I mean it, schedule fun into each week, each day, maybe even in every hour if that is possible.
It is not optional. Fun feeds your creativity.
I used to take breaks to play and rest only when I had “earned” them through doing enough work. Probably that daughter-of-an-immigrant work ethic that many of us inherited. Work all day and then you can earn your fun.
But what it we turned that on its head?
Play at intervals, rest at intervals. Work deeply, but do so in a focused and paced way.
Those of us with focus issues might prefer the “sprint/break” approach: work in 45 minute blocks with no interruptions (including email, social media or other distractions) and then get up and move, dance or walk for 15 minutes.
Others who like to work for longer stretches might work for 90 minutes take a 30 minute break. Most research says that the maximum focus for most humans sitting at one time without moving is about 70-80 minutes. Honor that. In the era of social media, it is likely substantially less, according to Cal Newport.
Knowledge work often requires sitting at a desk for long stretches, or enduring endless teleconferences that sometimes make you want to stab your eye out with a pencil (not speaking personally, of course).
What if you took a playful attitude toward work? You can inject a little creativity and some cartoons or funny videos into your (dreadful) required Powerpoint presentations. (I feel your pain. I have been there.)
One of my favorite wise teachers, Brene Brown says that “Creativity not expressed is not benign. It metastasizes.” Heed that wisdom. Plan some fun and some whimsy into your day. Your work will be re-energized and you will deliver at a higher level.
It is Wednesday and this is a post to encourage you to get outside early in the day for some light. For those of us in Minnesota, we enjoyed a gloriously sunny day yesterday, a welcome change from the cloudy gloom of last week.
I got out for a run, but a walk is just as good. Getting out in the fresh air is good for your soul, your body and your mind. Absorbing some natural light, especially in the morning or early in the day is especially helpful for setting your body’s natural “clock” of waking and sleeping.
As it gets a bit darker earlier this time of year, it can be challenging to get out for some natural light. I like taking a break over the lunch hour for a little walk if possible, especially if I have been at my desk or not moving in the morning.
For those of us who struggle with winter blues a bit, augmenting our natural light for the day may be necessary with light therapy. I use a Philips goLite BLU device for only 15 minutes in the mornings and it seems to help. Very important not to use these devices late in the day though, as they can disrupt natural melatonin production.
Equally important in the evening is to indulge in some natural darkness and not to expose yourself to much artificial light. Put the phone away an hour or two before bed. Log off of the laptop. Read an old-fashioned book. Dim the lights at home if you can and relax into the space before bedtime.
There is more darkness than light this time of year in Minnesota. I like to be mindful of the seasons and allow for more rest, respecting the rhythm of nature.
My body has been sending me a lot of messages lately about allowing for rest and play in addition to work. It is quite interesting. I sometimes find when I am planning or stressing about something, there is this uncomfortable pit in my stomach.
When I notice that slight pain, and I come back to the present and just breathe, typically it releases. I know that people talk a lot about making detailed plans for their future endeavors. And normally I subscribe to at least having a loose plan, and a vision for the future.
Something in me is telling me not to make super concrete plans just yet, and to play a little looser for now. I typically start with a “shape of the week” plan and then time block in 2-3 hour increments.
I start with a healthy dose of time for writing, reading and thinking from 6-9 a.m. That is when my mind is clearest, after I have meditated and had my coffee. Then from 9-12 I either go to a yoga class, a dance class, or sometimes a coffee meeting with a colleague.
Noon to 2 p.m. is blocked off for my lunch break and any small errands I may have to do, or sometimes just a little nap break or a podcast. Then 2-5 I work on things that do not require as much focus, sending email correspondence or doing smaller projects. I do not work in the evening, unless I am very inspired to write something in particular.
I find that keeping a very regular routine helps me sleep better and also I can produce “on demand” when the time is scheduled for me to do so. Right now I am taking it one week (and sometimes one day) at a time.
