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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Lauren Zakrajsek

Recent Posts by Lauren Zakrajsek:

Productivity Hacks: Break Up Your Time, Not Your Attention

GettyImages-509630263Welcome to the third installment of the productivity hacks series. Last time, I tackled the subject of the Ivy Lee Method for prioritizing your tasks. Now that we’re on board with what tasks are on the docket, I’ll dive into how to manage your time effectively in order to start putting some checkmarks next to those to-dos.

How Much Time Do You Have for Attentive Work?

Research has suggested that the absolute maximum amount of “time-on-task” attention a person can have on any given day is only about 3–4 hours. And that’s on the high end of the spectrum. Now, this “time-on-task” notion is specifically applied to attentive work. This does not include emails we’ve sent, meetings we sit in on, or reports that we read. It refers to the bandwidth or mental attention directed toward novel or creative tasks (think of things like writing an article, working on a presentation, etc.). What this implies, though, is that you need to be smart about how we divvy up those 3–4 hours of productivity to get the most out of them.

Divide Up Your Time and Create a Sense of Urgency

Introducing the Pomodoro Technique to do just that: break up your time into manageable chunks to maximize attention and focus.

I think we’ve all been here, right? You block off an hour or two to get a project done, but before you know it, you’re checking your email, or falling prey to the endless scroll of Twitter because there’s this illusion that you still have so much time to get the assignment done. Before you know it, that hour has flown by, and all you have to show is a sentence or two on the page. This is exactly where the Pomodoro Technique can help. It instills a sense of urgency that ordinarily doesn’t kick in until much later. You work with the time you have, not against it. So, what are the specifics?

Typically, the Pomodoro Technique divides your time into 25-minute work periods followed by a 5-minute break. You then string together these intervals, usually three or four in a row, before taking a slightly longer break of 15 to 20 minutes. If you have an hour-long office period, you can easily rock out two rounds of pomodoros before having to change gears.

Personal Experience: Put Away Your Phone

Here’s a little extra anecdotal evidence from my own trial and error. I recommend physically putting your phone either completely packed away or on the other side of the room on silent. The temptation to answer that notification or “just take a peek” at Instagram is enough to completely derail any momentum that you have established. So how do you keep track of those 25-minute blocks if you’re not using the timer on your phone? I recommend either an old-school digital alarm, or a repeat timer such as this. Set it, leave it, and get down to business.

Adapt the Method to a Way That Works Best for You

If you find yourself in a groove when the timer goes off, have no fear. I’ve had success extending that pomodoro to 30 or 35 minutes before taking a slightly longer 7- or 8-minute break. At the end of the day, use the method to your advantage. Some people have more success with the 25/5-minute setup, while others thrive with something closer to a 45/15 split. Either way, you’re using the concept of purposeful breaks to ensure that your attention stays high.

For the fourth and final part of this series, I’ll explore the dark side of desperately wanting to be productive: productivity shaming. It’s a not-so-talked-about concept that a few of you high achievers may experience. We’ll talk about how to combat it going forward. Until then!

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This blog was written by Lauren Zakrajsek, NIFS Health Fitness Instructor, Personal Trainer, and Internship Coordinator. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: focus productivity time management Productivity Hacks

Productivity Hacks: Prioritize Tasks with the Ivy Lee Method

GettyImages-157742734Welcome back, all you NIFty readers! In the first installment of this productivity series, we tackled the idea of being in motion (being busy without being productive) versus taking action (the direct line to achieving a result). Now that you have a better grasp on what taking action entails, we can dive into the concept of how to set yourself up for success for that action the following day.

Story time! In the early 1900s, a guy by the name of Charles M. Schwab was one of the wealthiest people on earth. Working in the steel industry, he was anecdotally known as a “master hustler” and would never miss an opportunity to get a leg up on the competition. So one day he enlisted the help of Mr. Ivy Lee, a prominent productivity consultant of the time. Schwab wanted to pick his brain to see whether there was any way he and his company could boost productivity and daily output. Ivy Lee responded with a 15-minute solution, and he personally shared it with all executives within the company. And it goes something like this.

The Ivy Lee Method

  1. At the end of each day, write down the six most important things you need to accomplish tomorrow.
  2. Prioritize the six in order of importance.
  3. When you arrive at work, focus on the first task. Work until it is complete.
  4. Tackle the rest of the list in the same fashion.
  5. Rinse and repeat each workday.

The beauty of this technique lies in its simplicity. You can easily adapt it to not only any work day, but also any to-do list you have laying around.

