Breakfast of Champion Workers (And Other Overlooked Contributors to Workplace Productivity)

Like many workers today, Michael Grothaus’ morning commute is from his bed to his home office. And like many adults – those who work from home and those who have a more traditional commute – Grothaus skips breakfast and fuels his morning with a cup of coffee (or two or three).

Curious whether eating a regular breakfast would improve his productivity, Grothaus committed to eating a more substantial morning meal for two weeks and tracked how he felt each day. He was skeptical going into the experiment, pointing out the tenet “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” that everyone heard from their mom was actually concocted as a lobbying effort in the early 20th century by John Harvey Kellogg and others who wanted to sell cereal.

Grothaus consulted with nutritionist and life coach Kim Sokhi, who told him while there is no conclusive long-term studies in adults that prove breakfast lives up to its “most important meal” status, there are numerous studies that show children and teens who regularly have a healthy breakfast perform better in school.

The Key Word Is Healthy

For his two-week experiment, Grothaus ate typical breakfasts of eggs, toast, fruit and occasionally even sugary cereal. (He admits one of his favorite breakfasts is Reese’s Peanut Butter Puffs.) “I instantly felt more ready to start the day,” he writes in an article for Fast Company online. “Sure, my usual cup of coffee always gives me a kick in the morning that wakes me up and helps me focus on all the work I need to get done, but when I added food, my morning jump-start felt less like a ‘kick’ and more like an energy steadily growing in me.”

The extra oomph Grothaus felt from eating breakfast didn’t last as long when the morning meal was his beloved Peanut Butter Puffs. Not surprising, says Sokhi. Sugary cereals will boost blood sugar levels for a quick energy boost, with the emphasis on quick – and the fallout is hunger cravings for more sugar and carbs. If you’re going to have a sugary breakfast, you would be better off having no breakfast at all, Sokhi says.

Grothaus notes the biggest change he felt during his breakfast experiment was less stress. “I still had the same amount of tasks to complete as I normally did, but the internal chaotic mad dash to finish them didn’t materialize in my mind.”

Again, no surprise, says Sokhi. “Food can greatly impact our moods and mental health. When our body and brain are starved, we can start of feel low in energy, foggy and easily overwhelmed.”

Workplace Boosts Beyond Breakfast

Here are some other factors that may contribute to workplace productivity that are commonly overlooked:

Office lighting – According to a study by the American Society of Interior Design, 68 percent of employees complain about the lighting situation in their offices. The most common mistakes are lights that are too dim and lights that are too harsh. The best solution, says Andrew Jensen, a business efficiency expert, is increased use of natural light. A British study showed that windows are the No. 1 determinant of worker satisfaction with their personal work space. “Natural lighting renovations have been shown to result in happier workers, less absenteeism and fewer illnesses, and, because better lighting encourages satisfaction among workers, it also results in increased productivity,” Jensen states.

Tethering employees to email – Even if you don’t expect an immediate response to your emails, your employees may think you do. Monitoring email throughout the day and jumping to respond when they hit in boxes ensures constant task switching and prevents employees from thoughtfully prioritizing their work, states productivity trainer Maura Thomas in an article on productivity killers for Harvard Business Review.

Open workspaces – Open offices have been touted as a means to encourage collaboration and get away from “cube farms,” but some studies show open offices do not foster more teamwork and, in fact, can be noisy, distracting and drag on productivity. Specialists in workspace design recommend providing different workspaces for employees’ different preferences.