Face it. We don’t always take care of ourselves as well as we should. It’s hard, because life gets in the way—doubly so if we have a busy and productive work life. And when faced with the choice between hard work and convenience, guess which one wins out most of the time?
But whether it’s convenient or not, maintaining our health should come first, before our daily to-do’s, before our work. Why? Because if we aren’t healthy, we can’t be successful, either—at home or at work.
Let’s cover the basics—food, sleep, exercise—and why you can’t ignore them:
It’s lunch time. You’ve been working since six o’clock in the morning. When those hunger pangs strike, the most appealing option seems to be greasy, ultra-convenient fast food. The last thing you want is a paltry little meal like a salad. But what are those excessive calories found in burgers and fries actually doing to your post-lunch productivity?
What you eat affects your productivity in different ways, so eat smart.
Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Ron Friedman lays out the facts about how different foods affect work performance. He cites a study where participants reported “food consumption, mood and behaviors over a period of 13 days.” The participants who ate less high-fat meals and more fruits and vegetables were “happier, more engaged and more creative” than those who opted for high-fat, high-calorie lunches.
We tend to think simplistically about food. Those of us who face a daily barrage of emails, reports and mounds of work like to think of it as “fuel.” That analogy is a little misleading, however. As Friedman points out, you can expect a certain level of consistency with fuel. Food, on the other hand, is less predictable. What you eat affects your productivity in different ways, so eat smart.
Related: SUCCESS Recipes: Kale Caesar Salad
When your work life is demanding, you keep weird hours. You get to the office early, before the sun’s up, and you leave late, after dark. At home, you take out your laptop to “finish up a few things.” Three hours later, you crawl into bed. And then you wake up before the sun does to do it all again—constantly in a fog.
Maybe it just kind of comes with the job. Even if you play the role of night owl and early bird, there are still steps you can take to ensure you’re getting adequate rest. But first, why is it so important?
Sleep deprivation has been linked to higher levels of stress, higher blood pressure levels and lower brain function. It’s safe to say your performance will suffer if you aren’t catching enough ZZZs.
So, how does one combat chronic sleeplessness? Creating (and sticking to) a regular schedule certainly helps. If you work primarily from home, create definitive work hours, making sure you give yourself enough time to unwind after finishing work. If work is still on your mind when you hit the sack, you’ll probably find yourself lying awake for a while. And when your alarm clock goes off, get up no matter what. Resist the temptation to oversleep and screw up your sleep cycle.
Stress can get the best of us at times, and what could be better for you than melting your problems (and fat) away with every rep, stride or lift at the gym? Not much. Working out is a great outlet for relieving stress, to distract you from daily pressures—and to get fit at the same time. Regular exercise wards off depression and a host of other mental blocks that make success hard to achieve.
As much as the idea of “falling on your sword” seems romantic, we can’t expect to kill ourselves with work and get very far.
Of course, we could talk about exercising more until we’re blue in the face. The important thing is that we actually get out and do it. Schedule 30 minutes to an hour of workout time into your day. Don’t promise yourself you’ll do it at lunch or when you get home. Nine times out of 10, the drain of the day prevents us from lifting a finger when we get back to the house. Instead, treat your workout as an essential aspect of your success. It’s not just something you should do; it’s something you must do.
As much as the idea of “falling on your sword” seems romantic, we can’t expect to kill ourselves with work and get very far. Self-maintenance is critical to your success because it allows you to go further, get more done and most importantly, be happy doing it.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in October 2015 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy and comprehensiveness.