A common job advertisement sounds a lot like this:
Seeking a hard-working professional able to multi-task in a fast- paced, dynamic business environment. Able to coordinate with a team and adapt to change quickly. Able to work under deadline. Hours may include weekends as needed. Two weeks paid vacation per year.
Read as: You will be overworked, burned out and over-extended. This job description is a recipe for increased stress, health issues and reduced productivity.
Whether you are self-employed or an employee, this description is, unfortunately, often, the reality. That lifestyle, over time, leads to health issues such as anxiety, depression, migraines, and heart attack.
Unfortunately, our society has taught us to be "on" all the time, which often means our attention is constantly divided, leading to lowered accuracy in our work, less presence in our conversations and less presence in our lives. We live in a constant state of fight or flight, elevating the cortisol in our bodies and sometimes even leading to adrenal failure.
So how do we escape this hamster wheel? Below are some tips that I've learned to embrace to create more life balance and increase productivity and enjoyment of my work and personal life.
1. Turn off notifications on your phone. That means email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. This goes for those of you with a smart watch as well- I see you checking your wrist during dinner or even your yoga class!
I realized one day that my heart rate would speed up, and I'd feel tense just being near my phone because of the constant pinging. Plus, it's incredibly distracting. Being constantly connected to our online lives takes us away from our real, physical lives. It sounds crazy and scary at first, but I've noticed a significant increase in productivity and reduced stress by removing these notifications, and know you will as well. I can still check email from my phone and my FB, but when I choose to, not because of a constant dinging reminder.
2. Stop multi-tasking. Your boss might hate me, and you might think you'll never get anything done, but I promise- you will and it will be better work than what you were doing before. Allowing yourself to fully focus on whatever the task is at hand will save your energy and help you concentrate on what is really happening in the moment. Close other browser windows and your email when you are working on something. Set a time for each task; for example, check your email when you have completed your current project, not during. You may have a job in which the phone is ringing and you must answer- that's fine. Answer the call, but don't keep typing the email you were writing or reading the document in front of you. Each task is separate. Give each your current, present attention.
3. Slow down. This step is the hardest for me. I naturally move and speak and think at a fast volume while doing five things (see step 2). My body pays for that speed though. Try to intentionally slow some of your movements to test it out. Do something at a quarter of the normal speed. Give yourself time and space to think before your speak. Leave early and drive slower than usual. See if you feel a difference and a calmness that wasn't there before.
4. Make micro to-do lists. We all have a to-do list a mile long, and they will NEVER be complete. Once an item is removed, twenty more are waiting. First, let's accept that life is constantly moving and that checklist is always there. However, we can make the list less intimidating and more manageable with this tip. I found that especially during my busy tax season, it works best to write a list of just 5 MUST DO's for the day. That's it. Five that will happen, and once- and if -they are finished, then the other items nagging at the door can be allowed in, one at a time. It's about priorities. Most of the time we forget that the world will not end if we don't complete everything. In fact, when we are no longer here, many of those items will still be waiting. Pick the ones that mean the most today.
5. Block out time to disconnect. My husband and I have gone so far as to schedule "screen-free Saturday" when we felt particularly overwhelmed. That day, we work in the yard, play with the dogs, and not look at TV, computers or our phones. We can answer a call or text if urgent, but that's it. You don't have to be that drastic though. Pick a half an hour or hour a day at first. Take a walk without your phone. No music. Just you. Walk and breathe.
These items are really just the beginning. However, if you start with even one of them for a week, notice the change you feel in your work and personal life.