5 effective strategies for maintaining wellness and performance through a work-life balance
I think we can all agree that life, opportunities and outlook have all become extremely blurry this year. It’s not only business outlook that has been thrown into the mist, but also the way we do business and how we ‘turn up’ fully to work with the physical workplace suspended or intermittently accessible.
There’s a definite repeating pattern occurring in my private one-to-one sessions. More and more people, while grateful for their jobs and work activities, are booking-in with ongoing mental tension, neck pain, disrupted sleep, strained relationships at home, digestive issues and perhaps most apparent, wavering self-confidence at work.
The augmented work connections via online platforms, voice calls, different communication processes and access to leadership have deprived many of the ‘soft comms’, the body language, spontaneous conversations and feedback that the physical workplace allows. In addition, for most of us, working from home has blurred the boundaries between work and private life. Wellness habits, natural breaks from work-related space and content, and accessing the outdoors have disappeared – unless we consciously reclaim them.
In many ways, this blurring of boundaries, as with so many aspects of this disruptive, disquieting year, has put the focus right back on how each of us can change and take charge of our wellbeing and responsiveness to the current situation.
It appears that ‘the blur’ is reinstating self-mastery as the new superpower of the virtual work dynamic.
Here are my top tips for blitzing through ‘the blur’. They are small, micro-adjustments to self and process that yield incredibly powerful results.
1. Avoid the temptation to HUSTLE
I wrote about ‘The Hustle’ last year when a small business advocate posted this on his thread:
It’s an archaic notion that working into the wee hours defines your worth, value-creation abilities or even defines you as a creative entrepreneur. Much worse, it endorses a vicious cycle of imbalance. This is, without doubt, the mantra of the Dumb Hustler, and it just doesn’t inspire a growing number of people in business who have mastered the art of the Smart Hustle.
It has been a few years since I moved from roles within the corporate world into supporting people within it through wellbeing programs. These programs enable the maximum performance of a balanced, vital, human system through meditation and energy work. I know the hustle. Sometimes, depending on your sector and client time zone, you need to deliver at 3am. And in the year of ‘the blur’, you may be tempted to return to being available 24/7 and replying within a nano-second to all requests. I did it for years. But it’s not a sustainable operating mode.
Here’s the thing…if you’re up at 3am over-thinking,
you’re not well – and you’re a train wreck in the making.
There is now a plethora of research and deepening understanding of the human nervous system, about how the brain and body chemistry works best. Also, about how we can master dazzling performance by developing the skills to know and grow our inner landscapes, our minds, our awareness.
Let’s start with sleep.
There are many amazing sleep studies, all reporting slightly different requirements for vitality and top performance. The ones that I pay attention to come from the military and airline industries because there’s a greater impetus to get it right. There’s nothing more unsettling than the thought of a sub-optimal, fully armed soldier or commercial pilot. John Medina’s bestseller, Brain Rules, lays it out with startling clarity.
Here are some snippets:
- Sleep is critical to wellbeing (obviously); however, recent research shows just how critical. In fact, advice on the amount of sleep required for healthy brain function has been revised upwards again to seven to nine hours.
- One night’s loss of sleep results in about a 30% loss in overall cognitive skill. Bump that up to two nights, and the figure becomes 60%.
- With 6 hours of sleep or less, per night, for just five nights, cognitive performance matches that of a person suffering from 48 hours of continuous sleep deprivation.
- If a top-performing student gets just under 7 hours of sleep during weekdays, and about 40 minutes more on weekends, they will begin to perform in the bottom 9% of non-sleep deprived individuals. Cumulative losses during the week add to cumulative deficits during the weekend and, if not caught up, carry over to the following week.
Unless the Dumb Hustlers are getting to bed at 7pm each night, then they are perpetuating a cycle of lowering cognitive function and illness. Besides, seven to nine hours of sleep per night not only allows our active neurons to rest, but it also has a direct effect on the body’s ability to ‘clean’ the brain.
The glial cells are crucial for cleaning up the neurotoxins that build up in our brains throughout the day. When we don’t get enough sleep, these glial cells can’t do their job, and we end up with impaired memories and attention spans. Good sleep also allows the nervous system to ‘recalibrate’ and restore connectivity.
The impact of insufficient and poor-quality sleep makes attention falter, impairs memory and our ability to think through problems. It adds to the stress/overwhelm/stress cycle, making it harder to ‘bring the system down’.
