After the recent Philadelphia Amtrak derailment train safety is in the news and on many commuters’ minds. Early reports suggest that the crash may have occurred when the engineer failed to control the train’s speed.
There was a time when the conductor was the captain of the train. He supervised the crew, made sure the proper fare was paid, and protected the safety of everyone aboard. Since many trains used the same tracks, miscalculating departure by only a few minutes could cause a deadly collision. Accurate time meant the difference between life and death.
My 1907 Rockford pocket watch weighs heavy in the hand. Manufactured in my hometown over a half century before my birth, the nickel surface and rounded glass still sparkle in the light. A hundred years ago, it hung securely from a thick chain attached to a railroad conductor’s vest slipping in and out of his lined pocket hundreds of times a day.
Conductors treasured Rockford watches because of their accuracy and durability. Before each shift, the crew set their timepieces to the conductor’s master watch. During the journey, the conductor supervised the engineer and brakeman, assuring that the proper amount of fuel and brakes were used to maintain the correct speed in order to arrive safely on time stop after stop.
And while the prestige of a Rockford watch has been replaced with an Apple watch, we are still all obsessed with time. We pack our schedules with calls, meetings and travel at the risk of health, friendships and family. Speed of business and lack of time are often blamed for our failure to fully realize our goals.
Want More Time? Be More Productive
As managers and executives it is imperative to figure out ways to be more productive in the time we have. The secret to improving productivity is in conditioning. Top athletes know their bodies and brains are malleable. Through discipline, Olympic competitors push their natural limits by conditioning their bodies and minds to optimize available energy and stamina. As corporate athletes, we can push our natural limits in order to increase our daily productivity, extend focus and add quality of life.
Like any athlete, we must optimize our fuel intake and maximize short breaks. This will condition our bodies to effectively use available energies and extend our peak focus longer and when we need it most.
The process begins with tracking. Monitor your food intake and the energy generated. It’s fast and easy to track. Set a reminder on your smartphone for the bottom of each hour. Pick a number that represents how much energy you feel with 1 as low, 4 as average, and 7 as totally energized. Note the times of each meal, drink or snacks you consume. Once you learn your natural energy wave you can start conditioning to improve and extend your productivity.
It is Not Only What You Eat but Also When You Eat
Most people are accustomed to eating breakfast, a large lunch and a large dinner. This generates a roller coaster ride of glucose, or blood sugar, in our systems. The peaks and valleys are hard on your concentration and mood.
When glucose levels run high after a large meal, the body diverts energy to process the excess sugars. The pancreas releases insulin while the kidneys filter the sugars out of your system. This creates frequent urination and thirst. As a result, you feel less alert and short-tempered as the energy available for focus is reduced, causing the “brain fog” we have all experienced after a large lunch.
It’s tempting to skip breakfast or lunch when on a tight deadline or traveling. This creates a glucose level crash and activates the liver to convert muscle and fat to sugar in order to feed your cells. You get extremely hungry which can lead to overeating, which in turn causes another glucose spike.
Ever been so hungry you can’t think straight? Had trouble focusing on your screen before lunch? Experienced a headache after going too long without eating? These are common effects of hypoglycemia or low blood sugar.
To optimize concentration, target your fuel intake to extend your time in the mid-zone between glucose peaks and crashes. Start your day with a protein and fiber-filled breakfast to fuel your system. Add a light snack (100 calories or less) between meals and replace sugary drinks with water. You will find you have more focus, energy and time in the safe zone.
Physical activity equals accomplishments
Our bodies are designed for movement. We now know that sitting and staring at computer screens for long periods can cause a myriad of health issues. To improve your productivity, engage in scheduled short bursts of physical activity to recharge your energy battery and flatten glucose levels.
Dr. Jack Groppel and Dr. Ben Wiegand reveal in “A New Performance Paradigm” that when we move most of our brain lights up, resulting in improved cognition, creativity and problem solving. Taking short breaks every 90 to 120 minutes will increase your productivity and improve your health. Adding a short walk up a few flights of stairs after a light lunch can boost your energy level. Or use your Outlook calendar or smartphone to schedule reminders to stretch or take short breaks. You will notice the difference in energy and concentration, and sharpen your focus and eliminate that dreaded afternoon brain fog.
Since the brain is wired to focus in short bursts, increase productivity by breaking your work into chunks of 90 minutes or less. Your brain prefers deadlines, so adding stopping points will boost your focus. Even if you fail to complete the task in the allotted time, you can accomplish more than by pushing through. Instead, work on another short task before revisiting and finalizing.