This is the final and 4th part in Magdalena Bak-Maier’s wonderful series ‘Heros and Quests: Equipping you for success‘
How to be productive and avoid burnout
Why is it that for many of us health and wellbeing is something we take for granted until it lets us down. Our bodies are amazing machines. Most of the time they tick away in the background like devoted servants. And yet there are times when they go on strike! They rebel from the overuse, abuse or simply feeling taken for granted. In my definition of productivity, productive people are those who produce results on a continuous basis. This means, that rather than exhaust oneself, a person can monitor their health and well-being, their energy, find natural sources of replenishment and work effectively towards results that make a difference. This is especially true for entrepreneurs with a to-do list that’s a mile long, never-ending business meetings, shortage of hands to help and a head buzzing with yet another idea that attracts time and attention. So below you will find practical tips and techniques that I have found useful to support Heros.
1. Make time for yourself
This may seem easy in principle, but in practice the common error for busy people with too much to do is to be tempted to postpone relaxing or taking time out. If you work by a diary, add short breaks for things that you enjoy where you commit yourself to stop multitasking. Quick activities that really make a difference:
- 5 min cup of coffee where you simply allow yourself to watch the world go by or contemplate your surroundings.
- A brisk 10 min walk in fresh air. You may wish to pay specific attention to how your body is moving. Is your body rushing? Angry? Tired? Energized?
These short breaks are magical for your mind. As the brain powers down on a conscious level, ideas, instincts from deeper areas of your mind have a chance to bubble up to the surface in the form of inspiration and insights.
2. Practicing acknowledgement
In her book The Power of Acknowledgement, Judith W. Umlas outlines 7 principles that when put into practice create powerful results. Utilising the power of acknowledgement to motivate and inspire others and self is supported by psychology research that says that close to 65% of people would rather prefer to have a better boss than a pay increase.When you work for yourself this applies equally to acknowledging your own successes and effort.
Take a few minutes and wrote down at least ten acknowledgements you would give yourself for what you tackled, tried, achieved, learned. Then note down at least ten people you value for something, maybe they made your job easier this year or make a difference in your life, maybe they were present to you or shared valuable learning with you and find a way to acknowledge them for it. Put yourself out, and tell them about it.
3. Finding restorative spaces
Our surroundings have a big impact on our productivity and feeling of restfulness and recharge. In my own work with clients, I go through a mindfulness exercise to help people discover places that restore people’s mental, physical and emotional energy. This can be a specific area of your home, office, places in your local neighborhood etc. Whenever possible, find a way to park yourself in them and really tune into how your body and mind feels when you’re there. Once your experience becomes conscious, you will be able to repeat it whenever you need an extra boost.
4. Multitasking productively by joining pampering acts with things you have to do
For many people with really long to-do lists, time for self is in short supply but creativity doesn’t have to be. By joining certain tasks with pampering, self-loving acts you can add a bit of calm and inject recharging energy into your day. Here are some examples:
- Walking your pet and brain-storming ideas
- Working out and thinking through an important decision
- Cooking and catching up with family/friends via phone or in person
- Looking for inspiration from random ideas and things you naturally observe as you go through tasks that involve moving about the city
5. Saving time by delegating
Delegation including outsourcing jobs to other experts is fundamental to good time management and being able to look after you. This means that you are left with time to focus on activities you are best placed to solve, tackle or those where you need to learn information that makes it obligatory for you to be there. There are a number of strategies to help with this one:
- Identifying people who you can pay to do the work that is not a good use of your time or skills across all aspects of your life
- Trading expertise and skill sets
- Asking others for small favors
- Tapping into apprenticeships and government schemes to employ people on short-term/part-time basis
6. Sleep and making time for idleness
Brains need rest to function. Sleep is a natural form of rest and deprivation of sleep has been used as a form of torture for precisely that reason. Having your eyes closed and relocating into a bedroom (recommended to be calm and lacking in stimulus space) is a practical way to cut your mind from having information it can work on and therefore allows a mental power down. Good quality of sleep is vital over amount of sleep as well, and for many people sleep banked before midnight is more restorative, so ensure you have a couple of early nights.
7. Celebrations that help connect you with others
Humans thrive and relax in the company of others, especially when the gathering revolves around celebratory practices or otherwise beneficial gatherings such as effective networking, support or learning groups. Connecting with others, whether through mentors, colleagues or clients plays an important role in helping build acknowledgement, validates our identities, and stimulates ideas. It also reminds us that we are part of larger packs and humanity, which can buffer our ego and inner critic from harsh self-inflicted criticism.
8. Inexpensive things that go a long way to making people feel good
Most joyful things turn out not to cost a great deal. Here’s a small selection from past clients and few of my own:
- reading a 2-3 page fairy tale to recover the child in you, as well as glean wisdom you can apply to enrich your adult life
- cooking a meal from scratch – many of the top chefs have 10 and 15 min recipe cookbooks
- forming little rituals such as drawing mandalas each evening before bed and forming a positive intention, taking a shower and getting into comfortable clothing once home etc
- listening to your favorite music
- writing short greeting cards to people to say hello or express gratitude
- tackling a small creative project such as creating a vision board
- attending gym during the day
All these activities and many others are not likely to cost a great deal and yet will offer much restoration to the tired Hero. Done on a regular basis, they help protect from exhaustion and create rich present moments that bring joy and will enrich your life. The key is to only do things that you can enjoy 100% and avoid adding more tasks.
Consequences of not looking after yourself
All the activities recommended in this last article are in essence self-loving, self-affirming acts. Taking time out to recharge and sustain yourself is vital to effective, quality, long-term performance. Many people cheat with sugar, caffeine, and other extreme forms of keeping going. In my experience, some of these produce disastrous results such as:
- Missed deadlines making you look flakey and unprofessional
- Work that’s below standard which will erode your credibility
- Undelivered promises which will contribute to loss of clients and reputation
- Loss of friends and colleagues who notice your behaviour and pull away
- Tiredness and exhaustion brought on by unconscious emotional dissatisfaction with the rut you’re in
- Anxiety and mental problems.
The dangers of not looking after yourself as the Hero are many. Work and pursuit of results can be a serious seductress. And many people I have worked with had, in their own words, become blind. They failed to notice what was happening until a real crisis emerged or their body gave up on them. Don’t let this happen to you. With these easy and practical steps you can avoid burnout, and enjoy the hard work you put into your initiatives. This will create an upward spiral of positive energy and attract clients and business partners to you. Everyone wants to work with people who genuinely have it together. This could be you or is you!
I hope this last article in this series helps you remember to look after yourself well in 2013. No one else can do that but you! I hope this article inspires you and gives you a starting point for practical ideas to implement restorative practices into your life that can become good habits. Nurturing the Hero will see you soar across many thresholds and make obtaining your quest ever sweeter.
Further reading resources
Power of Acknowledgement by Judith W. Umlas
Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world by Prof Mark Williams and Dr Danny Penman
The How Of Happiness: A Practical Guide to Getting The Life You Want by Sonja Lyubomirsky
Small Graces: The Quiet Gifts of Everyday Life by Kent Nerburn