As Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin Airlines puts it brilliantly, “Some of my best ideas have come from engaging my children in conversations about work.”
Today, no more do you look at 9 to 5 as work hours. The earlier distinction between “my time” and “company time” seems to have vanished. However, the concept of work life balance has evolved just as much as the concept of work; into a new reality. Since it is more about choice, on the way to work, you have the choice to listen to music, attend to work calls, or do nothing at all.
In light of this new reality, if we still try the balancing act of the old way, it’s outright dangerous. So what’s our new need? In fact, there are two of them:
#1 Feeling in Control
We need to feel in control of our time and lives. That feeling of the whole world’s weight falling on your delicate shoulders comes when you don’t know how your time just went by.
#2 Energy Matching
The changing work environments require that rather than matching time, we match our energy levels with tasks at hand. As rightly put by the authors of The Power of Full Engagement
“Energy, not time, is the fundamental currency of high performance.“
With this clarity of concept, the question is, what are some concrete skills you need?
For us at Santulan, science is the driving force. That is the reason why we bring you not a set of tips, but an elaborate system of skills that will help you cater to these new needs of the new reality.
Skill No. 1 – A Science Based EDS
Not all hours are created equal in a day. There are times when our energy is at its highest, and then there are times when we need to recharge. We all have some kind of an “every-day” schedule. But to make it energy efficient, try the science based Every Day Schedule (EDS) which has five components.
Part 1: Morning Routine
Whether one is a morning person, or more of a night owl, we all start our day at some point. While there is no ideal morning routine, research shows that there are a few items we need to include to be able to start our morning off on the right foot.
But firstly, why do we even need a morning routine?
According to Steve Kay, Director of Convergent Biosciences at the University of Southern California – most adults perform their best cognitive work late in the morning.
A morning routine occupying the first 30-120 minutes after waking up, helps you arrive at your peak performing hours, in the right mindset.
Additionally, you also get the benefit of the Endowment Effect, which explains that if you’ve already started the day by moving your life forward, you’ve established positive momentum, and are more likely to keep doing positive things.
And not to forget that sense of control that you get over your day! A nurturing morning routine gives you something to hold on to, and a sense of normalcy to root yourself within.
Now moving on to crafting your morning routine.
Research shows having any/all/some of these items helps us start our morning off on the right foot.
- Drinking water and eating a nourishing breakfast
- Exercising for around 30 minutes
- Reading a book
- Having a light chat with your partner
And in equal measure, it’s important to avoid rushing through your morning and checking your phone. It’s basically that time, before things start getting into motion.
Part 2: Protected Hours
“Shallow work stops you from getting fired — but deep work is what gets you promoted.” – Cal Newport
Answering calls, responding to emails, and attending meetings is all work, but not result-oriented work, nor do they represent work that will take you to the next level.
The second part of your EDS is what your morning routine leads you to. It’s a pre-decided amount of time dedicated to the most important work, away from any other distractions.
Imagine working on a project in an environment where your phone is ringing off the hook, colleagues are passing by to say “hi”, and you can see a pile of emails rising by the hour.
Would you be able to concentrate on your work to the best of your capabilities now?
Most likely not!
All these distractions will definitely impact your output.
Setting protected hours for yourself essentially eliminates these distractions in order to enrich your performance to the maximum. This is the time when you push yourself to your limits and get some real work done, against all busy work like checking emails or answering calls.
In fact, research shows that we tend to be most productive 2.5 to 4 hours after we wake up. Hence it would be fair to reason out that protected hours scheduled in this time window are likely to be most productive.
The truth of the matter comes down to the fact that we may find ourselves busy all the time. But for how much of that time, are we really doing work that gives us guaranteed results?
Real work is fully results-oriented work while pseudo- or busy work tends to make you feel like you are working without actually producing much results. Thus, rather than thinking of protected hours in terms of amount of time, it would be beneficial to think of them in the context of result-oriented tasks done in a distraction-free environment.
Part 3: Regroup
Oh how wonderful it would be if we could work infinitely and get all our work done at one stretch, right? No matter how we dislike it, it cannot be denied that we are humans who cannot work tirelessly with the same efficiency all throughout.
