Everyone knows they should have better ‘work life balance’.
With increasing pressure to do more in less time, it is important to take time to lower your stress levels and refocus your mind in order to reach your goals. But where do you start?
With the overload of information online purporting ‘must do’ morning routines that are often time intensive, it can be hard to fit all these ‘essential’ hacks into a busy schedule without our ‘destress’ plan adding on even more stress.
With stress related illness and burnout leading more and more patients to my medical practice, it’s more important than ever to take control over stress. These simple life hacks take minimal time and effort but can lead to huge rewards in beating stress, boosting productivity and feeling happier.
1. Start the workday with 60 seconds of mindfulness and ‘inner smile’.
This is a core part of my morning routine, and I always do this before I start working. Even 60 seconds helps to boost my energy and positivity, maintain presence with clients and patients, and have more patience with my coworkers and staff.
An easy way to do this is to sit in your chair with both feet firmly planted on the floor, and focus on your breathing for five breaths. Becoming aware of your breath helps focus your mind away from worries and distraction. Next, imagine sending feelings of love and kindness to yourself, then sending those feelings towards others, starting with the people you interact with closely each day at work, and then moving onto people you may talk to that day.
When we get cynical or lost in our worries it creates a cycle of stress which increases the risk of
burnout, this daily practice can help to break that cycle.
2. Keep a paper daily and weekly planner.
Whilst it is common in this digital age to organise all your projects, daily scheduling and brainstorming online, it can lead to overwhelm and anxiety. Finishing tasks becomes a problem when they get buried in a myriad of digital folders in your organizational system.
I have found changing to a paper journal planner to be the single most profound way to improve my focus and stick to my goals. This is backed up by science, as some studies are discovering that the brain may actually learn and remember tasks better when they are handwritten compared to digital planners. [Study Evidence Here].
3. Write in a journal about ‘emotionally charged events’ once a week.
This could be anything that has particularly bothered you this week. Multiple studies [Reported here] have now proven that you impact immune system cells, immune function, lower blood pressure and shift mood by writing about emotionally charged events in a journal. It is the brain’s way of ‘unpacking’ mental boxes and cleaning out the ‘basement’ of the brain from negative stories we otherwise subconsciously hold onto on a deep limbic brain level, causing a drain on mental energy.
4. Set an ‘off screens’ time limit each night.
This includes your smartphone, computer and TV. The blue light from screens hits the retina at the back of the eye and shuts down the brain sleep hormone production, called melatonin [Study: impact of LED-backlit computer screens]. In my house we have a 7pm rule of ‘no screens’ and after that only non-screen activities like using non back-lit kindles, books and audio podcasts are allowed.
5. Swap coffee for green tea.
Green tea has about ⅓ the caffeine of coffee, and contains L-theanine, a calming amino acid which levels out the caffeine effect, preventing energy and mood crashes a few hours later. It also contains EGCG which has positive effects on your metabolism to help reduce food cravings, as well as heart protective and anti-aging properties.
6. Avoid checking your email for the first 30 minutes of the day.
This is a big one, as most of us roll out of bed and immediately check our email on our phones. This creates a ‘reactionary’ pattern of starting the day focused on other people’s requests rather than your own goals. As Brendon Burchard is famous for saying “the inbox is nothing but a convenient organizing system for other people’s agendas”’ This is one I have personally put into habit and it has led to amazing shifts in focus when starting my day.
7. Take Adaptogens.
Adaptogens are herbal compounds from plants that help humans buffer cortisol and stress hormones that can lead to burnout and adrenal fatigue. For an all-round winner, I like the Indian herbal Ashwagandha, and I take it in powder form mixed into my morning superfood smoothie. It is generally considered a very safe herb.
8. Schedule in gym time like it’s your most important meeting of the week.
This is something that I have found crucial to ensuring I fit exercise in despite a very busy work schedule. I write my gym or dance class times into my personal daily and weekly planner and share it with my husband so he knows those are ‘blocked’ times for me.
When I exercise regularly, I feel calmer, more creative and I sleep better, and the research supports these effects – exercise beats any drug a thousand times over for mood boosting, stress reducing, sleep and metabolic boosting effects – and it’s free!
9. Spend time in nature.
Multiple studies have proven the benefits of walking or sitting in nature for boosting mood and lowering stress hormones like cortisol. Nature is important for our brains, because researchers have also found that human brains don’t yet recognize urban concrete landscapes [Study Report ‘Human brain hard-wired for rural tranquility’] – we need nature to calm down the nervous system and ‘reset.’
Make it a part of your daily routine to visit a park near your house, the beach, or any natural environment you can get to within a reasonable distance from home. I get to the beach for a walk at least 3 times a week for my dose of nature and if I am travelling I will find the nearest city park to unwind.
These simple productivity hacks have worked wonders for both me and hundreds of my patients and clients; they are time and cost effective ways to transform your productivity.