As Tony Schwartz of The Energy Project remarked, “The way we are working isn’t working.” It’s as true for the C-suite business executive and high-powered lawyer as it is for the tireless teacher and caring nurse.
Think about the nurse who often skips her lunch to care for a patient, or the teacher who spends his free time helping students, leaving very little time for himself. Or the social innovator running on a daily regimen of two pots of coffee, five hours of sleep, and an exclusive diet of Ramen Noodles in order to bring about a better future. These people have a common thread throughout their work: a deep dedication and often all-consuming drive to give and serve others—at the expense of their own health.
For the past few years, I’ve been working to help people establish the habits needed to better manage the unsustainable “give more, work more” cycle these purpose-driven professionals often find themselves in.
As the founder of Movemo, a health service company for impact professionals, I believe that healthy habits can improve anyone’s ability to give more to the people and causes that matter most to them. Habits like regular exercise, healthy eating, mindfulness, adequate sleep, and time management are critically important acts of self-care that build the capacity and resiliency needed to do deeply important work.
If you find yourself in the “give more, work more” cycle, here are eight things you can do, without too much inconvenience, to better manage your health and energy, so you can more effectively do work the work that matters to you.
Swap a cup of coffee for a cup of green tea: Coffee—and more specifically, caffeine—like most things, isn’t bad when consumed in moderation; in fact it may be quite beneficial. But it's often overconsumed, which leads to insomnia, anxiety, and irritability. To reduce your intake, swap one cup of coffee for a cup or two of green tea, which has less caffeine per cup (25 mg per 8 fl oz) but also contains a host of chemical compounds essential to good health.
If you’re a bit tentative about giving up your cup of joe, aim to restrict your intake to two cups maximum, and always before 2 p.m.
Bonus: Substitute all your coffee consumption for green tea.
Take 50 conscious breaths: Meditation has been proven to lessen the energy drain caused by anxiety, emotional problems, insomnia, and stress. It’s quite simple to get started, and can be done absolutely anywhere at anytime. Just close your eyes, relax, and follow the sensation of your breath going in and out of your nostrils.
If you are new to meditation, check out the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center’s website for a guided five-minute breathing meditation podcast.
Bonus: Find a quiet place to sit uninterrupted and focus on your breathing for 10-20 minutes.
Avoid eating food with wheat: For some people, modern wheat inflames the body, causing dwindling energy levels throughout the day. Avoid eating pasta, bread, baked goods, and most cereals. Substitute your sandwich for a salad, or your pasta bowl for a rice bowl.
Bonus: To further rid your diet of energy spiking and sapping foods, avoid products that contain too much sugar and not much else in the way of nutrition, including fruit juices, sodas, candy, granola bars, and the like.
Get up for 5-10 minutes every hour during the workday: Sitting has been dubbed the smoking of this generation. Sitting for extended periods of time reduces your metabolism, and sets in motion hormonal changes that can lead to a host of health complications. Try getting up for 5-10 minutes every hour to stretch, do squats, pushups, or simply walk around the office. Just reducing your sitting time by one hour throughout the day goes a long way.
Bonus: Convert your workstation into a standing desk, or if you’re mobile enough, try working at a bar height table, only sitting down as you need.
Raise your heart rate for 20 minutes a day: Most of the health and energy-boosting benefits of exercise can be accrued by raising your heart rate for just 20 minutes a day. It doesn’t even have to be in a continuous block—it can be two sets of 10 minutes, or 10 sets of two minutes. Small additions like a 10-minute brisk walk with a colleague during lunch, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator can add up to 20 minutes without much inconvenience.
Bonus: Aim to keep your heart rate up for a total of 45 minutes to an hour with whatever activity you enjoy, be it running, gardening, lifting weights, or playing a sport.
Work in 90-minute intervals interspersed with 10- to 15-minute breaks: According to Tony Schwartz of The Energy Project, the most effective application of one’s energy seems to be in a work-to-recovery routine of 90 minutes of focused, deliberate work, followed by 10- to 15-minute breaks.
This fluctuation between laser-focused attention and adequate renewal is essential to energy management, and seems to be the optimal work-to-rest ratio for the top performers in any field.
Bonus: To further improve your productivity, focus on the critical few tasks that provide the most benefit to your work and schedule them into your 90-minute intervals.
Do the most important thing on your to-do list first thing in the morning: By tackling the most important task right away, you apply your energy efficiently and can continue your day knowing you're making progress on the thing that matters the most.
Bonus: Batch similar low priority tasks together, like emailing and making calls, so you avoid the energy-sapping effects of task switching, giving you more space, time, and energy to apply to your most important task.
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