These efficiency dips are not the end of the world. All you have to do is take a break – do something that lets you gather your thoughts without being too involved or too detached from the task at hand. Some ideas for regrouping are:
- Eating mindfully
- Going for a short walk outside
- De-cluttering a drawer
The big idea here is to not keep working just because you don’t want to take a break, or you want to just finish it off. Rather, value “regrouping” as an essential part of your day. On some days you might need more than one regrouping. Just acknowledge it, and use it to guide yourself back.
Part 4: Busy Work
This is that time when you sort out the work that you think keeps you busy without challenging your intellectual capacity too much. This may include some repetitive chores
- Filling in the already available data in an excel
- Responding to emails
- Scheduling meetings, phone calls
You get the idea!
Try to fit it into the afternoon window. Most of us experience an energy slump in the afternoon. So this time is best used for tasks that take up more time than energy.
Part 5: Recharge
And last but definitely not the least, don’t forget to recharge. Allowing time to recharge is as important as any other aspect of the EDS. After all, it is vital that we fuel the body that works up a sweat.
“It’s important not to be so immersed in your work that there isn’t anything else. Taking care of your body and your mindset, carving out time to be with your family, doing things that recharge you — these all make you more productive in the end.”
– Frits Van Paasschen, Former CEO, Starwood Hotels
Wait a second before you put that TV on to recharge. There is a science to it. And that is our skill #2.
Skill #2: Scheduling Free Time
Give this a thought – a day when you have no tasks to plan, no targets to achieve, a holiday or a Sunday if you will.
What would you like to do on such a day?
Most of us are likely to say “Just watch some TV, catch up on all my social media, maybe some lazing around in bed.” Yes, it’s natural to feel that way after a hectic workweek.
But here’s some food for thought.
All that TV you watched is probably just making you feel a little less upbeat.
The truth is we do easy things like watching TV, or idling around the house because that’s what they are – easy! They don’t require much effort but the problem is they don’t make us truly happy.
“Researchers found that the majority of the subjects they studied were not able to identify anything they had done recently to try to increase their happiness or life satisfaction.“
– 100 Simple Secrets of the Best Half of Life: What Scientists Have Learned and How You Can Use It
“Active leisure” is truly enjoyable but it requires more initial effort. In a study of teenagers it was found that they were 2.5 times more likely to experience elevated enjoyment when engaged in a hobby, compared to watching TV, and three times more likely when playing a sport.
The key is to overcome that inertia because as humans we are naturally drawn to things that are easy.
However, even if things may seem difficult initially, you can be sure that they will add value to your life. For example, getting up early to go cycling, stepping out of the house to attend a cooking class, or getting the car out to go to the sports ground.
All said and done, you may ask what good is planning even a no-work day?
Where is the spontaneity?
Well, research strongly points to the fact that people who schedule their free time are likely to lead a better quality life than those who don’t.
There is a strong co-relation between managing your free time and the quality of your life.
According to the American Psychological Association, the least effective ways of spending your free time are gambling, shopping, smoking, drinking, mindless eating, playing video games, surfing the Internet, and watching TV or movies for more than two hours.
But why do we still do these activities despite them not making us truly happy?
In the words of Harvard Researcher, Daniel Gilbert, “We’re terrible at accurately remembering how things made us feel in the past, so we make bad choices regarding the future.”
This innate human behavior makes it imperative that we actively schedule our free time.
So what are some active leisure activities?
Here are some suggestions from the American Psychological Association:
- Spending time with friends (Research shows that increasing your social time by 1.7 hours raises average happiness by 2%.)
Exercising or playing sports
Praying or attending a religious service
Listening to music
Getting a massage
Going outside for a walk
Meditating or doing yoga
Spending time with a creative hobby.
- Mastering existing skills (For example, if you’re a good cook, then learning a new dish will help you feel rejuvenated.
Skill #3: Rituals
The Oxford Dictionary defines a ritual as a series of actions, or type of behavior that is regularly and invariably followed by someone.
Harvard Professor Francesca Gino has researched extensively on the power of rituals. According to Gino, rituals can help in four ways:
- Enjoy happy moments better
- Manage stressful situations
- Stop procrastinating
- Increase your productivity
Here are 4 different types of rituals that you need to develop for yourself:
R1# Savoring Rituals
This could be something that helps you bring more joy to activities that may seem mundane. What it essentially does is it helps you enjoy the moment you are in.