Other Benefits of This Productivity Method

Here are a few other benefits of Ivy Lee:

  • Reduces daily decision fatigue due to prioritizing the night before (see this post about decision fatigue).
  • Trades multitasking for single-tasking. This allows your brain to dive into a “deep work” state, leading to greater focus and productivity overall.
  • Builds constraints on our day to our benefit by fostering commitment to one thing. If we commit to nothing, or rely on “going with the flow,” the brain tends to wander and become distracted more easily.
  • Eliminates the “I have so much to do, I don’t even know where to start” phenomenon.
  • Allows you a chance to self-evaluate. Did I work through these in order? Or did I get derailed?

The Ivy Lee Method has been around for more than 100 years, has helped professionals in a wide array of fields boost productivity, and can be applied to your daily life today. So give it a try tonight! Determine those five or six must-do’s, place them in order of importance, and attack the next day methodically!

Be on the lookout for the next post in my productivity series, where I talk about specific time-chunking methods to bolster your focus.

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This blog was written by Lauren Zakrajsek, NIFS Health Fitness Instructor, Personal Trainer, and Internship Coordinator. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: work/life balance workplace wellness productivity prioritization Productivity Hacks

Productivity Hacks: Action vs. Motion—Be Productive Rather Than Busy

GettyImages-534040654How many times have you looked back at a day and thought, “Man, I wish I would’ve been more productive,” while your to-do list seems to grow and grow. Or maybe you feel like you were crossing a lot of things off the list, but no meaningful work was actually accomplished? In my experience, it’s almost a weekly occurrence. I feel like I’m flying around at work, checking off boxes. But then I get to the end of my day, scan back through, and realize that I didn’t actually work on any of the big jobs that I had originally intended. Its days like these that made me want to begin a blog series that attacks the idea of productivity: what it actually is, where our pitfalls lie, and how we can improve on it to get more out of each day.

So What Is Productivity?

In the words of the eloquent Julie Andrews, let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start. What the heck is productivity? We throw around the term all the time. But what it actually entails is the efficiency a person has when it comes to completing a task. It actually has nothing to do with how many tasks you get done in a day. And I think that’s where many of us miss the boat a little bit. We get so caught up in the trap of being in motion and thinking that we’re being productive as a result. Being busy is not being productive. If anything, sometimes it detracts from it. And I get it; sometimes our jobs require little tasks like answering emails, structuring your schedule, and other daily logistical to-do’s. But they shouldn’t be the things taking up the bulk of your working hours.

Taking Action: Process Goals

This leads into the concept of taking action versus just being in motion. Taking action is the direct line to achieving a result. Sometimes in the biz, we can even describe this as a process goal. It’s a physical step you’re taking toward accomplishing a task or goal. For example, if you need to write a report for work (or in my case, write this post), an action would be to physically sit down and start hammering out the intro—put pen to paper. With that same example, being in motion would look more like reading various articles, doing excessive research because you feel you’re not ready to start, or maybe even doing something completely unrelated like immediately checking emails when you sit down in your office.

This same concept of action versus motion can be seen outside of work in goal setting, too. Let’s say you want to make weightlifting part of your exercise routine. You want to get stronger and healthier, and maybe even train for a powerlifting meet! Being in motion would be to start reading books about training, reading articles written by coaches, or setting up a physical meeting with a coach to talk about where to start. Now, some of these are steps that can absolutely be taken along the way to being productive in the form of starting a resistance training plan. But that’s the thing; they shouldn’t be the only thing you’re doing. Sooner or later, you’ll need to jump in, take action, and start lifting. Getting too preoccupied in the planning stages, waiting until you feel ready, often stalls you to the point of not actually starting in the first place. Sometimes you’ll never truly feel ready. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start. Don’t delay; choose action over motion when push comes to shove.

How You Can Take Action Now

Here are some tips for getting started.

  • The smaller the task, the sooner the start. Don’t get caught in the storm of overplanning prior to starting.
  • If it’s a big project, set up meetings and set some deadlines. Yes, planning will absolutely be a part in larger tasks. Break it up piecemeal style and have the action take the form of you accomplishing a critical branch of the project. You should also have a clear-cut vision of what your next step entails.
  • When in doubt, just get started. Get started even if it’s not perfect—in fact, especially if it’s not perfect.

So whether it’s a task on the docket at work, or a personal goal you have set for yourself, you can start to become aware of when you’re stuck in the endless loop of motion. For some projects, especially bigger ones, there will be necessary checkpoints and planning along the way that would be considered motion. But don’t let that take over and be the only thing that’s happening. Take action. Get started. And in the words of legendary basketball coach John Wooden, “Never mistake activity for achievement.”

