Post-production is a very creative field, which requires our brains to be functioning optimally, which requires our bodies to be healthy. For decades studies have shown that health directly effects clarity, creativity, and productivity. In this article I’ll talk about several very basic issues that can be handled easily, and may contribute to stamina and creativity at the post-production workstation.
I’d like to briefly explain how this article came to happen. I’m not the rail thin, non-stop, athletic boy I once was. I probably never will be. But in my 50s, it is time to take a second look at my health. I was losing stamina through the day, not as clear, more tired more often, and heavier than I’d ever been in my life.
My mother was really big into nutrition back in the '60s. There was no candy, or sodas, or any “garbage food” in my house when I was growing up. I spent many of my early years working in health and gourmet food stores. In my '20s I practiced and eventually taught martial arts classes. I knew a little bit about healthy lifestyles.
But now was different. I was older, not the same person, the world was different, so much more research had been done since way back then. Thus I was off and running. Reading everything I could, learning to separate myth from fact. And I found a really good personal trainer and a nutritionist. Both met my high academic and practical experience expectations, and both proved to be very good for me. They helped me bring on changes, that are taking a long time to come to full fruition. I fall off the wagon here and there, but I learn better and get back in the saddle right away. Major changes have happened for me, and my doctor says if I keep it up, I can get off of a couple of cholesterol & blood pressure medications I forget to take half the time anyway. The changes to my productivity, creativity, and general moods are nothing short of amazing. All of that said, let me share the foundation blocks of what I’ve learned through it all.
The first health issue to will look at is the physical workstation. Proper posture and positioning of your tools can relieve physical stressors on the body and allow you to work longer with greater comfort. For example, be sure your chair is comfortable, supports your back properly, and is solid.
Video monitors should be at eye height or slightly above. Don’t look “down” at monitors, this is bad for your neck, back and shoulders. And audio monitors should be level with your ears, or slightly higher/lower, but not much. They should also be on a perfectly equal triangle. The distance between them should equal the distance of each from your head. The angles should all also be equal. This will give you the best fidelity from them, and relieve stress to your hearing systems. Yes, straining to hear wears your brain down, makes you an inefficient post professional.
Use a keyboard with solid keys, not spongy keys, and a wrist pad to avoid Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Same goes for using a mouse. Consider a mouse alternative such as Apple’s Magic Trackpad, or a good trackball to help relieve strain on your hand, wrists and arms. Finally, be sure your forearms are level to the floor, as much as possible. Don’t sit at a desk that forces you to angle them up or down by very much. OSHA has a checklist and purchasing guide at this URL:
What you eat, when you eat it, and how much of it you eat can have serious effects on how efficiently you work, how clear your mind will be, and what level of creativity you’ll work at throughout the day. I won’t preach any specific diet plan, but common sense, with basic nutritional information can go a long way. For example, don't go more than 4-6 hours between meals. Doing so can throw your metabolism off, making your body and brain become somewhat sluggish.
Three real meals a day work best for most folks in the world. Be sure you’re going low fat, low/no sodium, and watch those carbs and calories. Not all calories are created equal, and if you get too few, your metabolism won’t be able to maintain a healthy level. So too little of the healthiest food on the planet will still add pounds and slow you down.
Snacks are so common, most post professionals I know have their favorite snacks close at hand throughout the day. Just stay away from the candy, the sugar, the salt, the fat. Fruit makes the best snack of all, as do nuts. But not too much fruit, sugar is sugar no matter where it comes from, and fruit is known for it. Nuts are great, but again, in moderation due to their high fat content. Also, stay away from salted nuts. All snacks in moderation. High protein, no sugar (you get more than your body needs in daily foods without adding to it), cut back on the gluten products, and stay away from heavily processed foods. You’ll stay more alert and more creative though the day.
My personal nutritionist had me note everything I ate for two weeks, when I ate it, and what my reason was for eating it. It taught me that the majority of my eating, mostly snacks, was not due to hunger, but to stress, nerves, deadlines, all psychological reasons, not physical ones. When I recognized that, I was able to cut the psychological food out quite a bit.
One myth I’d like to help eradicate here, is that lunch can make you sleepy. It is NOT the lunch that does that. It means you have a lack of sleep from the night before. If you consistently get sleepy after lunch, you are not getting enough sleep consistently every night! Lunch for most folks is the time that lack of sleep will catch up with you and your body will DEMAND you pay it back the sleep you deprived it of. Stop blaming lunch, start getting enough sleep and exercise. I promise you, it is as simple as that.