Vishal, for example, loves to have his protein-filled breakfast of eggs after his workout.
Now he doesn’t eat those eggs just any how! He has developed a very specific ritual that he finds enjoyable – he boils them only for 8 minutes, not a minute more not a minute less, then cuts them in slices, just the way he likes it and then eats them only in his favorite bowl, relishing the taste fully.
He believes the whole process and not just eating eggs, helps him immensely in starting his morning on a good note.
Other examples of savoring rituals are:
- Shutting off your phone every time you enter a party, signaling to yourself that now you’re in party mode!
- Sharing the day’s happenings with a loved one every evening.
- Spending half an hour every morning with your pet.
We all know there are things which make us feel happy. But the big idea here is to be AWARE of your savoring rituals so that you can use them more often.
R2# Stress Rituals
What do you do when you feel stressed?
Curl up in bed and hope for it to pass?
Or eat whatever comes your way?
Or vent your irritation at whoever crosses your path?
Try developing a stress ritual for such times.
According to Francesca Gino, having a set of rituals that you follow during tough times can help you get back that sense of CONTROL. It can help reduce the stress associated with the task or the situation.
It can be anything from:
- Expressive writing to get it all out of your system
- Going to a place that calms you down like a park or a coffee shop
- Speaking with your spouse about the stressor to get a different perspective
R3# Peak Performance Rituals
There are times when you need the best of yourself. For example, before an important presentation, or while crunching numbers that will change the course of your organization, or an important sales pitch, or any other high stakes situation.
Unfortunately, there could be times when you’re not in that “frame of mind.” To enable peak performance at such times, rituals can help by making you feel calmer and more confident.
Some of our favorite peak performance rituals are:
- Listening to a pre-designed playlist: We have a set of 12 songs that we listen to before we face an audience.
- Dancing: Grooving to Sya’s Cheap Thrills, not only cheaply excites us, but also readies us for peak performance.
- Power posing: Expanding your body for even as little as 2 minutes can help you generate the power hormone called testosterone, and make you feel more confident from within. Watch this video to better understand power posing.
R4# Anti-Procrastination Rituals
If we can overcome that innate desire to procrastinate, a lot of our problems related to work-life balance will be resolved on their own.
Rituals can help overcome procrastination.
According to Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, our goal should be to develop a ritual which gets our mood going because procrastination usually happens because of a bad mood, or “not feeling up to it.”
What are some anti-procrastination rituals that you can develop? Here are some examples from our own lives:
- Reading for one hour on general topics before writing
- Laying out yoga attire the night before
- Breaking down a long to-do list into small tasks before starting
One of our friends, Nitin, developed this anti-procrastination ritual which has helped him maintain a more disciplined lifestyle.
He realized a while back that once he started surfing social media on the phone, he would lose track of time and would end up procrastinating important to-do’s. This would usually happen in the early morning – when he had to get ready and leave for work.
He then developed a system whereby he would set an alarm of 10 minutes right after he woke up, a tone which he was not particularly fond of. After those 10 minutes, come what may, he would go for a bath.
It took him some time but now that this habit has been in place, he hardly needs an alarm to remind him.
Whoa! That looks like a lot of skills but once you make them a part of your routine, you’ll enjoy the benefits.
Let’s put everything together.
Remember the new reality of work-life balance. It’s more about having a sense of control over your time, and matching your energy levels with the task at hand.
Practise a science based everyday schedule comprising of five parts – 1. Morning Routine 2. Protected Hours 3. Regroup 4. Busy Work and 5. Recharge
Schedule your free time. We choose to do easy things rather than things that truly make us happy – active leisure is the key.
Four different types of rituals will help better your performance: a. Savouring Rituals b. Stress Rituals c. Peak Performance Rituals d. Anti-Procrastinating Rituals
Ryan Smith, Founder of Qualtrics sums it up brilliantly for us.
“Each week, I examine the categories of my life — father, husband, CEO, self — and identify the specific actions that help me feel successful and fulfilled in these capacities. This weekly ritual helps me feel like I’m doing everything in my power to address my needs and the needs of those around me. This is important because I can’t lose sight of the business agenda, and we’ve all seen or read about what it looks like when you lose sight of your family’s needs.”