Source: Fast Company – work-life
Author: Charlene Lee
The week before I started my dream job at Google, a deep dread overwhelmed me. I wanted to prove to everyone that I not only deserved to be there but also was the best of the best. I reasoned that if I worked hard enough and said “yes” to everything, my boss and coworkers would never question my abilities. I would be seen as in the top 10% of performers.
I took on so much that by the end of my second year, I ended each week feeling both confused and destroyed. I loved what I did but was so exhausted that I spent Saturdays lying in bed and binging Suits before repeating the cycle. Then one day after finishing work at 1 a.m., I didn’t notice an oncoming car while crossing the street. I almost got hit.
That moment reminded me of the sense of physical fragility I felt after getting a sports injury in college. The physical recovery was tough, and the fact that my injury ended my career as a college athlete was painful. But what was most difficult was that I couldn’t be my full self.
Now, years later, I could see how my approach to work was injuring my health. Even worse, I was doing this to myself. Instead of striving to be in the top 10% of performers, I decided I wanted to be in the top 10% of my health—physically and mentally. Instead of packing in more 25-minute Pomodoro productivity hacks and sleepless nights, I needed to care for my well-being.
Here are five healthy habits I now teach professionals and students to practice early in their careers. Building them into my daily life has helped me not just accomplish short-term goals but sustain my performance over time in and out of the workplace.
Find where you get your energy and protect it
Whenever I used to take breaks, I’d feel guilty that I wasn’t being productive. Reading a novel seemed less relevant than analyzing the latest industry news. Why do yoga when an HIIT workout could burn more calories?
What I was ignoring was how these “less productive” activities were the most beneficial because of how they recharged me. Novels introduced new perspectives and were fun to read. Yoga helped me relax and enjoy the peace away from the chatter of my phone. Hobbies supplied the energy I needed to refill my emotional and physical tank.
Just as important as finding what activities gave me energy was giving myself permission to prioritize doing it. It was easy to crank out one more email before going to the gym, only to get roped into more things and run out of time and energy to go at all.
Because no one else knows when or what I need to recharge, I now create the space for myself. I schedule my mornings to start with 20 minutes to read and stretch and end my days being active outdoors or calling a friend. In a world that demands my attention, I protect my energy because I’m the only one who can.
Build an intentional information diet
Growing up, I loved reading. But when teachers and professors stopped assigning and recommending books, I stopped thinking about the content I consumed. I let infinite scrolling capture my attention for hours, often as a distraction. Just as you are what you eat, I was what I read. So I created an information diet to curate what I put in my mind.
I audited my sources of information and chose what to consume across books, news, and social media. I picked topics I’d always wanted to learn more about, like environmental science and journalism. I also indulged in personal favorites like podcasts on human behavior and happiness.
I now curate this list twice a year across mediums and allow myself to choose anything that piques my interest. It has ranged from memoirs of people in different industries, from basketball coach Phil Jackson and a docuseries on political borders to a children’s book on art history.
Curating my own content has helped me create a personal syllabus of learning that’s both eye-opening and fun. Now when I have downtime, I don’t wait for algorithms to decide what I consume, I go to my information diet instead.
Audit your values every year
In my mid-twenties, I struggled with decisions in my career. Should I stay on the same team since I was close to a promotion? Or move countries for a new job that would reset the clock? Deciding was difficult because my values—what I judged to be important—often conflicted.
As professor Luke Burgis says, “Humans learn—through imitation—to want the same things other people want, just as they learn how to . . . play by the same cultural rules.” I, too, wanted the same things as the people around me, like the promotion pay bump.
But I also wanted to pursue new challenges and invest in my growth. Each value I had was shaped by influences in my life, ranging from my parents’ decades-long dedication to the same company to friends’ sabbaticals around the world and timelines for marriage and kids. I needed to audit my values to decide what was intrinsically important to me versus what seemed important because of others.
For three months, I journaled every morning to understand why I cared about learning and having experiences that stretched me. I asked mentors how they made tradeoffs between career growth and money. Reflecting on my values helped me see that taking on new risks was true to me despite the “downsides” that others saw. I moved countries for the new role six months later.
Checking my values and evolving them as I grow each year has clarified my decision-making, from where I live to the work I do. I still have anxiety and sometimes question if what I’m doing is right for me. But the uncertainty quiets when I remember and have confidence in my values to always be learning.
Curate your community like you’re building it from scratch
When I moved to San Francisco after college, my social life revolved around people who were convenient and accessible—colleagues from work and friends from school. A year later, I relocated to a new country where I knew no one.
Starting over forced me to build a new community from scratch. For the first time, I considered who I wanted to surround myself with. I sought out friends of friends, asked for introductions, and met people in classes. I followed up whenever I met someone I admired, such as people writing a screenplay for the first time or solving problems for the community. By virtue of who they were, they encouraged me to become a better version of myself.
As author Jim Rohn once advised, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” In every new city I’ve moved to since, as well as places I’ve lived in for years, I keep the mindset like I’m starting over again and look for and invest in people who inspire me.
Experiment with routines
I always assumed that I’d be productive as soon as I sat down at my desk in the morning. But it took time to ease my brain into a creative thinking mode or tackle a problem I’d been avoiding. I underestimated the influence a routine could have on my performance.
To create a routine that worked for me, I experimented. After years of trying numerous productivity tools, I’ve resorted to no-fuss pen and paper to organize my tasks. Before I begin work, I reflect on my priorities between big challenges to solve versus small errands like follow-up emails. I put my phone in a drawer while doing deep work to reduce context-switching. To create momentum for the day, I knock out my least favorite work first. Just as an athlete does a ritual to get ready for a game, I now have a routine to get into the best headspace for getting things done.
Better performance doesn’t always mean more effort. These five healthy habits have helped me, my students, and my clients care for our bodies and minds. I practice them not just when things get overwhelming but from when I wake up to when I put my phone away for the day. Following these habits and routines has been essential to helping me become better each day. Like all habits, building healthy ones takes time and starts with the first step: See what works for you.
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