Awake at work: Best strategies for sustainable energy & productivity

You want to feel alert, fresh and awake at work. You are hoping to feel energised and focused throughout the day. Yet by 2pm your energy sags. You still have several meetings in the hours ahead. You order another coffee and keep going, all the while feeling increasingly depleted.

The demands, the deadlines and expectations together with the intense pace, may often leave you feeling exhausted. You wonder whether sustaining an optimal performance is just an elusive dream. “Faster, bigger, more and more.” This ethos of market economies over the last hundred years is grounded in a totally misguided notion:

“The assumption that as humans we operate in a linear and sustainable fashion.

“The reality is that we are not designed to run like a computer; continuously at high speed for long periods of time. Humans are not linear,” explains Jim Loer and Tony  Shwartz in “The Power of Full Engagement.”

Our bodies and our brains function rhythmically. Brief periods of recovery and restoration are essential for peak performance. The human battery must be recharged.  Annual leave is great, so too are the weekends. However in order to be truly awake at all levels, the need for renewal is far more immediate and is in fact a daily prerequisite.  A new and growing body of scientific research data demonstrates that strategic renewal —boosts productivity, mental stamina, job performance and, of course, health.

1. First things first

Do your most challenging and important work as soon as possible after you wake up, when you have the most energy. “One of the saddest mistakes in time management is our propensity to spend the two most productive hours of our day on things that don’t require high brain focus (such as emails and calls),” explains Dan Ariely, Duke University Professor of Economics.

2. Take a break at least every 90 minutes.

It’s not how long you take off that matters most, but how skillfully you use these very short periods of renewal.  Get up from your desk and stretch your muscles. Take a short walk. The simplest way to recharge energy is by breathing. You can dramatically lower your heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension in as little as thirty seconds. Learning to practice mindfulness and meditation energises and oxygenate the brain.

3. Forget about balance

If you’re searching for “work/life balance” you’ll always be disappointed in that the balance you are hoping for, just doesn’t exist.  Most of life is filled with hard work. The key to being more alert and awake is in being super-disciplined in establishing sufficient recovery time and maximising your time off.  Think more of work-life integration, in that work and personal life should be allies.

4. When you leave work……leave work

Although it is much easier said than done, know when to stop! Your time outside of the office should be spent on you and the people you care about, not in your inbox. Much research demonstrates that there may be up to a 60% increase risk for heart disease for people regularly working more than 10 hours a day. So when work is done, get out!

5. Make sleep a priority.

For far too long, sleep has not received the attention it deserves. It is undoubtedly the most powerful restorative tool we have at our disposal. In reality even small amounts of sleep deprivation may undermine your capacity for analytic thinking, creativity and mental focus.  Most adults require at least 7 hours a night.

We may have resigned ourselves to the fact that stress, fatigue and exhaustion are simply part of life in the 21st century fast lane. This doesn’t need to be so. The good news is that you can keep awake, alert and energised at work and beyond with a few of these key lifestyle adjustments.

About the author:

Linda Friedland is an authority on executive and corporate health, stress management and performance. She is a medical doctor, bestselling author of five books, mother of five and sought after international speaker. Linda is also a Graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors (GAICD) and a health board non-executive director. For more information visit or email

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