In this post, I want to share my secret to enjoyable and productive days. The short form of the formula goes like this: prepare and drink a strong cup of butter coffee; meditate for 10 to 30 minutes; eat a protein-rich breakfast on some days and skip breakfast on other days; and finally, use timeboxing to alternate between 30-minute bursts of work and 5-to-10-minute breaks.
This formula keeps my energy levels up and helps to maintain focus and concentration throughout the day. Best of all, when I consequently apply it, I still have plenty of energy to spare in the evening.
Does this sound too good to be true? If you suffer from brain fog, low energy, or a lack of focus and concentration, or crave sugar or food to keep you going, give it a try.
Here is how I implement the different steps of my formula:
1. Butter Coffee
Put 4 to 5 g of instant coffee and 10 to 15 g of salted butter (preferably from grass-fed cows, e.g., Anchor butter) into a coffee mug. Fill the mug two-thirds with boiling water and stir the brew until coffee and butter are completely dissolved. Top it up with 100 ml of whole (unskimmed) milk.
How much caffeine is in a mug of butter coffee? Using the numbers for instant coffee from the USDA’s national nutrient database, a mug of butter coffee contains between 126 and 157 mg of caffeine1. This is well below the amount considered safe for healthy adults2.
I usually enjoy my coffee first thing in the morning. I can feel its effect in about 15 minutes – I become alert, sometimes slightly euphoric, and can concentrate easily.
Why do I put butter in my coffee? It tastes great, helps me to avoid a caffeine crash, and keeps hunger at bay.
Why do I use instant coffee instead of ground coffee? This is for convenience. Instant coffee, butter, and boiling water can be mixed together quite well by just stirring with a spoon. After lunch, I have a cup of more refined coffee or a cappuccino. You could easily brew you own coffee and mix everything in a blender though.
Variations on buttered coffee: Sometimes, I add a table spoon of coconut oil or a bit of cinnamon to my coffee, but generally I feel great with just the butter and the milk. A variation on the theme of butter coffee, bulletproof coffee, has been suggested by Dave Asprey, who learned about the power of butter during a trip to Tibet where he was served yak butter tea. Dave Asprey’s bulletproof coffee calls for the addition of a specific MCT oil (a component of coconut oil) and doesn’t contain milk or salt in the butter. The original yak butter tea typically does contain salt though.
Meditation is a sanctuary for me, a place where I can simply be and enjoy myself – and my morning coffee euphoria. After my morning coffee, I sit in a comfortable chair, close my eyes and observe my breathing, or what else may be going on in my body. I often alternate between the two. When thoughts pop up or I realize that my mind has started wandering, I simply go back to my breathing or observing of bodily sensations. I usually meditate for 20 to 30 minutes, but 10 minutes are just fine to start with. To remind me of the end of my meditation, I set a subtle alarm, such as a temple gong. That way, I don’t constantly have to check the clock. Herbert Benson, a Harvard cardiologist has devoted most of his research to the stress-relieving effects of meditation. In his 20-min Harvard lecture from 2004 he guides the participants on how to invoke the relaxation response, i.e., the antidote to the stress response through an easy-to-follow meditation. You could use this as a starting point.
3. How about breakfast?
Two or three days per week, I skip breakfast – and when I do this in combination with butter coffee, I rarely have cravings for food or snacks before lunch. A carbohydrate-rich breakfast tends to do just the opposite: I get hungry mid-morning and am more prone to mood-swings.
On other days, I have a protein-rich breakfast such as two eggs or an omelet fried in olive oil with a little bit of beef, pork, or cheese and two whole tomatoes and a quarter of an onion (for some carbohydrates). These days, I avoid bread, rice, potatoes, and other starches for breakfast as they tend to make me hungry faster and impact my mood.
There is a good number of people who experiment with intermittent fasting, e.g., shortening their daily window of food intake. James Clear, for example, has written an interesting post on intermittent fasting.
4. Timeboxing and Exercise
Our attention span and ability to focus on a specific task is limited. Most people cannot concentrate on a difficult mental task such as reading dense non-fiction for prolonged periods of time without switching off or letting their mind wander all over the Internet. What’s more, research suggests that physical inactivity and sitting for prolonged periods of time can be detrimental to our health. We were built to move, and evolution hasn’t yet caught up with a brain sitting on a chair.
To keep my energy levels up, I work in so-called timeboxes of 30 minutes. After each timebox, I get up from my chair and move for 5 to 10 minutes. During some of the breaks, I put on my earphones and dance for 10 minutes. You could also do push-ups or just walk the stairs. This way, I easily get 20 to 30 minutes of aerobic exercise during my working day. Here is my in-depth post on timeboxing.
Timeboxing allows me to keep my energy and concentration up for the whole day. What’s more, when I finally shutdown my computer, I still have plenty of energy left for leisure. I still remember the old days when I was completely worn out after a day’s work – and this feels very different. A word of warning though: Timeboxing allows you to extend your working day, but, unless you absolutely have to, don’t do it: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
What if you don’t like certain aspects of this routine or can’t handle coffee? Pick the parts that work for you: substitute tea for coffee or completely skip the energy drinks. But, don’t skip timeboxing and getting up from your chair. These two things alone have had such a profound impact on my ability to concentrate, energy levels, and general well-being.
- United States Department of Agriculture, “Beverages, Coffee, Instant, Regular, Powder,” National Nutrient Database, accessed March 25, 2016, https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/4280?manu=&fgcd=.
- Melanie A. Heckman, Jorge Weil, and Elvira Gonzalez De Mejia, “Caffeine (1, 3, 7-Trimethylxanthine) in Foods: A Comprehensive Review on Consumption, Functionality, Safety, and Regulatory Matters,” Journal of Food Science 75, no. 3 (April 1, 2010): R77–87, doi:10.1111/j.1750-3841.2010.01561.x.
- Image credit: Meditation, Redvries and Fried Eggs, Gerald_G via Openclipart.org