Our friend and productivity ninja from Think Productive, Graham Alcott, is on an experiment where he joins us to fast during the first three days of Ramadan. To know more about this experiment, you can read the introduction here. In this series, he shares his reflections regarding fasting and productivity based on this experience. (Read Fasting Experiment: Day 1 | Day 3)
It’s 10.30pm on day two of my Ramadan fasting experience.
In some ways today has been easier than yesterday and in some ways it’s been more difficult. Easier, because I didn’t have much in my diary today apart from admin, so I could keep my own schedule and didn’t need to be out in the sun or dashing around on the tube. But it also felt more difficult: I was really struggling to eat more than my one meal last night, so it was like I had my evening meal to replenish some calories, but couldn’t cram in anything more to get anywhere close fuelling myself for the day ahead.
In fact, at 2am I felt so full and awake that it didn’t feel like sleeping. So I looked at my to-do list for the day ahead, picked a couple of chunky items and got cracking. I ended up sending an important email for a contract I’m negotiating at 3.30am. It felt pretty satisfying to be going back to bed at 4am, knowing that I had a lot less to do when I woke up! Unfortunately, I’d forgotten until I checked my calendar in the middle of the night that I had an 8am Skype call with Australia that couldn’t be moved, so I resolved to get up, do the call and then have a morning nap.
Having fasted all day yesterday, there were no nerves today when I woke up again. I knew what I was doing, I was expecting the hunger pangs and I don’t think my stomach was rumbling anywhere near as much as it was yesterday. But on the other hand, I spent most of the day in a bit of a nutritional and sleep-based deficit dullness.
So Ramadan productivity lesson number one: you have to ‘front-end’ how you organise your work. This can be quite empowering. Knowing that your brain will gradually turn to jelly is difficult to avoid, so you have to pick the most difficult or intense work to do first – either immediately as the fast resumes in the early hours, or immediately on getting started with your working day.
Lesson number two is about napping: I had an hours’ nap late morning/lunchtime and then another around 5pm. It’s strange how waking up for a short sleep leaves you feeling so refreshed.
Grogginess and grumpiness is a big problem. For me, anyway (!). I’m learning to live with it, but I think there are a couple of tactics I’m starting to employ to help with this. Firstly, if I find myself getting irritable, I name it. So it’s not the person’s fault I’m ‘irritated’, it’s the fasting’s fault. I find this depersonalises it. And then secondly, I’m finding on the phone and at my desk if I force a smile onto my face or swing my arms around, it just lifts my mood when my attention dulls. Now I’m not suggesting you can easily do that if you’re fasting whilst in a big open plan office, but that’s what’s worked for me!
And my final productivity fasting lesson is one I’ve learned by me not doing yesterday! To keep your energy up, you really need to be clever about what you eat during the evening, and go for quality not quantity. Have a smaller main meal, peppered with a varied selection of snacks and smaller meals to give variety and balance. So I made sure tonight that once I’d had my dates and water, the next thing I had before my main meal was a brain fuel shake. And by doing this early tonight, I’m planning on fitting in another shake before I resume fasting early in the morning. That way, I’ve had plenty of proteins, anti-oxidants and vitamins on top of the carbohydrates and vegetables in my main meal, rather than having a bigger main meal with less variety and then feeling stuffed.
So I have one day to go. Muslims around the UK and around the world have many more. If that’s you, then I salute you!
It’s certainly a tough undertaking. But I can see just from my couple of days’ experience that it’s also a beautiful and even exciting challenge – and one that provokes a state of gratitude, humility and appreciation for the present moment. It presents a challenge for those people wanting to remain active and productive – but then there’s also something rather wonderful about not just succeeding, but succeeding against the backdrop of sacrifice and adversity.
Until tomorrow, Ramadan Mubarak!