- Body-Based Productivity, Vision as a Productivity Tool, Running without Earphones
Body-Based Productivity, Vision as a Productivity Tool, Running without Earphones
🤸♀️ Stretch 61
Your Weekly Stretch, aiming to teach you something new about your brain & body in less than 15 minutes per week. Thoughts or feedback? Let me know!
So I wrapped up my second Year of Creative Experiments. Yay!
I created an action-packed workshop on “body-based productivity” with my friend Connor Swenson, for one of his big corporate clients. Keep reading if you’re curious what this is all about. (In my humble opinion, a different and more enjoyable way of working! 😉)
Oh and let me know if this is something you or your company would be interested in. Happy to send more details. It’s none of the traditional productivity or self-care advice. It’s something verryyyyy different.
Alright, let’s talk about:
What is body-based productivity?
My favorite “work” tool 👀
Quick note on the radical act of running without earphones
🧠 WHAT’S ALL THIS WOO-WOO BODY-BASED STUFF?
Hah! Not woo-woo at all. It’s all based on our physiology and backed up by science.
Body-Based Productivity (BBP) relies on two simple, fundamental principles:
Take care of your body and your mind will follow.
Leverage your body as a tool to work and feel better.
The first point… I think we all know by now. Being physically healthy directly influences and boosts our mental capabilities, creativity, and productivity.
But then… why don’t we do it?
Why is it still considered lazy or unproductive to go for a walk or yoga class in the middle of the day, or worse, to take a nap?
Why is exercise still an after-thought “if” we have time at the end of the day instead of a priority in our work schedule?
The second principle is less intuitive.
Some people might scoff at the idea of using the word “tools” when it comes to our bodies, but I have found this to be an empowering reframe.
My nervous system is a tool. There’s a biological basis for all of my thoughts, emotions and energy levels. I can learn how to tap into these mechanisms and rhythms so I can feel better, think better and work better.
This approach has given me an incredible sense of control and agency.
So many of us have lost touch with our bodies. We override our internal systems and ignore obvious signs. (Any of this sound familiar… Watching another Netflix episode even though we’re exhausted? Having another coffee even though we feel full? Pushing through another hour of work even though we’re distracted?)
In BBP, the aim is to cultivate a heightened awareness of our body's needs and signals, and respond to them appropriately.
Instead of optimizing our time and calendar, we’re optimizing our bodies.
And sure, in the moment, it might feel like we’re going slower than we could or should. But in the long run, we’ll cover more distance (and enjoy the ride a whole lot more!)
So in our workshop, we share 3 morning tools, 3 work tools and 3 rest tools—all based on biological mechanisms we all have access to and all with the goal of creating a healthy, enjoyable and sustainable approach to work.
Alright alright, I’ll share one with you to give you a sense of what I’m talking about. I love and use all these tools, but if I had to pick a favorite… it’d probably be using my eyes as a focus and re-focus tool.
👀 HOW & WHY TO USE YOUR EYES AS A PRODUCTIVITY TOOL
Work Tool #2 in our BBP Workshop
Our eyes do so much more than “just” seeing things.
Think about it.
How does your brain, sitting in the darkness of your skull, know what time of day it is? How does it know whether to make you feel alert or to make you feel sleepy?
The brain relies on external cues to know what’s going on. And since our eyes are considered part of our brain (the only pieces outside of the cranial vault!), they play a huge role in telling the rest of the brain how we should feel at any given time.
Now, what does this have to do with work, you ask?
We can use our eyes as a tool to deliberately focus or de-focus.
Just think back to a moment where you were looking at a beautiful wide open vista, like the ocean or a mountain range.
I’m sure you were feeling pretty relaxed, right?
Now, compare that to when you’re indoors and you’re looking at a screen—like you are now.
Typically, you feel more activated and alert.
Now, you don't consciously notice these shifts but here’s what's happening inside of you:
When you’re looking at a wide open view, your eyes naturally go into a panoramic view. You’re not focused on one particular spot, you’re just taking in the entire view.
This activates your parasympathetic nervous system—the system responsible for feelings of calm and relaxation.
On the contrary, when you’re concentrated on something, your eyes naturally go into this narrow vision. This activates the sympathetic nervous system, stimulating alertness and focus.
Like I said, this all happens automatically but what’s really cool is that you can take conscious control of the process:
By intentionally narrowing your visual field, you can increase alertness.
By intentionally expanding your visual field, you can increase relaxation.
Do you see where I’m going with this when it comes to productivity and work?
#1 When you’re working, put intense visual focus onto what you’re working on
Go into “Portrait Mode” and let everything else fall into the background.
Narrowing your visual field activates your sympathetic nervous system and releases neurochemicals like epinephrine and acetylcholine—supporting a state of high alertness and focus.
Your attention will flicker and that’s entirely normal. Being so intensively focused is cognitively demanding. (Which is why you don’t want to do this for longer than 90-120 minutes per the ultradian cycle science.)
But as much as possible, try to keep that visual focus steady.
#2 Be ruthless about removing distractions (especially your…)
You need to create an environment conducive to that narrow visual focus.
Remove anything on your desk that might distract you. For most of us, that includes the phone.
I know this is tough but every time you pick up your phone, you’re breaking that visual focus and thus your mental focus.
When I’m working, I set a timer for 25 minutes and challenge myself to not look away from my screen until the timer goes off. Phone in the other room or at the very least turned over.
#3 When it’s time for a break, you go into panoramic vision
After your bouts of focused work, you want to re-balance your nervous system and increase parasympathetic activation.
You do that simply by widening your visual field.
Ideally, you can go outside and take a quick walk—especially if you’ve been sitting for a while. Try to look far and wide.
If there's no time, look outside of the window.
If there's not even time for that (damn you people who book back-to-back meetings!), just do it while you're looking at your screen.
In fact, how about you try it right now? It’s super easy:
Keep your eyes open and look directly in front of you.
Soften your eyes and expand your visual field.
Without turning your head, focus on seeing as much of your surroundings as possible so on the left, on the right, top and bottom.
No need to move your eyes or your head, just widen your visual field.
Relax in this moment for a few seconds and observe how your body responds to this shift.
Ahhhh, never fails to relax me! (How did it feel? Hit reply and let me know!)
Now, here’s the thing. You want to try to be very intentional about these visual focus breaks.
Don’t come out of a meeting and immediately dive into your phone to check emails or social media. Staring at your phone narrows your vision and does nothing to help your brain recharge.
Ideally, for every 45 minutes in narrow vision, you spend 5 minutes in panoramic vision. It’s great for your brain AND for your eyes.
And the best thing about it all is that you can do this anytime, anywhere, indoors, outdoors, sitting or moving—and no one will ever know 😉
🏃♀️ THE RADICAL ACT OF RUNNING WITHOUT EARPHONES
I went on my first long run without earphones last weekend!!
I feel a bit silly for saying this as if I’ve just invented a solution for climate change, but whatever—this is a huge win for me!
Just a few months ago I’d barely walk to the supermarket around the corner without feeling like I needed to listen to music or a podcast.
Now, nothing at all for more than 2 hours, with complete focus on body and my breath. And perhaps not that surprisingly, it was the easiest and most enjoyable half marathon I’ve ever run! (Not the fastest, haha, but that’s not what I’m going for.)
First race in Lisbon