Want to get more productive at work? Make fewer decisions, starting with your work lunch.
Turns out, decision-making can be a real drain on our overloaded brains. Instead, we can gain some control over our schedule starting in a simple place: food. When you’re planning your work lunch, you also can be setting yourself up with a productivity boost.
And that’s not all! Streamlining your decisions can lead to a healthier you and a happier brain.
Set Your Work Lunch on Repeat
I remember trading kids for treasured lunchbox items in grade school, but it was never the same thing twice. As an adult, you might want to skip novelty in favor of reliability.
“Decision-making, even simple decisions, require us to exert energy — and I would rather save that energy for more important things,” says Thomas O’Toole, a 41-year-old consultant based in Seattle, in a recent NBC News article.
Instead of trying to cobble together lunch as you’re running out the door in the morning, go on autopilot. You can save time as well as energy.
There are lots of benefits when having your lunch order on speed-dial:
- Simplify your grocery store list. You’ll always know what you need to buy for a week’s worth of lunches.
- Streamline your prep. Sandwiches can be made practically blindfolded when you have the same ingredients every day. Plus you always know what to grab from the fridge.
- Steady your caloric intake. Easily keep tabs on your health when you dial in your meals. You can perfect that protein to carbohydrate ratio or calories or fats (or whatever you track these days) when you plan your meals so exactly.
- Slim your budget. Your lunch expenses won’t balloon when you’re not slinking off to the deli to buy a hoagie to supplement your ill-equipped lunch bag full of half a sleeve of cookies and what turned out to be a carton of heavy cream.
Get a Boost When You’re Not Weighed Down By Decisions
Instead of that afternoon slump, your brain can keep on chugging along when you aren’t burdened by lots of decisions about what to eat.
“Studies show, for example, that having to make decisions throughout the day tends to decrease our physical stamina, reduce our ability to persist in the face of failure, makes us procrastinate more, and decrease our ability to accurately make arithmetic calculations. It comes down to decision fatigue,” writes Sarah DiGiulio at NBC News.
This is not to say that you should just keep your head down and eat your same lunch at your desk each day (we’ve noted that eating at your desk is bad). But it’s about taking one valuable decision out of your to-do list for the day and setting yourself up for success.
Are you applying for a new job soon? Take the PayScale Salary Survey and find out how much you could be earning.
Decisions = Distractions
Nothing makes work grind to a halt like having to focus on something else. So save your brain power, and prepare your lunch in advance. You’ll get all the benefits of a break without having to think about anything non-work-related. The same goes with other choice you make throughout the day.
Routine is the defeater of distraction. It’s muscle memory (even for your mind) and when we can do things automatically, or with minimal attention, we can focus on bigger issues at hand. Don’t worry about the little stuff, stay focused on the cool stuff.
“Being able to focus is a competitive advantage these days with YouTube, social media in general and any other app that vies for your attention,” writes Syed Balkhi at Entrepreneur. “Yet, your best work and most innovative ideas actually come from the time you spend doing deep, focused work. That’s why it’s important to eliminate daily distractions if you want to improve your workflow and grow your business.”
Finding Routine in a World of Options
Take a moment to think of all the things you do automatically that make your life easier (or places it could help).
- When you walk in the door to your home, do you have one place where you set your keys? Or do you end up searching for them every time you want to leave because they’re always somewhere different?
- Do you struggle to find important files on your computer like your time sheet or reimbursement form? Or do you label them and put them on your desktop so you can automatically scroll and locate them quickly?
- When you drive to pick up a friend, do you have to think of the way to get there? Or do you automatically follow the same route?
These are just a few ways where we use routine to get more productive. It might happen accidentally (like taking the same route to a destination because it requires little thought) or after you’ve considered how to do the task better.
Make Your Work Wardrobe Routine
Women often get flack for recycling outfits, but that may be changing. Look at coverage of the British royal family — when Kate Middleton first started appearing in a repeated outfit, people were astonished, but now she’s called “down home” and “thrifty.” There also have been newscasters who secretly wear the same suit every day to make a point later about how we police women’s bodies.
But many successful types in the rich and famous category, like Mark Zuckerberg, have said that wearing the same thing every day is their way of knocking just one annoying decision to the wayside.
Many (normal, not-so-rich and famous) professionals also say that wearing the same thing to work every day helps them take that one decision out of their crazy morning. Some have a Monday outfit, a Tuesday one, and so on. Others simply have a “work wardrobe” that can be as simple as a black pair of pants and a button down shirt. Done.
“While the idea of dressing in uniform isn’t new, the practice has undergone a renaissance of sorts in recent years,” writes Hayley Garrison Phillips in the Washingtonian.
Phillips profiled Renata Briggman, who “was tired of the hassle of looking into her closet each morning and making decisions about what to wear before heading day at the office filled with even more decision-making.”
Briggman’s “style uniform” gave her a sense of ease in her hectic morning and offered her real estate clients a sense of professionalism and dependability she felt they were looking for in a real estate agent.
After a year of her uniform wardrobe, which included slacks, shirt and jacket, Briggman declared the experiment a success.
“Among the benefits she listed were a huge influx of time, a drastic cut in stress, a boost in confidence, and more mental clarity to focus on better serving her clients,” writes Phillips. “It’s saved me hours,” Briggman says. “Maybe a whole work week last year of not having to think of what to wear.”
Want to try it yourself? Try searching for “capsule wardrobes” or pull together some simple pieces that will work for your office every day and make you happy.
Other Ways Routine Helps You Succeed at Work
Routine can free you to focus in a very chaotic world. Think about adding routine in these ways, at home or at work, for a more sane day:
- Schedule screen time (or non-screen time). If you find yourself slipping into a “just have to check” state and you just can’t release that cell phone from your grip, then set a limit. You can now set screen time limits with apps. Or simply set a time of day where using your phone/computer/gaming system is OK and stick to that schedule. You’re not being punished if you put down your device and go outside for a walk, make a big meal or just sit around daydreaming.
- Experiment with more productive thinking. If you want to have those great creative thoughts, you might need to find new ways to get there. Make it a habit (aka, a routine) to test out other theories, ideas, viewpoints or even get more colleague input on ideas. Routine doesn’t have to mean “less,” it can actually mean “more” when we’re talking about learning about something new. Your old routine might be just plug and chug and not stick your neck out. Try making it a routine to take risks and you could see some cool results.
- Make it about your health. Routine can also creep in when we want to make new habits a little easier. That early-morning trip to the gym gets easier when it’s a part of your daily routine. Just like taking the stairs or choosing to take a break every day and walk around outside for a bit.
It’s about finding ways to make your day better, and if having the same sharp black pants or yummy turkey sandwich or delicious salad every day makes your day better — do it.
TELL US WHAT YOU THINK
Do you eat the same work lunch every day or use other routines to boost your productivity? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.