Using Work Snacks to Maximize Productivity (and Stay Focused)

Work meal

Aircall is the phone system for modern business, and this means a few things. 

For one, we understand the contemporary workplace. Open floor plans, couches, Bevi machines, Sonos speakers playing 808s at 11 am…

With all these options (and potential distractions), employers need to trust their employees are making choices that promote productivity and well being.

And this can be a double-edged sword. Workers want to show this trust is justified, so they make sacrifices in the name of loyalty. Unlimited PTO goes unused, and the lunch hour is reduced to 15-minutes. Before too long, a lot of “perks” begin to harm — more than help — productivity. (Note: Mealtime is an Aircall institution)

To top it all off, if you’re working in a sales or support role, you’re probably sitting (or standing) at a desk for many hours each day. This can lead to bad habits that negatively affect performance.

Using Perks to Your Advantage: Snacks

Snacks are one of the many plus-sides of working for a modern company. When utilized correctly, these delicious treats can boost energy, focus the mind, and help you achieve targets.

When used incorrectly, they distract you from your tasks, increase sluggishness, and diminish overall health. 

Here’s an overview of how to snack right, win more deals, and delight customers. Ka-pow!

Snack to Fight the Sleepies

Theoretically, the modern workplace is okay with employees taking a nap during the day. After all, if you get your work done and hit your targets, everything is good, right?

Right. But while the person splayed on the bean bag is clearly living their best life, something remains unshakably taboo about literally snoozing off while making the day’s wage. Plus, sales and support reps need to be ready for action at a moment’s notice.

Most of us would prefer to stay alert, productive, and wholly unobjectionable between the hours of nine to six. This requires keeping our bodies and minds primed for peak performance.

The main culprit of slumberous workers is a big lunch. You already know that bahn mi is going to leave you feeling bahn-mitigated (!) at your desk, but what can you do? You’re so hungry, your stomach growls are audible on video calls.

If your solution to this feeling is to run out and get a large lunch, you’re falling into a trap! Large meals lead to food comas for two reasons.

Understanding the Post-Lunch Nap

First of all, your body is really good at self-regulation. When you eat a large number of carbohydrates and fats, the intestinal lining releases hormones to communicate with your brain. These hormones are basically saying, “Alert: Large biological function in progress. Divert all extra energy toward digestion, immediately.” Your brain uses a TON of energy, and like it or not, your body prioritizes biological functions above that deck you’ve been working on. Mental focus will suffer as your body places digestion over cognitive tasks.

Furthermore, lunches heavy in simple carbohydrates will raise your insulin levels. To make a long story short, insulin releases tryptophan, which is converted to melatonin and serotonin in your brain, again, making you sleepy. (Side note, the presence of these chemicals is also why you may feel happy after eating a large meal.)

The key is finding foods that fill you up but don’t let you down. That is to say, find snacks that keep you full between meals so you don’t end up feeling like you need an entire Thanksgiving dinner by the time your monthly team-sync ends. 

Warning: More petty science ahead.

Understanding the Glycemic Index

Some foods keep you fuller for longer. The reason involves some digestive chemical interactions that I don’t want to (and in many cases can’t) explain in this blog post.

What I can say is that various food-substances break down at slower and faster rates. The slower a food-source breaks down in your digestive tract, the less your insulin levels will spike, and the longer you’ll feel full. The speed with which food breaks down is measured using the Glycemic Index (GI).

Basically, you need to consume a steady stream of snacks with a low GI to avoid feeling too hungry come lunchtime. Common categories of low GI foods include:

  • Nuts
  • Fruits
  • Whole grains
  • Proteins (think beef jerky, beans, yogurt, etc.)

But staying satiated isn’t the only part of this equation. Eating the wrong foods — those with a high glycemic index — will leave you craving more.

When you’re hungry, your paleomammalian brain will desire the most sugary, delicious treat available (hello sour-patch kids). But following your instincts here is a bad choice. 

Large influxes of fructose stimulate the creation of scientific-sounding things like the appetite increasing hormone, Ghrelin, and decrease the presence of appetite suppressants like peptide YY.

If this reads fuzzy to you, rest assured, you’re not alone. The takeaway is that wholesome foods, which are high in protein and complex carbohydrates, fill you up and provide nutrients between meals. Meanwhile, delicious but sugary ones will make you more hungry and leave your body feeling worse throughout the day.

(What’s a good way to tell whether a carbohydrate is complex? Look at the nutrition label and subtract the “sugar” content from the “total carbs” number. There’s your answer — the higher the result the better.)

Stay Productive by Staying (a Little Bit) Hungry

Hunger can be detrimental to mental focus. It’s popularly cited that judges give more lenient sentences after lunch recess as opposed to before. But there’s another side to this equation.mouse reading book

While you should avoid detrimentally-low blood sugar levels, there’s a reason to believe maintaining a reasonable level of hunger actually improves learning and thinking capabilities. The same appetite-inducing hormone, Ghrelin, as we mentioned earlier has been shown to improve cognitive abilities…  of lab mice.

These types of studies aren’t conclusive, unless — of course — you’re a mouse. But what we know about the digestive process supports the premise that not overeating keeps the chemical balance in your brain primed for performance, rather than digestion.

Anecdotal side note: The most productive employee in Aircall’s US office, Jeff Reekers, intentionally eats small meals to stay focused throughout the day (see video above).

How You Should Snack at Work

Personal diets will inevitably vary, and if you want to get even more scientific with your snacking, I highly encourage visiting a registered dietician.

That being said, here are a few delicious takeaways to help you power through.

Snack frequently

It’s better to eat multiple snacks between smaller meals. This way your blood sugar stays stable, helping you avoid spikes that leave you tired, and dips that leave you craving sustenance. 

Snack in moderation

As with most good things, free snacks are best enjoyed in moderation. This should come as no surprise, but even though Clif bars pack in a lot of good energy, three or four does not equal lunch.

Don’t believe me? I’ve seen it myself. Cereal bowls filled with trail mix, and coffee mugs overflowing with chocolate-covered almonds. Don’t let good snacks become a bad meal.

Snack on nutritious foods

When heading to your shared kitchen or pantry, select foods that contain nutrients your body actually needs to survive. 

  • Unsaturated fats
  • Protein
  • Carbohydrates (see formula above)
  • Fiber
  • Vitamins

Need a shortlist of edible foods?

  • Nuts
  • Yogurt
  • Fresh fruit
  • Maybe pretzels

Recognize why you’re snacking

I admit it — I’m known to snack when I’m feeling unproductive. I can’t focus on the task at hand, so my mind aimlessly carries me to the yogurt pretzels and baby-bell cheese wheels (oh, the wax casing! So classy and so tactile!).

Maybe what I really need to do is switch to another task, or take a 20-minute walk while listening to a podcast. Clear the cobwebs, so-to-speak.

Like Snacks?

However you snack, there’s little argument that modern businesses are offering more perks to attract and retain top talent.

And on an unrelated note, Aircall has snacks. We’re currently hiring!

The phone system for modern business