Performance Protocol is a sequence of steps and activities in order to stay alert, focused and creative during the workday.
Last time, we covered the first part of your workday — how to set up your environment, how to avoid distractions, and why it’s so important to set a 90-minute schedule of focused work — and what you should do before lunch. Read that if you missed it. It’s also worth checking out our earlier article on Morning Performance Protocols. Today we focus on the second part of the day.
The Performance Protocols that we are exploring in this series are used by Dr. Andrew Huberman, Professor of Neurobiology and Ophthalmology at Stanford School of Medicine. They help him stay focused at work and could be helpful for you. Read this article and share your comments below. The following is a look at the second part of workday protocols.
First Food Intake
“Ironically enough, one of the best things you can do for your brain is not to eat.” — Dr. Andrew Huberman.
Working and training while fasting have some immediate and long-term benefits. Satchin Panda, in his book, “The Circadian Code,” describes how engaging in physical exercise while fasting can amplify the effects of exercising. It increases the percentage of body fat burned and improves cellular health, liver and other organs in the long term. Low blood sugar also gives you a sense of mental clarity and focus which are necessary for work and associated with the adrenaline phenomenon you read about in the previous article.
You want to maintain decent alertness, calmness and focus into the afternoon. In that case, you may want to eat your first meal around noon, plus or minus an hour, for the reasons we briefly discussed above and in the previous article. The amount of food is also essential. If you eat large amounts of anything, you will feel lethargic because the food diverts blood to your gut instead of your brain. So, try to eat until you feel a little more than 80 percent full and focus mainly on proteins, healthy fats and low carbs. Eat some proteins, vegetables and nuts, etc., and, if you’ve exercised, also eat some starches. Consume the various food groups but keep your total carbs on the low side. If you haven’t trained, do not eat any carbohydrates at all. Starches trigger the release of serotonin in the brain and induce a state of sleepiness. The lack of carbohydrates allows for increased vigilance throughout the day.
What should you eat for your brain? The question is how you structure your day. When do you eat for the first time? How long do you allow for fasting in each 24-hour cycle? Are you are getting enough omega-3s, selenium and other vital vitamins to support your energy? The simple knowledge that proteins, nuts and vegetables are good for your health and keep you alert, provided you don’t overeat, and the fact that carbohydrates have a calming effect, should guide your food choices.
“It turns out that brief walks of five to 30 minutes after ingesting food can accelerate metabolism.” — Dr. Andrew Huberman.
If you want to get all of the benefits from your lunch, taking a short walk afterward is critical. Force yourself to get up and go outside. That brings you into the optical flow we discussed in the first article and gives your brain and body more information about the time of day. Most of your circadian rhythms, health rhythms and all of your cognitive rhythms are supported by your cells. Daylight is their primary way of knowing where they are in time, so, leaving your workplace for 5–30 minutes after lunch is good for metabolism, nutrient utilization and all of the organs and tissues in your body because of receiving light exposure.
Non-Sleep Deep Rest and Mindfulness
“Non-sleep deep rest, or NSDR, increases your effectiveness and performance in everything: physical performance, mental performance, sleep performance. It also supports better brain and body function and lowers anxiety.” — Dr. Andrew Huberman.
Mindfulness is split into two main groups: active and passive mindfulness. Active mindfulness is everything that takes your mind away from your thoughts and allows you to concentrate on something else. Activities such as running, boxing, yoga, walking and even eating, given that they are done mindfully, significantly impact your brain and ability to focus.
Passive mindfulness is when you are concentrating on something without being active. You have heard about meditation and its different forms: breathing, transcendental meditation, loving-kindness meditation, third eye meditation, yoga nidra and more. But, according to Dr. Andrew Huberman, there’s one NSDR that has shown even more profound relaxation, heightened focus, accelerated plasticity and learning within the brain. It is self-hypnosis.