Be on the lookout for the next installment of the productivity series where I’ll tackle the topic of the Ivy Lee Method: how to set yourself up for success the following day!

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This blog was written by Lauren Zakrajsek, NIFS Health Fitness Instructor, Personal Trainer, and Internship Coordinator. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: productivity goals wellness take action be productive hacks Productivity Hacks

How Getting Outdoors Helps Your Well-Being

GettyImages-857107456nGrowing up and continuing to live in the Midwest, I’ve grown to appreciate the summer months more and more. In fact, in Michigan we joke that there are really only two seasons:

  1. Sweltering summer with a side of construction.
  2. The endless frozen tundra that is 8 months of winter.

Long story short? When it’s nice enough to not have to wear a parka to brave the outdoors, you best believe I’m outside on a bike ride, relaxing by a lake, or unplugging on a hike in the woods during my down time.

Recharging Your Batteries with Nature

I’ve always felt like this has helped me recharge my batteries, anecdotally at least. But now, more and more research is mounting to support the idea that simply being in nature has numerous benefits to health and well-being. For example, a meta-analysis completed by Jones & Twohig-Bennett (2018) found statistically significant decreases in diastolic blood pressure, incidence of diabetes, and salivary cortisol (hello decreases in stress), while also reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and improving life expectancy and mental health. Not too shabby, right?

Spend Two Hours or More Outside Each Week

But how much time do you need to spend in nature to reap the rewards for health and well-being? It looks like current research is supporting the 120-minute threshold per week.

White et al. (2019) examined results from the Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment Survey in England, which included 20,000 people over a three-year span. They found that those who reported being in nature for two hours or more during the week were overall healthier and had a greater sense of well-being compared to those who did not get outside at all. Spending 60 to 90 minutes came with some improvements, but it was not as significant an effect as two hours. And over 5 hours per week had no additional benefits. What’s more, these results rang true across all demographics examined in the study: age, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, proximity to nature—all exhibited improvements to health and well-being at the two-hour mark.

So, the moral of the story? While the exact mechanism remains unknown, making time in your schedule to get outside in some way, shape, or form for two hours a week (in ANY increments of time) can not only help you mentally recharge, but also significantly improve your health and well-being going forward.

For some tips on exercising outdoors safely in the summer, check out this blog.

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This blog was written by Lauren Zakrajsek, NIFS Health Fitness Instructor, Personal Trainer, and Internship Coordinator. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: outdoors cardiovascular outdoor exercise stress relief longevity nature mental health well-being

The Do-Something Motivation Principle: Nike Was Right!

GettyImages-1086377774We’ve all been there, right? You’ve chosen a new habit that you want to form: go to the gym four times a week, choose one day a week to grocery shop and meal prep, maybe start work on that side hustle you’ve been meaning to do for years. You’re all in, gung-ho for about five days, and before you know it, you’ve fallen back into the same routine as before. That bright flame that once was your motivation has faded into the background. Now what?

Just Do Something

Relying too much on willpower or waiting for motivation to strike is one of the biggest pitfalls when it comes to habit formation, or just keeping up with the craziness of each day’s to-do list. Motivation is fleeting. It comes and goes just like the wind. But there is one trick you can use to help breathe some life into your willpower: The Do-Something Principle.

Like the name implies, by taking one small, actionable step, you can help elicit some feelings of accomplishment and inspiration to push you ahead. I loved the way Mark Manson described it: “Action isn’t just the effect of motivation; it’s also the cause of it.” (Read more about Mark here—but be advised that his writing includes expletives.) And it’s him I credit for the Do-Something Principle.

Action Leads to Inspiration, and More

The principle looks a little something like this:

Action -> Inspiration -> Motivation -> New Action

Too many times we think that the order of the operations is inspiration, followed by motivation, which then leads to action. But this rarely happens. And if it does, it’s usually short-lived at best. Sometimes just accomplishing a small task, like saying “I will put my gym shoes on,” can lead to the next step of “Well, I might as well go outside if my shoes are on,” and before you know it you’re out taking a walk and being physically active.

This logic can be applied to other facets of life as well. Say it’s a project at work, like a report you have to write. You know it’s been on your to-do list for a few days, but instead of tackling it you’ve been spending time looking at email or getting sidetracked by other menial tasks. Maybe you’ve even felt a mental roadblock when it comes to that report. This is exactly where you can use the Do-Something Principle. Even just sitting down, opening Microsoft Word on your computer, and throwing a few thoughts down on the page can help spur you on to complete that report.

