Sure, a cup of joe can boost your alertness and help you get through the day, but too much caffeine can also have negative side effects including a bad case of the jitters, digestive upset, and heartburn. Fortunately, there are coffee alternatives that might make you feel even more productive:
This beverage has become known as the healthiest coffee alternative thanks to its high concentration of antioxidants and its link to lower risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Green tea does contain caffeine, but a smaller amount than your regular cup of coffee, so you don't end up with the same jittery side effects. Not only can green tea boost mental alertness, studies show it can also make you smarter. One recent study published in the journal Psychopharmacology found green tea is effective at improving memory and cognition.
It may sound counterproductive, but studies have shown that taking regular breaks throughout the day can improve your productivity. One 2011 study from the University of Illinois showed prolonged attention to a single task hindered performance whereas brief diversions that deactivate and reactivate mental resources improved participants’ ability to focus. Take a walk, get up and stretch, or call a loved one when you find yourself concentrating too hard.
Numerous studies have shown insufficient sleep is hazardous to our brain’s health. It lowers productivity, makes us more likely to make mistakes and causes us to have difficulty focusing on key tasks—which is why you may find yourself dozing off in the middle of an important meeting.
The cost of fatigue-related productivity is estimated at $1,967 per employee annually. Although the National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine hours of shut-eye a night, if a full-night’s rest isn’t an option, taking a nap has also been shown to be effective at increasing productivity. An famous study from NASA revealed just 26 minutes of shut-eye can help improve performance by 34% and alertness by 54%. A 2008 study showed a power nap is more effective than caffeine at boosting learning capacity and memory.
Working out doesn’t just give you toned abs, but has significant mental and performance-boosting benefits as well. A recent study out of Michigan State University found a link between exercise and higher GPAs in college students. Not surprising since other studies have shown that regular physical activity increases energy, allowing you to think clearer and come up with new ideas. A 2011 Swedish study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine showed physical activity during the workday increased productivity.
In the study workers were asked to devote 2.5 hours per week to physical activity while another group had the same decrease in work hours but without obligatory exercise and a third group worked their usual 40 hours a week. Those who exercised reported they got more done at work and were sick less often.
But, here’s the good news: you don’t need to hit the gym for a lengthy workout. A 2013 study in the British Medical Journal found short 10 to 40 minute bursts of physical activity resulted in a boost in concentration by improving blood flow to the brain. The improved focus effect can last for two to three hours after exercise. If you’re short on time, sneak in some exercise by running up and down the stairs or doing a few sets of pushups in your office before a presentation or big meeting when you have to perform at your peak.
That cute cat video your aunt emailed you may be just what you need when you feel a dip in energy. Researchers from the University of Warwick showed boosting employee happiness by offering chocolate and showing stand-up comedy videos improved productivity by 12%.
If you opt for a piece of chocolate, choose dark over milk. Dark chocolate contains a small amount of caffeine to heighten mental alertness, but it also stimulates the release of serotonin; feel-good endorphins which heighten your mood. A 2007 study from the University of Nottingham found drinking cocoa rich in flavonoids (a key ingredient in dark chocolate) boosts blood flow to key areas of the brain for two to three hours which can help increase performance and boost general alertness.
That chill you feel in the office may be causing your productivity to drop along with your temperature. Cornell University researchers found employees working in offices with low temperatures (of 68 degrees) committed 44% more errors and were less than half as productive than employees working in a warm office (of 77 degrees). When the body’s temperature drops, it uses up energy to stay warm. This leaves the brain with less energy to concentrate or to be creative. If you can’t raise the office temperature, be sure to pack a sweater or get a space heater.
[Image: Flickr user Antonio Foncubierta]