Finally, don’t eat at your desk. Make it a habit to get up and move to a different location to eat lunch, or pig out on grapes. This helps remove the psychological anchor of eating mindlessly at your desk, with is counterproductive to your work and creativity. Not to mention the dangers of crumbs and liquids spilling into your control surfaces. And it can act as a reminder to get up and move around as in the next section. Former FDA commissioner David Kessler has a book out about snacking that is really well done.
Exercise is a term covering both a hard workout session, and an easy “just get up and move around” moment. Both are equally important. I’d like to get one myth out of the way. What you do daily, repetitively at work does not count as exercise, unless it is extreme. Your body will normalize to most daily routines, even if it is walking two miles through warehouses. So a good weight training session with a good cardio session can’t be beat.
Not all types of exercises are the same. Some types of exercise build stamina, some burn fat efficiently, some maintain range of movement. For example, yoga will not build muscle mass or burn up calories like weight lifting will. Cardio will strengthen your heart and lungs better than weight training, but it won’t burn calories like weight training will. A mixture of regular heavy training session, 2-3 a week, along with other types of exercise can go further to getting and staying in shape (not being skinny, being healthy) than just one type alone. For example my personal trainer has me doing weights, a very tough cardio routine, and a tread-climber session, through out the week.
On a daily basis, set a timer. Never sit at your desk or workstation for more than an hour and a half at one time. Get up, move around, walk around the block, walk across the office building and back if it’s big enough. This will get your blood going, avoid strokes, keep your brain fresh, keep your creative edge at its sharpest.
After an hour or so, your brain is shutting down slowly, weather you know it or not. Your creativity begins to diminish. So, get up, walk away, thing about other things, talk to someone about something non-work related. These brakes also help your brain assess, compartmentalize, and sort the data you’ve been working on all day, too. So when you come back, you’ll be more efficient, have more inspirations, and turn out better work faster, with less effort. For some good information about the benefits of exercise, seek out the work of doctor Jordan Metzl.
On the subject of sleep, there are too many myths floating around. First, you do in fact have to catch up on any sleep you miss. Decades of studies have shown us that if I need 7 hours sleep normally, then one night only get 5 hours, my body and brain will degrade in performance and efficiency until I get that two hours of sleep back. And this “sleep debt” is forever. It won’t just pass away in a day or so. Thus, if you don’t get enough sleep one night, take a nap, or get to bed earlier the next night.
How much is enough sleep? This is an individual thing, but the solid averages are 6-9 hours a night, depending on the individual. Teenagers can require 9-11 hour a night. Never think you personally can go on 4-5 hours of sleep a night, no such thing, stop it. If you stay up working way too late, you’ve wasted work time. You’re not working up to par. Get the sleep, wake up refreshed, then go back to the work, and you’ll get more done faster, easier, and be much more creative. Sleep, REM specifically (when you’re dreaming) is when your brain processes, sorts, and does its heaviest work. And if you don’t have enough REM cycles in a 24 hour period, your brain starts to get more and more short circuited. There is no way to get around it, period.
Naps are great for most folks, also. If possible, plan shorter, lighter lunches, with a nap in your office, if possible. A short cat-nap or power-nap in the middle of the day can do miracles in terms of work production, efficiency, and creativity levels.
In a nutshell, don’t do it! Multitasking actually slows you down at everything you’re trying to do. The human mind is NOT good at multitasking as we tend to practice it in our business lives today. If you do one single task, with full focus, at a time, you will finish them all much sooner, then if you multitask them all at one time. Plus, it degrades creativity and alertness. You’re infinitely more apt to forget a detail, or overlook a vital piece of data when you multitask. Look up the work of Clifford Nass, a psychology professor at Stanford University for more detailed information on how multitasking actually kills creativity.
This subject can get very complex, there is much more information about it than I can include in this one article. But I did want to share from my personal experience, and from the research provided by my nutritionist and personal trainer (both have masters degrees in their fields) have taught me. Small changes is all most of us need to make. One step at a time, and if you pursue a better diet, and get more exercise and movement into your daily routine, it is a guarantee that you’ll be more production, more creative, and happier with your work.