Continuing our series of guest blog posts, this week Vix Anderton shares her 5 ways to beat the January blues at work – perfectly timed for you to prepare for Blue Monday!
Ugh, January! The twinkly lights, indulgence, and time off over the festive period are all over and the dark winter months ahead seem to stretch on indefinitely into the future. And, of course, there’s those New Year Resolutions where we try to undo more than a month of overindulgence by giving up everything and going to the gym daily…at least for the first 5 days!
These trends manifest at work too. According to surveys by Glassdoor and Crunch, one in five people resign from their jobs in January. Many of these people have been considering leaving for some time and maybe moving on sounds really appealing to you. However, just walking away from things that make us uncomfortable isn’t always the right answer; after all, so much of our growth comes from those times when we aren’t comfortable. Now, full disclosure, this time a year ago, I had just handed in my resignation from my ‘proper’ job to pursue a portfolio career, following work-related stress. However, I still had three months to work through and I knew, for my own health, I couldn’t continue with the approach to work that had made me ill in the first place.
So, as we all head back to work – in whatever form – after the holidays, here are a 5 things that I hope will make work more productive, more enjoyable, and more sustainable.
The One Thing: Take a Lunch Break. Every day. For an hour. Away from your desk. I know, I know, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be thinking “An hour?? Are you kidding?! I’m far too busy to take an hour off for lunch!”. You’re not, trust me. Human beings are not machines; we are not built to run continuously, at high speeds, without breaks. Making time for lunch will allow you to refuel and refresh, which will make you all the more effective in the afternoon. A lunch break can also be foundational for all those other Resolutions: go for a walk for half an hour (~3,000 steps); listen to a podcast; bring in a healthy lunch from home (good for the diet and the bank balance); team up with a colleague for additional accountability. This is one of those habits we all know about and rarely stick to so time to start doing what you know is good for you!
The Long-Term Project: Know Yourself. Our bodies are controlled by our internal body clocks, our circadian rhythms. These rhythms dictate when we wake up, when we go to sleep, and that 3pm slump. If you’ve ever experience jet lag, you’ll know how powerful this body clock is. The modern world of work completely ignores these natural rhythms, expecting us to have the same energy throughout the day but it’s just not realistic. So, the first thing I invite you to do is to keep a journal for 2 weeks. Start keeping a note of how you feel throughout the day: how easy is it for you to concentrate? Are you hungry? Do you feel tired? Over 2 weeks, you will start to notice patterns; in my case, I am most creative and energised in the morning, making this the best time for me to do work that needs focus, imagination and critical thinking, whereas I’m often too tired to deal with difficult meetings in the afternoon, which is a much better time for me to do more administrative tasks, and I get super-grouchy if I don’t eat enough. You can then start to plan your day around these patterns.
I know many of you reading this will have limited control over your schedule at work but you can still make this work for you. I suggest sharing this idea with your colleagues and your boss; let them know what you need (something we women are often really terrible at) and you might be surprised that they will help accommodate those needs. If you do have, for example, have a difficult meeting at a time that isn’t optimal for you – don’t panic! First, let’s stop thinking of it as ‘difficult’; what we think tends to come true! Instead, it’s all about preparation. Perhaps, do something you do enjoy beforehand to get you in a good mindset. Or, you can employ an NLP technique called anchoring: briefly, anchoring is all about visualising the emotion you want to feel and creating a physical ‘anchor’ (such as touching your thumb and forefinger together) to bring that state back ‘on-demand’. This article explains the technique in more detail.
The Quick Win: Anticipate Your Stumbling Blocks. We all fall short of our own expectations at times. Guess what, we’re human. But one way to minimise the chances of that happening or to minimise the impact if it does is to plan ahead. Willpower alone is not answer; we have a finite amount of willpower each day, which gets quickly used up. So, think like a soldier and have a contingency plan. If you’re on the I Quit Sugar programme and someone brings cake into the office, what are you going to do? Perhaps, you keep some healthy snacks in your desk instead. It’s raining and you don’t want to run in the rain. Have a plan for another form of exercise you enjoy. You know that you can’t resist Facebook during the day so give your phone to a colleague to look after or use an app to block those distracting websites at certain times. Be honest with yourself; you know what is likely to trip you up.
The Productivity Boost: Have a Plan. As a former Royal Air Force Officer, I love me a plan. One of my favourite tools is the Productivity Planner from Intelligent Change; I actually use the free PDF version (in exchange for subscribing to their excellent newsletter). The key principles, whatever tool you use, are to get clear on your priorities (top tip – if you have more than 3 priorities, you don’t have any priorities!), allocate dedicated time to work on those priorities (perhaps using the Pomodoro technique), then and perhaps most importantly reflect back on how the day and/or week has gone. As I learnt as a junior officer: Do, Review, Apply!
The Small Thing: Do One Thing Every Day that Makes You Smile. So far, so serious. To finish off then, find 5 minutes every day for something that makes you smile; even better, if it makes you laugh! Maybe that’s having a coffee with your favourite colleague. Maybe it’s baby panda videos or baby otter videos or baby anything videos! Maybe it’s reading a blog post on one of your favourite websites (*ahem* ToGetHerFurther, obviously!). To get the maximum benefit from this, make it a little ritual. Set an alarm, get a cup of tea, get comfy and really allow yourself to enjoy your 5 minutes. This works particular well to combat the 3pm slump!
There you have it. 5 things that I have been doing for more than a year now that have helped me get through tough days at work. And there are always tough days, even in careers you are completely in love with. So my final thought is to always be kind to yourself. This too will pass.
Vix Anderton is a multi-potentialite, building a portfolio career to change the lives of women and girls as individuals, in organisations, and in society. Her latest project is building a tech-enabled business from scratch with Zinc.vc to transform the mental and emotional health of women and girls. She is an independent inclusive leadership and gender specialist, a life coach and mentor, and a yoga teacher. A former Royal Air Force Intelligence officer, she has an inside understanding of gender and diversity in the military and conflict-affected states and has been published in several peer-reviewed journals on the UK’s internal women, peace and security programming and policy. Find out more at www.thepracticalbalance.com