Anecdotally, when I personally feel like the mountain of tasks in front of me seems a tad overwhelming, saying “Just do something” as a mantra works to keep me grounded. I choose the most important of what’s in front of me and literally just do something to work toward completing that task. I think Brad Stulberg, author and performance coach, described it concisely in saying “Show up. Mood follows action. Just get started. Because it’s really as simple and hard as that.”

Find Motivation Through a First Step

So whatever tasks might lie ahead for you, if you’re having any difficulty getting started or feel a bit of resistance, give the Do-Something Principle a try. Sometimes it’s literally just a matter of taking that first step, even if you aren’t 100% sure of what that step even is. Regardless, Nike wasn’t too far off when they said, “Just Do It.”

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This blog was written by Lauren Zakrajsek, NIFS Health Fitness Instructor, Personal Trainer, and Internship Coordinator. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: healthy habits motivation goals inspiration just do it behavior modification

Tips for Making Healthy Choices in the Face of Decision Fatigue

GettyImages-506139898It’s the end of the day. There was a string of meetings to attend, a pile of emails to answer, an argumentative colleague to work with, maybe even kids yelling for pizza when you had chicken planned for dinner instead. By the time you get home, you’ve already made a plethora of decisions, from how to approach a problem at work to what shoes to wear on your way out the door. You told yourself you would exercise when you got home, but now the couch looks a lot more enticing. All those decisions you made have taken a biological toll on your motivation and self-control, whether you realize it or not.

Decision fatigue, or the deteriorating quality of decisions after making numerous previous choices, happens to even the most rational and strong-willed of us. The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder it is to exert self-control and make better decisions later. So no, your choice to binge-watch Game of Thrones with a pint of ice cream in hand after a particularly decision-heavy day isn’t necessarily because you lack motivation or willpower. Luckily, there are a few tips and tricks that you can employ to hack decision fatigue and help boost your willpower.

Here are four ways you can help combat decision fatigue in your day.

Make Repeated-Daily Decisions the Night Before

Some of the most draining decisions are the ones that you make again, and again, and again. Blocking off time the night before can save tons of mental energy the following day. It’s the outfit you’re wearing to work tomorrow, the lunch you will eat, and even which KCup to choose for your morning buzz (very crucial, I know). All of these take less than a few minutes to decide and even complete, so tackle them the night before to set yourself up for success tomorrow.

Attack the Most Important Task First

Willpower is somewhat like any muscle in your body: it fatigues with use. The brain will start to look for shortcuts if decisions pile up. Namely, it will either a) become reckless and impulsive (hello bag of chips for lunch), or it will b) become the energy saver and do nothing (where my fellow procrastinators at?). If you have something that you are trying to prioritize and work on, put your best foot forward and attack it first while you have ample attention and energy to do so. Maybe it’s improving your body composition, maybe it’s starting a side business, maybe it’s beginning a daily mindfulness habit. Whatever it may be, start your day by working on the most important thing in your life.

Schedule Your Success: Don’t Leave It to Chance

We all have great intentions when we start the day. But its not enough to hope that you’ll have the energy to go to the gym after work. Or that you’ll be disciplined enough to choose a serving of vegetables over that nighttime Nutella binge (can you tell I’m a bit hungry writing this?). Making ourselves a schedule takes out the decision-making process and eliminates another opportunity for our brain to check out and give in to impulses. If making exercise a habit is a priority for you, physically put it on your calendar and weekly agenda. Now hoping that you’ll have the willpower when you leave work won’t be the problem; you’ll just know that NIFS is where you’ll be heading on Tuesdays at 5:30pm.

Eat Something First if You Have to Make Good Decisions Later

In a study by Danziger et al. (2011) published by the National Academy of Sciences, researchers analyzed over 1,100 judicial rulings for parole hearings over a 10-month period. Judges had a favorable ruling to start the day 65% of the time. As the day progressed, and more decisions were made, that percentage gradually dropped to nearly zero. The only exception? When the judges returned from lunch break, a ruling’s favorability jumped back up to the same 65%. Moral of the story? If you have an important decision to be made, but you realize that it won’t be approached until later, try eating a small snack beforehand. Being hangry can make it easier to be impulsive. So while you should try to tackle the most important tasks and decisions first, it might not always be realistic or possible to do so. Have that healthy snack at the ready (or packed the night before) if you know that your day calls for willpower later.

***

The average person makes more than 30,000 decisions daily. And the more decisions that we make, the more difficult subsequent choices become. Try a few of these techniques to help streamline your day and keep your willpower intact and refreshed going forward.

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This blog was written by Lauren Zakrajsek, NIFS Health Fitness Instructor and Personal Trainer. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: healthy habits healthy eating healthy lifestyle healthy living decision-making