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Marek Struszczyk

Co-Founder ManagerUp

Last modified: June 8th, 2023

Did know what you eat can have a direct impact on how successful you can be at work? In fact, unhealthy habits can be pretty serious productivity killers.

Let’s face it, we all have at least one unhealthy habit – probably more than one if we’re being honest – and they are hard to shake.

You’re probably not even aware of how they affect your body until you start to feel their negative effects. While the degree of harm can vary depending on the unhealthy habit, everything—from drinking too much coffee to sitting 40 hours a week—is damaging your health and therefore greatly hampering your work performance.

Unhealthy habits have an accumulative effect that impacts your ability to focus and prevents your brain from running optimally. They can cause your sharp mind to become foggy and disorganized, making long workdays feel like an impossible mountain to climb.

Let’s look at some of the biggest, scientifically proven productivity killers, as well as some top tips on how to defeat them and become more productive every day.

1.  Sugar highs and crashes from poorly planned breakfasts

Do you hurry to work without eating? Maybe you grab something quick and easy on your way to work—a doughnut, a Snickers bar, or (if you really need to get the job done) a Monster energy drink. At the onset, this works great, that is until you suffer the inevitable sugar crash and end up with a headache. Not to mention the long-term effects of this type of diet on your physical health.

According to Harvard researchers, sugar intake has been linked directly to an overall reduction in health. But it doesn’t stop there, it also impacts your productivity at work due to spikes and declines in your blood sugar levels throughout the day.

How breakfast sets you up for a productive day

Regularly eating a nutritious breakfast improves your mental focus, recall, and processing speed. Your metabolism slows overnight. So rushing out the door without properly starting your engine will leave you lethargic in mind and body.

Just by eating breakfast, you help your body achieve its peak function. Breakfast is especially good for your heart, your stomach, and your bones and it kickstarts your metabolic activity for the day.

Research has even found a link between people who regularly skip breakfast and higher blood cholesterol levels.

To kick the unhealthy habit of bad breakfasts try to start your day with a healthy breakfast. Start with natural yogurt with active probiotics, wholegrain cereal and wholemeal bread with boiled or poached eggs, nut butter or cheese. And be sure to include some fruit too.

This will provide your body with vitality-inducing nutrients to assimilate gently in the morning. Whole foods take longer to digest and are healthier for your digestive system and they will keep you satisfied until lunchtime.

2. Carbs curb productivity

Carbohydrates have become a nutritional bugbear in the past decade or two, and for good cause. Nobody can deny that they are a vital key component of a healthy diet. They should not, however, be the most significant portion of any meal. In fact, when it comes to leadership, it turns out that an excess of carbohydrates might be detrimental to productivity.

Carbohydrates are heavily present in foods that are easily accessible during our working days. Just think about all of those sandwiches, rice dishes, noodles and other sweet options.

Carbohydrate-rich foods stimulate the body to create a large amount of insulin, which floods the brain with sleep chemicals such as tryptophan. Leading to diminished daily energy stores.

Neurochemicals like tryptophan and serotonin produce feelings of drowsiness. These neurochemicals are responsible for making you feel like taking a nap following lunch.

Alternative Foods to Maximize Productivity

Skipping carbs entirely might be challenging, but there are some key foods you can include in your meals that can help fight the effects of a carb-heavy diet. If you can’t cut all carbs, start by replacing some with some of these items:

  1. Almonds: Almonds are a go-to meal for improving focus. They are easy to store and give plenty of good fats and calories. The protein in almonds also keeps you full without making you sluggish.
  1. Bananas: A banana provides your body with the daily amount of glucose it needs to function efficiently. Bananas are also high in carbs, so they keep you satiated longer, reducing kitchen visits.
  1. Eggs: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Eggs are abundant in choline, a B vitamin that improves memory and reaction time. The preparation time is low, and the benefits are numerous.

  2. Apples with Peanut Butter: Combine apples with a scoop or two of natural peanut butter for the perfect blend of energy and protein.

3. Sitting too much

The Lancet” medical journal recently found that physical inactivity costs the world economy $67.5 billion a year in lost productivity and healthcare costs.

On top of physical issues like back problems and weight gain, the risk of experiencing depressive symptoms also increased 52% from 10+ hours per week of sitting and looking at a TV or computer screen. And even the slightest levels of depression can result in productivity declines according to researcher analysis of the DIAMOND initiative.

How to be active in sedentary situations

It doesn’t have to be difficult to find ways to increase your mobility at regular intervals to break the cycle of sitting. Seize opportunities to get up and walk over to coworkers or take the stairs instead of the elevators.

In the morning before work or during your lunch break, consider including yoga or Pilates to get the body moving. Daily aerobic activity is recommended to keep your heart, lungs, and circulation healthy. Sports like football, tennis, and squash also really get the endorphins pumping and are fantastic stress relievers.

Over time, physical activity encourages the formation of new mitochondria inside your cells, resulting in your body being able to create more Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) – an energy-carrying molecule. More ATP means more energy for your brain and the more brain energy you have, the greater your cognitive output.

With more ATP, you will be more capable of solving whatever complex business problems come your way.

4. Drinking too much coffee

While caffeine is safe for most people, if you’re drinking six cups or more every day then your daily cup(s) of Joe is more likely an unhealthy habit.

All that caffeine builds up in your body. It can interrupt your circadian rhythms, which dictate when you feel tired, need to sleep and feel most alert during the day.

What’s more, even though caffeine-rich drinks like coffee and tea are known to improve energy, they’re also known to exacerbate weariness after the caffeine has left your system.

A meta-analysis of 41 scientific results indicated that although caffeinated energy drinks boosted alertness and mood for many hours, they also left people fatigued the next day.

Healthier hydrating alternatives

While one or two cups of tea or coffee every day is perfectly healthy, you also need to include other hydrating drinks as well. Consecutively drinking caffeinated drinks can dehydrate the body and increase tension.

Fruit juices are a great option, though eating whole fruits instead will stave off hunger in between meals. Water is always your best option for hydration. If you struggle, however, to drink water on its own consider vitamin water or even diluting fruit juices with more water. The key is to hydrate your body, so include as much water as possible.

5. Working like You’re Elon Musk

Some companies have a culture that encourages employees to work through lunch or stay late to show commitment to their job.

However, as discovered by John Pencavel from Stanford University, beyond a certain threshold of around 50 hours of work per week, productivity begins to sharply diminish.

People who consistently work longer than normal hours will likely become overly fatigued and lose any kind of personal life. Which leads to lower productivity when compared to those who balance their work and life commitments.

How to make time to relax

  1. Delegate work: Redistributing part of your work will free up your time, giving you a chance to focus on health and relaxation.
  2. Just say no: You should only accept opportunities that are consistent with your goals. And say ‘no’ to activities and initiatives that aren’t in line with your objectives and ambitions.
  3. Meditate Daily: Schedule a time to meditate for 10 to 20 minutes before the turmoil of your day begins. What might seem like a greater drain on your already limited time, meditating can actually be beneficial. It trains your mind to pay closer attention to each moment and step back from the constant sense of urgency that comes with being a business leader.

By managing energy more skillfully, it’s possible to get more done, in less time and more sustainably.

Break free from your unhealthy habits and build good ones

Whether you’ve developed one or all of these unhealthy habits over the years, it’s crucial to understand that the consequences of these poor habits build over time and must be addressed.

While sometimes breaking the rules may be acceptable, doing so regularly is not. By continuing to mistreat your body, you will make it more difficult to fulfill your professional objectives.

To maximize your chances of success, make a deliberate effort to break free from your unhealthy habits and concentrate on building good ones.


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