Take back your life in 10 stepsBy Tony Schwartz*
You’re smart, hard-working and good at what you do, but the truth is you also too often feel your life is just a relentless set of demands you have to meet, and too rarely a source of satisfaction.
You long to feel more in control of your days, but the reality is you’re frequently racing just to keep up.
This is the story I hear over and over at every level in organisations, from first-line managers all the way up to CEOs in large companies.
I’m convinced it doesn’t have to be this way, and that the solution has to do with deeply embedding a series of simple practices into your life.
I have 10 in mind, but it’s not realistic to add them all at once, assuming there are a number you don’t currently do.
Instead, you could add them one at a time over the coming months.
You don’t have to do all of them for your life to work really well, and even small changes will often deliver disproportionately large results.
At the same time, it’s likely that the more of these you eventually add, the better and more in charge of your life you’ll feel.
The suggestions are in order from the most basic and fundamental, to the highest level.
1. Get sufficient sleep every night
Sleep is often the single most undervalued behaviour in our lives and the one with the most immediate power to improve our experience in every waking moment. Sleeping in the 7-7½ hour range will leave you feeling more physically energised, emotionally resilient, and mentally clear than if you are in 6-6½ hour category.
2. Move more
It’s not only good for your heart’s health, but also for your mental health. Do some form of exercise that significantly raises your heart rate for 30 minutes at least four times a week and move frequently during the day.
3. Eat less, more often
Food is fuel. Lean proteins and complex carbohydrates are high-octane fuel. You’re best off when you keep feeding your internal furnace in small doses throughout the day, beginning with breakfast.
4. Renew more
Human beings aren’t designed to work continuously. We’re meant instead to move between spending and renewing energy. Ideally, take a break every 90 minutes, even if only to spend a minute or two breathing deeply.
5. Invest in those you love
The greatest gift you can give is your absorbed attention. Better to be fully present with someone for an hour than physically present, but distracted, for multiple hours.
6. Give thanks
We’re far quicker to notice what’s wrong in our lives than we are what’s right. At least once a week, handwrite and mail a note of appreciation to someone who deserves it, telling the person precisely what you’re grateful for.
7. Do the most important thing first
Early in the morning, you’re likely to have the most energy, and the fewest distractions. Start your workday by focusing without interruption, for 60 to 90 minutes, on the most important and/or challenging task you can accomplish that day.
8. Practice reflection
We’re so preoccupied with the urgent that we rarely take time to think about what it is we’re doing. Set aside 15 to 30 minutes at the end of each workday (or in the evening) to reflect quietly and without interruption on what you learned that day, and what your highest priorities are for the following day.
9. Keep learning
Our brains work better if we challenge them, and life becomes more interesting when we do. Reading books is a simple and surefire way to learn and grow, but so is building a daily practice around learning a new language, a sport, a musical instrument, or around how to write code, fix a car, or draw.
10. Give back
Take at least one hour a week to put your own needs aside and devote that time instead to adding value to the world at large. One hour a week is very little time, but it’s a start — and it’s also more than most of us regularly give.
* Tony Schwartz is the president and CEO of US training company The Energy Project and the author of Be Excellent at Anything.
This article first appeared at hbr.org