When the Dumb Hustler switches on the lights at 3am including digital devices, they send a stream of photons into their system that tells the brain not to secrete melatonin, which is regulated via our circadian rhythm, that in turn is directly affected by light. With significantly increased screen time during ‘the blur’, understanding this and creating time off-screen is imperative.
We all know the frustration and emotional discharge of being tired. Fuses shorten, reactive patterns rise, all of which vastly affect our relationships and attractiveness as a business operator. Relationship and connection are the currencies of entrepreneurial businesses, and cognitive efficiency is the conduit.
Yet, even more alarming are the effects on long-term health. For the smarts on this, I asked one of the brightest natural medicine minds I know, International Naturopath, Kate Powe, what happens chemically in the body when we’re in the Dumb-Hustle-Cycle. Here’s Kate’s response:
“Sleep has a profound effect on metabolism, thyroid and immune function, mood and appetite regulation and subsequent development of chronic diseases such as obesity, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease and T2 diabetes. Sleep deprivation can lead to higher levels of the hormones dopamine (wakefulness) and cortisol (stress and fat storage) and lower levels of hormones serotonin and melatonin (mood and sleep). This hormone dysregulation not only encourages a perpetuating cycle of wakefulness, but also promotes disruption to the appetite-regulating hormones leptin and ghrelin, increasing calorie intake, fat storage and insulin resistance. And with up to 21% of Australian women already suffering from insulin-related PCOS, along with the prevalence of cardiovascular disease and mental health disorders, downplaying the importance of sleep is not just unwise but irresponsible in the face of some of our greatest health challenges to date.”
The Smart Hustle is not ‘out there’ but ‘in here’.
There now exists a large body of research that evidences the physiological and psychological benefits of nurturing mindfulness through meditation. The return to ‘mindfulness’ as an enabler for success and happiness is becoming a must-have for navigating ‘the blur’.
Regular meditation as part of employee wellbeing and organisational culture enables a specific set of benefits that are critical to organisational success. These benefits are generated through increased activity and structural changes in certain parts of the brain and nervous system. They include:
- Adapting to change
- Learning and assimilating new processes and information quickly
- Lateral thinking, problem solving and innovation
- Greater cognitive function generally
- Better interpersonal relations, communications, and collusion
- Improved resilience and calm emotional responses to stress and anger triggers
Mindfulness meditation creates a circuit-breaker to the pace of modern life and overtaxing of the adrenal system. Regular practice is also proven to:
- Increase attention and presence
- Increase performance and productivity
- Improve sleep patterns
- Reduce stress and burnout
- Improve heart health and reduce blood pressure
- Assist with overcoming addictions
In other words, a life-ward Smart-Hustle-Cycle.
Perhaps the most exciting development I am seeing is the increased awareness and utilisation of energy work with busy executives. My private sessions, especially the remote sessions, are also being booked up by the Smart Hustlers. They know that by connecting with vital life force and channelling it through their central nervous system, they harmonise the physical systems, heal dissonance in the mind and body, and are better equipped to switch to a smarter hustle.
2. Employ small disciplines
Employing small disciplines to maintain standards has a significant effect on our state of mind and sense of self-mastery. In ‘the blur’, it’s so easy to forgo these opportunities to generate psychological boundaries and bring a lifeward routine into the working-from-home day. Every day, make your bed, clear the dishes, clean surfaces, put items back in their place, establish a new filing system for home and work documentation, and respond to bills and taxes promptly.
During the COVID lockdown, I committed to waking early and exercising well before the working day. It has become a small discipline that has kept me clear and productive. The actions are secondary to the impact of determination, effort and a sense of completion. That’s where the gold is. And staying home, when everything is orderly, clean and visually appealing, impacts how others perceive you across the screen and the way you order your work responses.
3. Keep up appearances
Most of us are familiar with the sub-liminal yet high impact of appearances, both of the person and the space in which they dwell. In ‘the blur’, this is one aspect of self-management that can so easily slip. The simple act of getting dressed for work, even if you are just walking into a different part of the house to start work, creates an excellent psychic demarcation that allows a mental and emotional shift into work-mode.
The advantage of online meetings is that it’s just the waist up that requires attention. However, also ensure that your background, desk, lighting and audio are clear, clean and visually appealing. The screen can fool us into thinking that we are somehow less exposed to those on the other side. Yet, in many ways, the opposite is true. Turn up fully, neatly clad to each meeting or call, as if you were walking into your boardroom at work. This shifts your sense of self, inspires others, and emanates the impression of mastery, on the inner and the outer, also maintaining performance through your work-life balance.