When I get very excited about an idea, I follow that path. When I feel a sense of dread, I avoid that path. Right now, that seems to be where I need to be, just letting life unfold, not getting too caught up in doing all the right things.
I recognize the privilege of allowing this time. I also remind myself that I planned for it. I trust that using this “body meter” intuition to follow what is right for me will lead me where I am called.
How is your life unfolding? Do you ever doubt the process of finding your path? What helps you nurture that trust in yourself?
It is Wellness Wednesday! The question for the day is this:
Do you consciously set healthy boundaries in your life and work?
I only recently started understanding what good boundaries are for me, and how to say a courteous “no” to certain requests when appropriate. We are wired for connection, and this means we often strive to please other people, not out of any weakness on our part. This is part of the human condition, and how we survived as a species, through relationships and connections.
The problem comes in when we do not see how the multiplying complexity of our social platforms and our networks creates an ever larger amount of choices and opportunities. That can be a blessing. But it can also have a cost, in terms of our overall productivity and focus on the things are the most relevant to us. Do less, but better (as Greg McKeown would say).
My need for regular solitude and time to think and reflect sometimes comes into conflict with my desire for input and learning, for example. Often I must put some constraints around the input, whether through books, podcasts or audio books.
I have learned that adding some constraints to my schedule, such as when I will meet with people or how many calendar items I will schedule in a given week, helps me be more productive with my time. In my previous position, when I was working in a corporate environment, it helped to block off some time for planning and thinking. Otherwise, I was at the mercy of others dictating my calendar.
It was harder in the days when I was traveling to put constraints on my hours because I often wanted to take advantage of the time to meet with people locally. But at the same time, I learned that running myself ragged did not increase my productivity at all. In fact, it usually led to consequences such as less quality sleep and less creativity about problem-solving.
It can be a tricky balance. Some people have an easier time with boundaries at work but home is the place where the requests can feel mandatory. I am interested in your experience with this idea, and where you find it most challenging.
What can you do to set healthy boundaries to fulfill your needs for rest, creativity and play outside of work and family obligations?
This week’s Saturday share is on hold because I feel there’s bit an excess of “input” in my channels lately so I found myself with a bit of decision fatigue this morning about who to promote.
Also, I engaged in a very unproductive and annoying debate online with someone who was trying to argue that women all have rape fantasies and that every woman who drinks at a party is asking to be raped.
I know that was a bad idea. Every part of me said not to dignify his idiocy with a response. And yet. The human inclination to engage in debate? Well, apparently I don’t have very good inhibitory systems for keeping me from this type of thing.
Maybe it’s time for a little break from the interwebs. Far too much reading of articles on misogyny, power and privilege. It makes me tired sometimes.
By resting and reflecting, I preserve the energy and stamina to stand up and fight when necessary. And when to step away when fighting just fuels the crazies.
How often do you ask yourself the question in your life: What is essential? Or a variation: what is essential for me right now?
I just listened to the audio book (and am re-listening, because it resonated so much) that many of you minimalists out there probably already know, called “Essentialism: the Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown. It is resonating with me on so many levels.
We can find a life of greater meaning, purpose and satisfaction with the mantra “less but better.” McKeown echoes many of the concepts of mindfulness as well as other wisdom I have discovered in other books like Deep Work by Cal Newport and The One Thing by Gary Keller. I find many applications here in how I am thinking about designing my new life and work for the future. The principle of essentialism is deeply connected to our personal wellness so I will focus on that aspect.
We face a plethora of choices every day about what to do and how to spend our time. There are many more options for what we can do in any given day and so many more decisions we are thus privileged (some would say forced) to make. Each hour, each minute, even in one breath, we choose. Do I meditate? Do I listen to a favorite podcast? Read a book? Finish that article I’m working on? Join that online webinar? Attend a yoga class?
And yet choose we must. Decisions are a part of life. We want to “have it all” and indeed many advertisers try to convince us that we can. But this is folly, because by attempting to do everything, we focus on nothing. It all becomes noise, and it is insignificant. It produces no real results, and we become frustrated at a lack of progress.
