12 May How Not to Work Yourself to Death #1
You hit the alarm, get up, and get going, They say “I can’t do it”, you say “I’ve already done it”. They say “I’m not sure it will work”, you say “I fixed it.” They say “I need a break”, you say “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”
If this sounds like you, and you don’t want to risk your health & life, then you may need to take 5 minutes just to read this blog.
In Japan, there is a condition caused : karoshi – death from overwork. In the West, the amount of illness and deaths from stress, heart-attacks and other diseases could also be linked to unhealthy working styles. We just haven’t come to accept it yet. If you are an achiever, and you’re not willing to sacrifice your super-human ambitions for ‘the simple life’, you will need to tap extra resources if we want to succeed, and survive.
The Rest-Work Cycle:
Professional athletes know the importance of rest and nutrition, and they pay particular attention to how to pace themselves : the outcome of that final lap hinges on the level of commitment to all the disciplines. They can’t train without eating, eat without sleeping, or sleep without training. The balance needs to be just right.
However, I rarely meet a top-businessmen or entrepreneur with the same dedication to self-care. They are often overworked, over-caffeinated, with high levels of stress-hormones, and a potential cardiac arrest around the corner. The difference? In contrast to sports, we tend to forget about our bodies in business and in life. Sadly, we often only recognise the problem when it’s too late.
There is a special vocabulary that top-performers tend to treat like swear-words: rest; vulnerability; limitation; tired; break; down-time; sleep. And, with good reason: if we don’t push ourselves beyond our limits, we’ll never re-define them. However, if we push too hard too fast; or we stretch too far too soon, we risk injuring our bodies, our minds, our relationships, and even our business: just like an overzealous sportsman. This is true for the whole of the human race – from the Olympic gold medalist, to the fun-runner; from the fortune-500 CEO, to Charlie’s lemonade-stand – it just varies in degree and nature.
So, how do you maintain the top-performer status, but stay within healthy parameters? This can be quite tricky. Every person is unique. However, we have a few tips, tools and games to help kick-start the habits of a healthy top-performer; to avoid burn-out and maintain growth.
Tool 1: The 2-Minute Pause-button.
She squints her eyes. It is deathly quiet all around. Her whole mind is filled with one massive red circle. Her body – every fibre: muscle, skin and bone, is uniformly tense and aligned. She shifts the fletching slightly with her right thumb : the movement barely visible. She takes a final, deep breath, and, with the exhale, lets the arrow go. In milliseconds, the shaft shudders and slices through the air. With a glorious “thump”, the head pierces the red. It’s a bull’s-eye! The world opens up with thousands roaring in the crowd. Her peripheral vision kicks in and her exhausted impulse-control shuts down. As her posture relaxes, a smile melts across her face; she drops the bow & arrow, rolls around, arms & legs flailing with exhuberance. She won the arching competition – she’s taking home the gold!
There is a time to focus. But, if we want to maintain the level of control exhibited by professional archers, we need to give our muscles, our minds and our hearts the needed rest, to perform on the peak-days. When you focus on a target, you tend to lose sight of many other things: you develop tunnel-vision. This is great, as it limits distractions, and makes sure you hit the bulls eye with your achievement. However, it also takes immense energy, and can cause havoc with your relationships. Our minds are wired to switch between the inhale & exhale states, and we need to give ourselves these time-outs.
How? Structured breaks & rest.
“But when am I supposed to do this? I don’t even have time for the things I’m supposed to do!” Yes, we know the challenge of finding time. So we’re just asking for 2 minutes.
One of our favorite tools, is the 2-minute pause-button. Here’s how it works:
- Set a reminder once in your day, for a 2-minute pause. You treat this with the same priority as you treat an important deadline or meeting: you do NOT compromise, you do NOT reschedule : you interrupt whatever you are busy with, and take your 2-minute pause. (These principles are extremely important, practically, and psychologically).
- You find a quiet room.
- You take a timer to time 1 minute.
- During these 2 minutes, all technology is off, and out-of-reach.
- With a pen, and a notebook, you write the day’s date.
- For one minute, you ask yourself : How do I feel? What am I thinking? How do I feel? What am I thinking? You respond to these questions in key-words, in list-format. For example:
- Anxious. Dead-line for Friday.
- Annoyed. Mike is taking too long.
- Excited. Jo-anne’s birthday.
- Afriad. No time.
- Frustrated. These 2 minutes feel like a waste of time.
- Worried. Will Paul find out about Carry?
- You are not allowed to repeat an emotion, or a thought.
- For the next minute, you write one available resource for every emotion-thought combination. For example:
- Anxious. Dead-line for Friday. BLANK…maybe put an extra hour? Ask Jerry to do the numbers??
- Annoyed. Mike is taking too long. Send e-mail, and cc our CEO, to put pressure on Mike.
- Excited. Jo-anne’s birthday. Get Mary to buy a gift, and add my name.
- Afraid. No time. Set alarm for 15 minutes earlier each day
- Frustrated. These 2 minutes feel like a waste of time. Just do it for now: give it a week.
- Worried. Will Paul find out about Carry? Mantra: “Not my circus, not my monkeys”
What happens during this time, is it forces your mind to work through problems that build up stress, and come to practical solutions. It’s not a magic formula; it’s an exercise. You’ll notice that the more you do it, the easier it becomes for your brain to go into solution-mode.
We recommend a 2-minute pause once a day, but we find that it is often helpful to repeat this process 3 – 4 times. You could also revisit the list during your next sessions, and expand, seeing how it evolves. Eventually, your brain starts formulating problem-solving mechanisms on its own, as you are basically ‘training it’ in those sessions to deal with your emotions & challenges in a different way.
No go and do it. In our next post, we’ll look at the second tool to keep you alive while you reach for the skies