Good Lifestyle Habits Improve Time Management

January 28, 2015


Recently I spoke with the head of the professional development office at a top-ranked U.S. law school about an upcoming program I’ve been retained to facilitate on networking skills. “We want our students to walk away from the program understanding that this is just the beginning,” my contact said. “That networking is not necessarily instinctive, but if they start the habit now, it will pay off throughout their professional lives.”

Graduate school and the concomitant transition into the workplace present an ideal opportunity for students and new professionals to develop a series of new habits. Any time we encounter a period of upheaval—psychologists call these periods “quantum change moments”—habits become more malleable. We suddenly become open to new rewards. It’s the presence of those rewards that can help convert a new behavior into a routine. Once that occurs, a new habit is formed.

In addition to developing networking skills, students and new professionals should use the turbulent period during which they transition from school to work to develop good lifestyle habits that will help them get the most out of each work day, including:


Make sleep a top priority. Most studies indicate that adults require between seven and eight hours of sleep nightly (teenagers require even more). Failing to acquire adequate sleep will eventually compromise your health, and some studies suggest inadequate rest can even shorten your life. From a work perspective, lack of sleep affects your memory, creativity, stability, and, of course, your productivity.

When they start work, many new professionals burn the proverbial candle at both ends. Like so many others, I didn’t pull my first all-nighter until I had graduated from law school and started my first job. It was a mistake that I made exactly one time.

However, I know people in the finance industry who wear their lack of sleep like a badge of pride. Don’t. According to one article that appeared in the New York Times, sleeping less than six hours per night is among the best predictors of on-the-job burnout. The article further noted a recent Harvard study that estimated sleep deprivation costs American companies $63.2 billion per year in lost productivity.

Eat right

Studies indicate that if you don’t get adequate sleep, you are much more likely to engage in unhealthy eating activities. A 2013 University of California–Berkeley study demonstrated that sleep-deprived brains show decreased activity in the decision-making area of the brain and increased activity on the reward-receiving part of the brain. In yet another study, sleep-deprived students were shown images of 80 foods, ranging from healthy foods, like fruits and vegetables, to much-less-healthy alternatives, like doughnuts and pizza. Sleep-deprived students consistently described the less-nutritious alternatives to be the most appealing.

And unfortunately, if you engage in unhealthy eating activities, you are even more likely not to acquire the sleep your body so badly needs.

Make it a habit to avoid big meals at night. If it’s possible, eat dinner earlier rather than later, and avoid heavy foods within two hours of your bedtime. Limit your consumption of alcohol, which can further reduce sleep quality. And cut down on caffeine, which can leave some people feeling a buzz even 12 hours after consumption.


Hitting the gym during the day may help out when it comes time to hit the sack. People who exercise regularly report that they sleep more deeply. You don’t need to become a gym rat to reap this reward, though. As little as 30 minutes of exercise per day can help—and those minutes can be spread over multiple sessions throughout your day.

As in so many other cases, timing is everything. Studies regarding circadian rhythms generally indicate that large muscles perform best during the afternoon hours. So you are likely to gain more from exercise undertaken after your midday meal. But don’t put off exercise until the late evening hours. A strenuous workout will raise your body temperature, which can affect sleep. A gentle routine like yoga or mild stretching is thought to encourage sleep.

Beyond helping you sleep, exercise is a wonderful way to boost your productivity at work. Every cardio workout you undertake pumps blood to your brain, delivering the oxygen and nutrients it needs to perform best. Exercise also causes all sorts of hormones to be released, such as serotonin (enhances mood), dopamine (affects learning and attention), and norepinephrine (influences attention, perception, motivation, and arousal). Bottom line: as little as 30 minutes of daily exercise can help you feel focused and stress-free … or at least stress-reduced.

Take regularly scheduled work breaks

A growing body of evidence shows that taking regular breaks from mental tasks improves both productivity and creativity.

As reported in the New York Times, John P. Trougakos, an assistant management professor at the University of Toronto–Scarborough and the Rotman School of Management, says the brain’s ability to concentrate resembles a muscle’s ability to flex. Both become fatigued after sustained use and need rest periods to recover. If you’ve reached a groove (or what Mihály Csíkszebtmihályi describes as a state of “flow”), don’t force yourself to take a break. However, forcing yourself to keep going once you’ve “hit the wall” absolutely kills productivity.

Taking a lunch break every day seems obvious. Increasingly, some workplaces go one step further and encourage workers to take afternoon siestas in designated nap rooms. If you can’t escape for a snooze, at a minimum give your brain and your eyes brief breaks from electronic screens.


What You Need To Know

Students, interns and new professionals should use the time period during which they transition from school to establish new lifestyle habits, including some that will help them get the most out of each 24-hour day.



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