually illustrate the interconnectedness of the different parts of your life, so it’s really not all that surprising, when you think about it, that your home life can impact your work life, and, therefore, your productivity. And, it’s not just your sleeping pattern. It’s all those things, like the following, that can cause you stress.
If things are going well in your relationship with your significant other, chances are you’re feeling good about going to work and the state of your relationship is not distracting you from the task at hand. If, on the other hand, you’re experiencing some relationship issues, you’ll probably be finding it difficult to concentrate on the job. You may even be having some trouble sleeping, and we’ve already seen what that can do. This is one aspect of your life you can do something about if it’s causing you stress and impacting on your productivity. You might only need to talk to your partner. You might need to make some behavioural changes or get help to sort out your issues. You may need to end the relationship. Point is, you can either do something about it or simply hope it will go away. The choice is yours.
Most money problems are self-inflicted. Sure, there will be times when something comes out of left field that you weren’t expecting but, if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll know that your money problems are the result of spending more than you earn. Take a look at your credit cards. They exist to allow you to do just that.
If you’re worrying about how you’re going to pay this month’s bills when you’re supposed to be working, you will not be as productive as you could be. The good news is money problems are fixable, if you’re prepared to exercise some self-control when it comes to spending. But, again, the choice is yours to make.
Health and fitness
Sometimes you can be your own worst enemy, especially when it comes to how you look after your body. You eat fast food. You settle for being a couch potato. You mess with your brain chemistry by drinking too much alcohol or using so called recreational drugs and narcotics, or overusing medical opiates. You reduce your lung capacity by smoking cigarettes or weed, despite all the health warnings on the packet. If you’re a ‘party animal’, you might want to go back and read that list of effects of sleep deprivation, and ask yourself why they do blood tests and impose sleep restrictions on pilots and people operating machinery in underground mines. You might only be operating a computer but you’ll face the same problems.
When you think about it, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to work out that if you’re overweight, unfit, and mess with your brain chemistry and lung capacity, you probably won’t be at your best when you turn up for work.
But there’s more to wellbeing than physical fitness and healthy eating habits. There’s also how you look after yourself from a mental or spiritual perspective. If you want to operate optimally in the workplace, you need to give yourself some downtime and have some fun. You’re not going to be productive if you’re running on empty most of the time. Fortunately, there are ways of addressing these issues but they all require one thing: self-discipline.
The extent of your family responsibilities changes with time. If you have young children they get sick, they have trouble sleeping, and they’re involved in all sorts of things. If you have elderly parents you may end up with carer responsibilities. Point is, if you have family responsibilities there will be times when they impact on your work commitments. If they’re regular and ongoing, it’s probably a good idea to discuss them with your employer and plan around them. There is no point in trying to hide them. That’s a stress you don’t need. Sometimes you have family emergencies and you either can’t go in or you need to leave work early. You need a plan for how you’re going to handle those emergencies that includes how you’re going to meet any critical deadlines.
If your employer is unsympathetic to supporting you meet your family responsibilities, it may be time to find a new job or to seek help from your wider family or the community. Sometimes people only need to be asked.
The next step is to conduct a self-audit of your lifestyle choices. A self-audit can help you become aware of behaviours that may be impacting on your productivity – if you’re honest with yourself. Your findings will either confirm that you have no issues or that you have a few things to attend to in your own time that may help you increase your productivity.
This is a draft of material that will eventually appear in Everyday Productivity, the next title in my Everyday Business Skills books. Over the next few weeks I’ll be writing a series of Everyday Productivity posts, and providing you with an opportunity to download a free copy of the workbook to complete the exercises designed to help you get the most out of the content. Please feel free to offer feedback in the comments.
Peter Mulraney has forty years experience working in schools, banking, and government. He is the author of the Inspector West crime series, the Living Alone series of self-help books for men, Sharing the Journey: Reflections of a Reluctant Mystic, The New Girlfriend, and the Everyday Business Skills series.