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Saturday, May 18, 2024

How to Become More Productive: Taking Care of Yourself

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An embarrassing amount of our education really comes from movies. Who reading this can’t remember a line or two from The Wolf of Wall Street? For that matter, who hasn’t known a manager that acts as if he’s Leonardo DiCaprio?

Kidding aside, though, what you see on TV does have some value – occasionally. As one example, the motto “work hard, play hard” can be words to live by. As far as the first part goes, some highly driven people are masters. Unfortunately, the value of the latter often escapes these same individuals. If you really want to make your mark and change the world for the better, there are some simple habits that can help you far more than simply working longer hours or learning new skills will.

Sometimes, effort and dedication are simply not enough to ensure success at work or in business. Even luck can’t substitute. If you really want to make it big, you have to improve yourself, and as it turns out a better you is easily within your grasp.

Work Out

Once upon a time, a group of businessmen was hanging out with Richard Branson, who you may have heard of. Someone ventured to ask him how they could be more productive, since, you know, a real superstar gives better advice than Hollywood.

He didn’t mention learning to speedread (in fact, Mr Branson is dyslexic). Getting an MBA didn’t come up, and in fact many of those who have gone through the process regard the network opportunities gained during the course as more valuable than the actual training. What he said instead was:

Work out.”

Exercising doesn’t merely delay your death and keep your arteries clear. Considering that your brain uses up around 30% of all the oxygen you inhale, keeping your cardiovascular system in shape literally helps you to think more clearly and remember better.

Richard Branson enjoys tennis and cycling (when he’s not trying to kill himself in various creative ways). Even if you don’t have time for three sets every morning, though, you can still oxygenate your tissues and refresh your mind by lifting weights, doing yoga or practising whatever appeals to you. This needn’t take more than an hour a week: a serious workout will easily turn your knees to jelly within 30 minutes, and you’ll be glad you dragged yourself out of bed for it. A set of pushups before breakfast wakes you up better than any amount of coffee, and you’ll be calm and confident for the rest of the day.

Eat Well

If your diet consists exclusively of French fries and hamburgers, you are probably harming your mental health more than you think. Low levels of folate, vitamins and minerals are pretty conclusively linked to illnesses such as anxiety and depression, as are high levels of workplace stress.

Now, these diseases are real in a physical sense, and not a moral failing or some kind of character defect. They’re not limited to cranky teenagers either; just ask anyone who has suffered a burnout episode from overwork. Also, they don’t always manifest as clearly diagnosable conditions, but may show up as things like unexplained pain or persistent tiredness.

Our emotions rule us more than we’d like to think: just think of the time your hands were shaking before you pitched to an investor or sales prospect, the time you couldn’t bring yourself to phone a client with bad news, or that time you didn’t take an opportunity because you were feeling irrationally pessimistic. If this sounds at all like you, you may just be eating wrong. Try adding a vegetable to each meal, cut out all sugar from your diet, and you’re likely to be much more effective at work within only a few days.

Find Someone to Talk To

Many people become more socially isolated the more successful they become, whether this is because they think that sharing their feelings makes them appear weak, because they have less time to spend with friends or for some other reason. What ends up happening in either case is that they start to lose the perspective that using someone else as a sounding board provides.

One good solution is to start or join a semi-formal group of people who find themselves in similar situations but aren’t actually competing against each other. In this way, everyone can freely talk about the challenges they’re facing and ask for advice when needed. Another option, particularly when times are tough, is to try a therapist or therapy to help you see your personal circumstances in a more objective light.


Religious and mystical connotations aside, regular meditation can best be thought of as a kind of mental housecleaning that helps you get rid of negative thoughts and persistent worries. It has some very real benefits; in fact, quite a lot of C-level executives swear by it. They credit regular mental exercise with everything from improved creativity to better recall to handling stress more easily, and these are presumably the kind of people who are more interested in results than hype.

Meditation is the simplest thing to explain and the hardest thing to do. Still, even making the slightest effort will be worth it. Simply put your body in a comfortable position (no need to break your knees)…and think about nothing. The trick is to actually push out thoughts like what should go onto your shopping list and whether that guy in accounting hates you, without trying to force your mind or becoming agitated.


Real success comes from creating something and offering value for value. But how can you create something when you can barely sustain yourself? Your body and brain are machines, and if you don’t maintain them, you will be making worse decisions, get tired more quickly and miss obvious opportunities. It takes effort, but hitting the gym, feeding the machine what it needs and training your mind has the best ROI you will ever see.

About the Author

Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with BetterHelp.com. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.

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