In my recent football article, here’s what I eluded to:
Is your workday structured around your physiology, or is your physiology dictated to by your workday?
On a very complex level, asleep or awake, our bodies operate in cycles. It is physiologically impossible to be firing on all cylinders for the entire day, and so the busy structure of our external world can deplete our reserve of internal endurance.
You can’t force productivity.
It was recently presented to me that the greatest barrier to productive workdays were M&M’s! It took me a while to work out that this wasn’t a reference to tasty little treats, but rather the concept of Management and Meetings.
I once worked under a manager who, I’m sure, had a KPI to interrupt work as often as he could! He would constantly pop by for a chat, to see what I was up to, and to add new tasks to my hectic schedule. He called meetings for everything, and scheduled these – without fail – in the most inconvenient times for me.
As a young ‘Go-getter‘ in my first full-time job I was eager to impress with my resilience and ability to get things done that my more senior colleagues would refuse. I started arriving to work an hour or two before anyone else, and found that I was more productive in this short space of time than I was able to be for the entire standard workday.
I ended up hating that job – despite enjoying the work – because my ability to produce good work whilst at work was so stunted by other requirements that contributed nothing to productivity.
Meetings are toxic to Productivity!
Meetings that break up the working day are disruptive and costly to business. It’s like with sleep:
Sleep is a series of progressive phases that reaches climax at the REM stage. This is where we dream, and parts of the brain associated with memory and learning are stimulated. Studies have shown that deprivation of REM sleep leads to poorer cognitive performance, and deprivation is caused by interruption to the cycle.
But more on sleep and it’s relevance to productivity another time…
The point I want to draw here is that to sleep well, we must be in an environment that supports us through all stages of sleep. Interruptions effect the quality of sleep by activating the ‘restart’ button on the processes involved.
The path to productivity is no different. Achieving great work requires a series of progressive events in which our limbic system (parts of the brain connected to evaluation and response to stimuli) is gradually wound up into a state called Flow. This is the skill of being ‘in the zone‘.
Unfortunately it can be unpredictable as to when this state will occur. However, what we know for sure is that it happens when we are in our least distracted state. So the mid-morning or mid-afternoon meeting that lurks in the back of your mind, even though it is not right now, can be a deterrent to Flow. As can visits from management and personal problems, among many of the other things that we contend with in the course of a normal day.
What’s this got to do with exercise?!
Along with good structure and management who trust in their choice of people to get the job done, exercise can assist with the process of resetting limbic response. Physiologically, it provides input that can override a prevailing sensory stimulus. So if you’re stuck with M&M’s, personal distractions or other deterrents to productivity, a short bout of good quality exercise can rewire your limbic response in order to spend greater parts of your day ‘IN the zone‘ rather than ‘TRYING to get in the zone‘!