Starting a business was an eye-opener for me in many ways, certainly as I created a business around being healthy. A high level of stress was experienced (all self-induced), with tough financial decisions around each corner, and a mind that was splintered on the various components of entrepreneurship. In the past, I thought the best way to get things done was to simply work hard. “Push through” was my mantra. I prided myself in believing that I was a workhorse and could focus for hours and basically do it all. Discovered quickly that I was wrong about this and a lot of other things.
What I did learn that is that taking care of yourself is a priority no matter what line of work you are in, whether as an employee or business owner. Our health is very precious and our bodies are easily influenced by our thoughts, behaviors, and actions. With this in mind, I learned to change my mantra to “work smarter”. Read on to learn about the techniques that I’ve tested out and found to be a success for matching with this new mindset.
Successful People Don’t Multitask
I work alone in complete silence 99% of the time. No music or Netflix to distract me. When I’m in the car, the radio is turned off. But this doesn’t mean that I am awesome at multitasking, in fact no one is. My mind still wanders repeatedly. Like a squirrel looking for a nut, my attention can be easily pulled in a new direction by a text from a friend or an email letting me know of a new sale at Anthropologie.
Research backs up the fact that, despite what we think, our brains are not able to multitask. We can’t answer a text message while listening to someone tell a story. Our attention does not do a great job when being divided. Something has to give here and it’s usually in the loss of details. The consequences of attempting to do too many things at once mean that performance suffers, memory retention is poor, and the brain may be damaged by these actions. Oh, and ladies you are not exempt here. Not being able to multitask also pertains to you as well, despite what we think about being able to do it all.
What can you do to create focus more? Don’t divide your attention and pay attention to your task. Turn off outside distractions: phone, email, text, and music. You’ll find that you’re able to get more done, create better content, and be more productive. For me, I choose to work on only one item at a time. If I’m are writing a proposal, I put my phone in airplane mode and shut down my email. Speaking of airplanes… have you ever noticed how much stuff you can accomplish when working on an airplane? With no Wi-Fi and limited distractions, you’re able to tap into some major productivity. Apply this idea to your work life.
Prioritize the Day
After many months of randomly working on items left and right and feeling like I was running in circles, I became frustrated enough to change my work habits. Now each morning, I plan out what I want to accomplish that day. I start by choosing one item that is the most important task to focus on. Most of the time it is the exact thing that I don’t want to do as it requires the most energy and time from me. But I know that when I complete this, I can check off the day as a success.
In addition to planning out one main “to-do”, I select an additional two to three tasks for completion. Why such a tiny list you ask? Less really is the key here. You’ll feel more productive when focusing on small, specific tasks. After this list is complete, I estimate how long each item will take. This is based on the Pomodoro technique that works well for me.
Pomodoro is a time management strategy from the 1980s that I’ve been digging lately.
Let me break down how it works:
Choose a task to complete and estimate how many “Pomodoro’s” are needed to complete this (meaning how many 25 minutes blocks of time does this take?)
Select from one block to five blocks.Set your timer for 25 minutes and start the task
When the timer goes off, decide if you need a five-minute break or should you put your head back down and continue to work
Focus only on the task at hand: no multitasking allowed (see #1 above)
Track your progress so that you can assess how your time was really spent during the day.
Have you heard that sitting is the new smoking? Being inactive is downright terrible for so many aspects of your health. Movement and exercise are the keys to breaking this cycle. Your body wants to move. Might even say it craves it. Despite teaching group fitness and yoga classes on a weekly basis and going to the gym on other days, I’m still working on adding enough movement into my breaks. It’s a priority for me this year.
I know, not everyone likes to do this and they’d rather eat their ramen noodles over the laptop. It can be a hard habit to create. What I’m suggesting here is that you add in some movement at work during your downtime. I like taking 5-10 minutes out of each hour to push away from the desk, get a new view, and get my blood pumping.
How about during those Pomodoro breaks you get up and move it? Run up and down the stairs. Take off your shoes and walk barefoot outside. Walk your puppy. Or just walk anywhere. Stretch. Roll on that foam roller that’s been sitting in the closet. Hop on a scooter or bike. Basically, do anything but work. Your body (and mind) will thank you.
This doesn’t mean that you should be off the hook for cardio, strength, and stretching on a consistent basis. Go to the gym, work out with a friend, or get outside early in the morning. Starting your day by breaking a sweat will make it so much more productive, promise.
Sleep it Off
Okay, sleeping has never really been a problem for me. In fact, this probably should go on my resume: I’m a good sleeper. My Mom says that I would even put myself down for naps when I was a toddler. When I find myself having a hard time going to sleep or waking up early, I know that there’s something mentally that I need to deal with.
Getting a sound 7-8 hours of sleep is very important for many reasons. When your brain is at rest, it is repairing itself from the damage of the day. It’s fighting battles you might not be aware of, like potential heart disease, strokes, and cancer. Good sleep improves concentration and productivity, as well as boosting immunity. Looking for tips to boost the health of sleep? You can find more info on this here.
By cultivating ways to work smarter, I’ve learned to throw away my views of working hard. I’m back on a path toward building deeper wellness into my professional life. In the end, my health is worth it and I know yours is as well. Prioritize your day, move your body, and focus on getting enough sleep. You’ll be on track to working smarter.