Productivity Hacks: Eat Treats. All the Treats.

The holiday season is upon us! I don’t know what it’s like at your house, but at my house, this means a sudden increase in treats. Home baked goods, store-bought pastries, delicious gifts from family friends, and of course, that giant tub of somehow-holiday-related popcorn.

productivity hack treats popcorn bucket viewed from above with three types of popcorn separated by a three-way cardboard divider

My family went all healthy on me in the two years I was out of the country, so having all these treats around is a real (but pleasant) shock. Fortunately, if you’re loaded with treats too, you can use this to your advantage. Turn those treats into productivity! And if you’re lacking treats, you now have an excuse to go out and buy some.

Can Treats Really Increase Productivity?

Why would you even question the power of treats? Treats have a long history of boosting productivity. What else would we mean when we talk about using the carrot and the stick?

In short, this tip is a combination of two common productivity tips: eat breakfast and take breaks.

Breakfast

We know we’re supposed to eat a good breakfast. It gives you energy, keeps your stomach from growling too loudly, and has nutrition or something. But not everyone has time for a hearty breakfast. And if you’re like me, you can’t stomach much food in morning anyway.

Breaks

Taking breaks is good too. Science has proven that we need breaks to maintain focus and productivity. But in a culture where hard work is so highly valued, it’s easy to feel guilty about taking breaks. So we don’t. The problem is, we need breaks to keep our brains from going to mush.

We can agree that eating breakfast and taking breaks are healthy. We can also see why people skip breakfast or let their work drag on until they aren’t even working efficiently.

So what if you combined breakfast and breaks?

As an unsuccessful user of the  Pomodoro method, I think breaks are nice, but not particularly motivational. What if I take a break and it ends up stretching on for hours? (This is purely hypothetical, of course.) Getting to eat a pastry though? That – and my rumbling stomach – will get me to work faster to get to a stopping point. Then after I’ve had my break + pastry time, my mind is refreshed and my body has more energy.

Food and downtime – and not just during lunch – is a necessary part of any good work day. And if you don’t believe me, here’s a story.

A Story about How Food Helps You Work

After teaching in South Korea for one year, I moved to a new city and new school. At my old school, in my old teacher’s office, we always had snacks. You could count some form of communal food always being available.

Maybe one of the four teachers I shared an office with would go on a trip and bring back a specialty bread from another region. It might be someone’s birthday, so we’d have a cake. A parent might have brought a gift of fruit or pastries to a parent-teacher conference. Someone bought rice cake for the entire school because of a wedding, or a promotion, or someone’s child turning a year old. There were many excuses to eat rice cake.

But guess what? When I moved to my new school, I found out the office food situation was even better. That’s because nearly every teacher in this larger, 8-person office was a middle-aged woman. So they did just bring any old snacks.

Instead, we had fresh fruit almost every day. We still had snacks and rice cake for special occasions, just as I did at my former school, but the variety of foods available in our office was simply lovely. Having good food around also encouraged people to bring more good food.

At one point, I had a tub of oatmeal for the times when I wanted a mild breakfast. Another teacher had a stash of cup ramen. We both shared at some point because although oatmeal is pretty boring compared to ramen, most of my Korean coworkers had never tried it before. So I suppose I contributed to the healthy, novelty-food image of our office.

With all this food around, I never powered through my work on an empty stomach. All I had to do was walk across the room and help myself.

productivity hack treats image of wood table that has a tray of fruit including three peaches, two green apples, and a banana. Behind the tray is a place of sliced pastry bread. In the front to the left is a coffee mug with an owl design.

Plan to Treat Yourself

Food keeps us happy and, you know, helps us survive. But you shouldn’t be aiming to just survive each work day. Take care of yourself and listen when your body’s hungry or mentally drained.

So to increase your productivity, take breaks. Here’s what I recommend:

Take a mid-morning break to chow down on a treat. Or mid-afternoon. Whatever works with your schedule and stomach. I tend to get ravenous between 10 to 11 am, no matter how much breakfast I’ve had. That’s why I recommend a food treat, instead of a more abstract one, like social media time or mindless Internet browsing.

If my house is devoid of holiday treats or I’m rushing to meet a deadline, I’ll treat myself in a smaller way – better quality coffee, a latte, whipped cream on a beverage – something I can consume while working.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t feel that you “deserve” a break or you haven’t been productive enough yet. Recharge, regroup, and come back to the table when you’re ready and able to put in the hard work.

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