4. Bring balance with sensory stimulus
The current work patterns in ‘the blur’ have us very much dwelling in our mental aspect. Critical thinking, scheduling (again), the increased screen time and less time outdoors have us cooped up in the world of thought. An excellent hack, that stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which governs our rest, digestion and sensuality, is to increase sensory stimulus into our homes and home workspaces consciously. Natural light, open windows, colour and scent, and if possible soothing sounds, have an enormous impact on our sense of wellbeing.
I have been busy recently, recording audio lectures for my next online meditation course in a small corner of my spare room that I have ambitiously dubbed ‘the recording studio’. It’s away from the windows to minimise ambient noise. Yet, despite all the content being written and ready to go, I found myself swerving the recording work. I realised it was the feel of the space – clinical, hard lines, a corner, no colour. I started placing a single stem of tiger lilies in a long-stem vase every week in the space and the effect was immediate. The natural perfume, colour and beauty drew me like a magnet and helped me feel into the content I was recording. So simple, and so effective. Indoor plants not only provide this sensory stimulus but have the added benefit of cleansing and reoxygenating the air overnight.
Another well-known counteraction to too much time in the head, is exposure to nature. While we may not have been aware of it, the workplace allowed us time outside. The dash for the lunchtime sandwich, the movement between offices for meetings, the transit to and from the office, all provided a hit of natural light, feet to earth movement and fresh air. Getting out is key, even if it is for a ten-minute breathing practice or to take sunshine to your face. Better still is to start and end each day walking somewhere green. This break in critical thinking drops you back into your body and allows solutions and creative ideas to ripen. It opens access to subtle connective fields that we are deprived of when working and dwelling in isolation.
5. Carve clear boundaries for yourself and communicate them
In ‘the blur’, the boundaries between ‘work time’ and ‘personal time’ seem to have vanished for many who are good at what they do and they appear to be always accessible. Late night and weekend client requests, global team meetings scheduled for the wee hours, and ever-tightening turn-around times are all part of the game now. However, what I am observing with my private clients is that managing this comes down to personal management and clear communications.
Here are some examples of how you can enforce boundary clarity at home:
- Maintain a designated workspace and don’t allow work activities to ‘leak’ into bedrooms, living areas and especially shared family spaces.
- Prioritise tasks for the week and at the start of every day, and complete them. The sense of completion is one of our most underrated mental health boosters. Be clear on what you will achieve each day, complete it and let teams and colleagues know what you will be focusing on for the week.
- Maintain content boundaries. Another temptation once we finally switch out of work mode for the day/evening is to scroll social media or flick through Netflix mindlessly. Content affects us very deeply, and it’s a great strategy to consciously choose something inspiring and uplifting to balance the work content. Absorbing this content through mediums other than a screen is also a great tip. I have taken to listening to inspiring podcasts twice a week on my morning bike rides. Within that two-hour ride, new worlds have opened in my mind and heart, which in turn play into my sense of possibility and ingenuity at work.
- Set your auto-response messages for the weekend and for any time during the week you do not want to be disturbed. If your clients and colleagues understand your priority for undisturbed time, generally, they will respect it. Make sure your auto-response requests that they get back in contact when stated. This way, you’re not adding to your mental load of remembering which calls to reply to later.
- Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’. I have had to learn this in my work. The nature of my work in mentoring and teaching is that sometimes a client will hit a patch and rather than think through possibilities, will instinctively call for guidance. In my earlier years, I would take the call, talk them through, and follow-up, regardless of the time of day or night. Of course, if it is a serious crisis, I will respond. However, I have learnt that it is almost always beneficial for both myself and the client that I say ‘no’, if the call is quite clearly within my personal time, like late at night or over the weekend. The demonstration of boundaries and prioritisation of myself and family can help others regain some perspective, pause, breathe and sense into the reality of what they are experiencing without the drama.
- Switch off your phone when with your family or on a break. Better still, leave it on your desk. The world won’t unravel within an hour, and you will be amazed at how much mental and sensory space opens up without that tiny gadget on your person for a spell. Try it and see!
Small conscious shifts such as these generate a felt sense and appearance of self-mastery – the essential state for current times.
You can also bolster your efforts in finding calm, balance and self through Return, a meditation course that influences health, emotions, perceptions, and the way you live your life. Or explore self-enquiry through meditation and journaling in Discovery.
If you have any questions about maintaining wellness and performance through a work-life balance in these trying times, do get in touch. You can also visit my website to explore courses and useful content to guide you on your path to healing, self-discovery and mindful living.
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