In a pair of recent studies, the CDC called attention to two alarming trends. Americans are not getting nearly enough exercise and a majority fall many hours short of the recommended amount of sleep. Not only is this bad for our health, it harms our productivity as well.
Americans work more hours than workers in nearly any other country but it seems as if we are doing so by sacrificing our time for exercise and sleep. Unsurprisingly, the work we do while tired and unhealthy is not very productive.
An hour spent working instead of sleeping or exercising is not an even trade off. The secret to being as productive as possible is striking the right balance between taking care of ourselves while maximizing the time we spend working at peak productivity.
However, this is easier said than done. With such hectic schedules and many distractions it can simply be too hard to keep track of how much sleep and exercise we get and how much we need. Luckily, there are a host of tools that do this incredibly well.
Below are four examples of tangible gains in productivity that fitness apps like Fitbit can help you achieve.
Working up to a healthy amount of exercise to avoid low productivity
Studies show that infrequent to no exercise correlates to a 50 percent increased risk of low productivity. The lesson here is that simply beginning even the lightest regiment of exercise can immediately lead to increased productivity.
Unfortunately many people do not have proper fitness habits in place, and these habits can prove tough to start. Fitness apps such as Fitbit excel at gently nudging users into healthy routines. For many who have not exercised in a very long time, regular reminders and instant feedback on small improvements can do wonders to drum up motivation.
When first beginning on the path to fitness it can be very easy to get discouraged. Making gains apparent in real time can help keep up a baseline level of exercise and help keep you motivated in the process. After committing to an exercise regimen with the help of Fitbit, it can quickly begin to increase your productivity and that in itself will provide additional motivation.
Maintaining an active lifestyle to increase productivity
In a fascinating paper from Georgetown University, the authors discuss the many ways that leading an active lifestyle can benefit productivity. One surprising thing the paper noted was that seeing all of these benefits required only two hours and 30 minutes of exercise a week (a little more than 20 minutes a day).
This may not seem like a lot, but one of the core difficulties of achieving these productivity benefits is sticking to this regimen. In order to see the boost in productivity discussed, consistency is key.
For many, it might not be hard to get up and do exercise, but it may be very difficult to find the time to do so every single day.
One of the great benefits of fitness trackers like Fitbit is that they never forget or lose track of time. If you program your Fitbit to remind you of your commitment to 20 minutes of activity every single day, it will be much harder for you to forget. In addition, certain apps might even make you feel slightly guilty about “just skipping a day.”
Seeing that blank space on your fitness app’s progress chart or the blinking light on your Fitbit can serve as subtle yet powerful motivator. Not only will reminders like this help you keep consistent with your active lifestyle, they will also help cement the corresponding gains in your overall productivity.
Getting enough sleep to ensure focus
As important as regular exercise is for boosting productivity, all of your gains can be offset if you are not paying equal attention to getting enough sleep. A study conducted by Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital showed that sleep deprivation significantly hampers productivity and only worsens as time goes on.
These findings don’t seem shocking until you realize that the definition of “sleep deprivation” the researchers used was only getting six hours a night. That means roughly 40 percent of Americans are chronically sleep deprived. One thing these studies seem to reveal is that we severely underestimate the amount of sleep that we need to perform at our optimal level.
One benefit of fitness apps and trackers is that many also double as sleep trackers. Armed with a Fitbit and the knowledge that the recommended amount of sleep is eight hours a night, you can program this requirement much like you would program an exercise regiment. Access to this personal data will help give you a clear picture of your current sleep patterns and how far they are from the ideal.
This is particularly useful, because developing proper sleeping habits takes time and is highly dependent on repetition. Nearly all of us know to what extent even one night of deviation from our regular sleep schedule can throw off our entire cycle.
As was already discussed, the subtle reminders and motivation Fitbit and other fitness trackers provide can prove invaluable when it comes to sticking to predetermined goals that require consistency.
In addition, these two separate habits can complement each other. A commonly recommended remedy for poor sleeping habits or difficulty sleeping is regular daily exercise. In this case, fitness trackers can help facilitate a positive feedback cycle that will allow these good habits to become ingrained and further increase productivity.
Overall well being and workplace effects
While regular sleep and exercise can lead to improvements in many quantifiable ways, the sum total of all of these habits can lead to many intangible yet highly important benefits.
The majority of studies that measure the productivity effects of sleep and exercise typically judge based on individualized tasks such as pattern recognition and recall, but the modern workplace tends to demand more of workers than simple individual tasks. Perhaps the most crucial indicator of workplace success is the degree of cooperation between employees.
It turns out that well-exercised employees are more likely to work as team players and less likely to lose their temper with each other.
Conversely, a study that asked college students to perform a team-oriented task while deprived of sleep found that they were much more likely to report being frustrated with one another than the control group.
While fitness trackers like Fitbit can never directly cause someone to embrace a healthier approach to sleep and exercise, they can make doing so significantly easier for those who decide they want to.
Given how dramatic of an effect proper sleep and exercise can have on workplace productivity on both the individual and team level, encouraging such healthy behaviors should be much more prioritized than they currently are.
Instead of demanding later nights, and attempting to boost morale and cooperation with fancy workshops and retreats, maybe managers should just give the team the week off and buy them Fitbits instead.
How does your business encourage your employees to stay productive throughout the work day? Do you think devices like the FitBit can help impact your team’s well-being? Share your experiences below.
This post is part of our contributor series. The views expressed are the author's own and not necessarily shared by TNW.