When we think we *have* to do it all, we are lying to ourselves. When we choose only what is essential to us, and pare down what is extraneous, we are rapidly able to better discern what is important. There are applications in terms of possessions, commitments, activities, memberships, or even new habits we are trying to implement. When we are spread too thin, we devote less attention to what is important. The problem is that many of us believe the illusion that everything is important. It is simply not true.
So to answer the question of what is essential for me, I would boil it down this way: sleep, play/creativity, rest, relationships and work. I was going to put work before play. But I realized I am not technically working (for money) now, and I am doing just fine. Sleep, play and rest have been essential to my sabbatical. Since I worked and saved, I am able to rest and play now for a period. I know that reflects some privilege. But it also reflects choices I have made in my life about what is essential.
What is essential to you? How can you focus more deeply on that today?
Tonight begins our trip to London Heathrow airport from MSP. I will write on the necessity of having a plan when you travel on overnight flights. It can be difficult to stay healthy and balanced when you are throwing your body out of its normal rhythm. But as a frequent flyer I have experimented with a few strategies that make it less painful.
The first bit of advice is this: If you can, try to go to bed early (1 hour at least) for a few days before your trip. Even if you do not drop off to sleep right away, you are allowing your body and brain to relax and get more rest. Stay off your electronics at night. Try reading an old-fashioned paper book, or taking a shower or bath before bed to help transition to sleep.
Getting extra sleep and rest before a trip helps you know that, even if you only get 3-4 hours of sleep (which I would consider a “good” amount for me), you have allowed yourself some quality rest in your own bed.
I like to bring some herbal tea on board when I travel overnight. I like Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime tea, since it is a nice blend of chamomile, spearmint, lemongress, etc. Generally airlines seem to offer coffee and tea, but they do not always have non-caffeinated options, so I bring my own, and they supply the hot water.
I have noticed that you are often served meals high in carbohydrates, flour and sugar. While partaking in a small quantity may be fine for you, I always bring little bags of mixed nuts with me in my backpack or purse. Protein and fat help you have less ups and downs in your insulin levels. I get less cranky when I have my own healthy snacks.
Airlines typically feed you at least every 2-3 hours, with maybe a 4-5 hour break during overnight flights. This can feel obnoxious if you want to go to sleep right away, and don’t feel the need to graze like a cow for the whole flight. It serves as a distraction for the passengers. My theory is the extra carbs put people into kind of a “spacey, dreamy” state that makes it easier for flight attendants to keep us calm.
I used to drink white wine with my dinner on the flight. But I realized it did not help my quality of sleep and I felt too groggy upon waking up dehydrated. If it helps you relax or you are a nervous flyer, it may okay. But be sure to drink lots of water or something else that hydrates you. Alcohol has a dehydrating effect and planes dehydrate you more than you might expect. There is a reason flight attendants make a few extra rounds with water during the flight.
I pack my supplements of magnesium with me that I take daily anyway. For me, 400-600 mg of magnesium calms my nervous system and helps my sleep in general, so I am sure to pack supplements in a place I can access easily on the flight.
On the newer fancier planes, you will often find advanced video screens with a plethora of offerings of movies, t.v. shows, music and entertainment. While I often enjoy a t.v. show or movie while I am eating my dinner, I try not to overindulge on electronic things at night. Using an eye mask and ear plugs while others are staring zombie-like in front of their screens can be helpful when you want to wind down.
My final bit of advice if you want to wind down and calm your nervous system is to meditate. Nowadays you can find apps for this even on planes, or you can just sit quietly with eyes closed, relax your body and watch your thoughts. Notice the sounds around you, without judging them. I often practice loving kindness meditation. I offer kindness especially to myself and to strangers. “May you have ease of being” is a nice mantra.
Being kind and compassionate on flights, with yourself and others, goes a long way toward diffusing any frustration or impatience you may feel. Happy trails!