The essence of self-hypnosis is for a person to guide their brain toward a particular outcome or change. Self-hypnosis helps to activate the insula, the area of your brain that allows it to be idle. The insula can enhance your sense of interoception, an internal state, and it can increase the brain area that is responsible for deep relaxation, focus and self-awareness.
Start practising brief 10-minute mindfulness after your lunch. That will help you to enter a state of deep relaxation and you will then exit that state in a very focused and deliberate way, allowing you to lean into your afternoon in an alert way without brain fog or grogginess.
“Hydration, again, is vitally important for brain function and for all bodily functions. And I often forget to do it, so I’ve just sort of linked the drinking of water to my hypnosis practice. As soon as I’m done, I hydrate.” — Dr. Andrew Huberman.
Hydration is vitally essential for your brain work and all of your bodily functions. To further improve your focus, you need an adequate supply of electrolytes in your body. You will feel mentally clear and you will perform better physically and mentally if you drink water that contains electrolytes: sodium, magnesium and potassium. Place sea salt or rehydration vitamins into the water and drink it to allow neurons to function correctly.
If you often forget to do that, try to link drinking water to one of your other routines such as lunch or a walk. As soon as you’re finished with a routine and are hydrated sufficiently, start another 90 minutes of focused work. If you usually feel pretty sleepy after lunch, read in our first article about how shifting your morning caffeine to 90 minutes or two hours after waking is helpful. In addition to fasting and late lunch intake and mindfulness, caffeine later in the day will allow you to move through the afternoon without compromising your focus.
“Now, if you’re a napper and you want to nap, no big deal. Naps can be wonderfully beneficial.” — Dr. Andrew Huberman.
You can be pleasantly surprised with how easy it is to avoid an afternoon dip. Naps can be wonderfully beneficial. Here are the rules for napping according to sleep science. According to Jamie Zeitzer of the Stanford Sleep Laboratory, and Matt Walker from Berkeley, naps should be 90 minutes or less. Naps for 20 minutes are okay but they should not be longer than 90 minutes. There are two types of people when it comes to naps. Napping interferes with falling asleep and staying asleep for some people. Then there are people for whom naps don’t interfere. You have to decide what applies to you.
If you’re somebody who can nap and not have any trouble falling asleep and staying asleep later that night, by all means, nap. Just make it 90 minutes or less because, if you’re starting to sleep more in the afternoon, that can be problematic. If you’re somebody who can nap for 10 or 20 minutes, that’s better than getting an entire 90-minute cycle unless you didn’t get enough sleep the night before. You have to figure out what’s right for you. There’s a lot of variety involved but that’s essentially what the science says.
Focused Work Blocks
“If you can squeeze in a third 90-minute work block, or if you can get four 90-minute work blocks, then more power to you!” — Dr. Andrew Huberman.
When you have had your lunch and had a walk and mindfulness time after it, you can enter your next 90-minute focused work block. Start that again with no internet connection, no phone (unless your work is related to phone calls or meetings are among your key activities) or other distractors and complete work that’s important to you.
Combined, that’s just three hours of focused work and it may not seem like a lot. However, if you try to dissect an ordinary day, and look at the arc and structure of that day, and then add up the total time in which you were in deep, focused and dedicated work, it will amount to about three or four hours. So, having two blocks of focused work is what you should aim for. Done correctly, those two blocks will accomplish more than a day of unfocused work will.
Outside of those 90-minute work blocks, you can check your messages, email, respond to various demands, or live your life. Those blocks are certainly not the only times each day in which you should be trying to focus and work. They are dedicated times to do that. Obviously, you need to adapt and modify what we have discussed today in ways that best serve you and your schedule.
That’s all for today. Next time, we will continue with Performance Protocols, focusing on the last part of the day — evening. Keep reading and share your comments below!
This episode is based on a podcast, “Huberman Lab: Maximizing Productivity, Physical & Mental Health with Daily Tools | Episode 28 on Apple Podcasts”. Please listen to that if you want to get more details. Many thanks to Dr. Andrew Huberman for sharing his knowledge.