How to Be More Productive Without Ruining Your Health

Productivity advice is not always honest.

Younes Henni, PhD
5 min readNov 1, 2021
Image by SnapwireSnaps from Pixabay.

I watched hours of productivity videos and read bestselling books. I learned how to work better, longer, and achieve my goals faster. I was all pumped up.

After weeks of coding, writing, designing, and zoom meetings, I noticed changes in my body. My writs hurt, my back was stiff, my neck was sore, my eyesight was more blurry than usual. What’s going on?

I wish productivity advice were more honest. The truth is, most productivity advice won’t tell you this:

  • The more you sit, the shorter your lifespan.
  • The longer you stare at screens, the faster your eyesight declines.
  • The less you sleep, the higher your risk of hypertension, diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, weight gain, and depression.

Knowing this, I tweaked my work habits a bit. I made myself a new system I call “healthy productivity”. For me, it’s no longer about getting work done. Healthy productivity is about getting work done and staying healthy.

Here’s my “healthy productivity” system so you can follow it as well. I’ve based these steps on solid scientific research and expert advice. So click the hyperlinks throughout to access the resources.

#1 — Keep your eyes healthy

Looking at screens all the time lead to all kinds of eyesight problems: dark circles, eye fatigue, eye strain, myopia, and dry eyes.

If your work requires staring at screens all the time, there are several ways to limit the damage to your eyesight. Here are some:

  • Use your window, a balcony, or terrace, to look far in the distance as frequently as possible. Looking far away is immensely relaxing to the eyes.
  • Get your daily dose of sunlight. Yes, sunlight is critical to the functioning of the eyes. Recommended duration is 30 mins on sunny days, 90 mins if on cloudy days.
  • Eat more leafy plants, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and healthy fats. Why? Because the eyes need certain nutrients to function correctly. And these foods provide all the nutrients your eyes need.
  • Set a minute or two each day to practice eye movement exercises (Find some good eye exercises here.). Eye movement exercises strengthen the eye muscles and relieve some eye syndromes such as eye strain, fatigue, and dry eyes.

Simple as they are, these tips help you care for one of the most precious tools you have: your eyesight.

#2 — Stand up more

Prolonged sitting shortens your lifespan, literally.

Scientists found that ticket inspectors live longer and are healthier than bus drivers. Why? Because bus drivers sit all day long while ticket inspectors walk and climb stairs and stay active when working.

Here are a few tweaks to stand more:

  • Take a five-minute break for every 30 to 45 minutes, walk around, or do some light stretching.
  • Get a height-adjustable desk. This way, you can alternate between sitting and standing positions.
  • Have a phone call? Do it while standing.

Bus drivers and ticket inspectors — two people working side by side, yet with different health profiles — are proof that simple behavioural change can go a long way in helping you live longer and healthier.

#3 — Follow the 270 minutes rule

According to Professor Andrew Huberman, a neuroscientist at Stanford University, you shouldn’t:

  • Do more than 270 minutes (~4.5 hours) of high-focus work each day.
  • Do more than 90 minutes non-stop of high-focus work.

High-focus work includes activities such as programming, writing, learning languages, and so on.

What these two rules mean is that you need to break your 270 minutes into sessions. For example, you can do three sessions of 90 minutes or nine sessions of 30 minutes. After each session ends, you must take a break.

If you do high-focus work for long hours and non-stop, chances are you will burn out quite often. The 270 minutes rule ensures you stay sane and progress toward your goals.

#4 — Close your eyes without falling asleep

According to research, closing your eyes is the simplest productivity hack.

Your brain is like a machine with limited energy. Vision, it turns out, sucks a lot of that energy. When you close your eyes, you free up a significant amount of brainpower. And when this happens, your brain works harder to retrieve details, imagine creative ideas, and find answers to challenging problems.

If you never close your eyes for a few minutes, chances are you’re missing on great ideas that only come when your eyes are closed.

Among all productivity hacks, none is as easy, quick, and risk-free as simply closing your eyes. So next time you’re struggling to solve a problem, push past a creative block, or need to remember what you’ve learned, close your eyes for a moment. Only then you might unleash your brain’s true potential.

#5 — Sleep well

Poor sleep impacts your health and mental well-being. It’s no surprise that good sleep correlates with greater productivity.

Matt Walker is a neuroscientist and the author of the bestselling book Why We Sleep. He shares five tips to sleep better, wake up refreshed and full of energy:

  • No caffeine 10 hours before bedtime.
  • Don’t nap.
  • Sleep in a cold room.
  • No clocks (including your phone) in the bedroom.
  • Relax your mind before sleep: meditate, take a hot bath, journal, listen to a story.

Good sleep is the best medicine. It is also the best way to stay productive during your waking hours. And evidence shows it’s true.

#6 — Walk more

Scientists recommend walking at least 7500 steps (at least) a day. Plus, if you don’t do any other exercise, long walks are an effortless way to stay active and burn calories.

  • Do you listen to podcasts and audiobooks? Do it while walking.
  • Ditch the lift and take the stairs instead.
  • If you commute to and from work, walk to the next station instead of the nearest one.
  • Park your car a little further.
  • Are you going somewhere? See if walking gets you there faster than the bus.
  • Get off the bus one stop early and walk the rest of the way.

Unlike running or weight lifting, walking is an effortless sport. Once I realised I could walk to town in 35 minutes instead of a 45 minutes bus ride, I’ve been going on foot whenever I could.

Final thoughts

I wish productivity advice were more honest. Imagine the following headlines:

  • How to learn coding in 3 days and raise your blood pressure.
  • Write a novel in 30 days and get Carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • How I read 80 books this year and screwed my eyes in the process.

Sadly, it’s the reality of things. Working hard and ignoring our health and mental wellbeing comes with a heavy price.

If you’re a dreamer, please do mind your health while chasing your goals. Take breaks, spend time outdoors, walk more, socialise, and eat healthily. You only live once.



Younes Henni, PhD

Physicist • Soft Dev • ☕ Junkie • I bring you the latest in science, tech, health, economics & personal growth. To read all: