There is no denying that work is a vital part of our lives. We work to support ourselves and our families, establish a desired lifestyle, and plan for a future. We spend forty hours a week (at least) on the job, and in today’s economy some of us need more than one job just to make ends meet. For most of us, work is our main priority and our main focus. Not only do our occupations support us, many of us use them to define a sense of self. We strive to do our best at work for the rewards that are important to us. Some are monetary, some involve status and prestige, some come from the joy of following our passion. We give a lot to our jobs, and hopefully they give a lot to us in return.
Unfortunately, there is a growing number of people who put their work above themselves. It is usually a slow process, starting first with email after work. Then it is staying an hour or so after closing, or coming in an hour before everyone else. Lunch hours become a time to catch up on voicemail while scarfing a sandwich, or worse, a burger from that joint on the corner. There just isn’t time for a healthy meal with all the management deadlines coupled with staff reductions. Sometimes it is just a desire to move ahead that narrows our focus to occupational tunnel vision. After all, there will be time to relax after that promotion, or product launch, or once the ad campaign is up and running.
Of course, there is a problem with that whole scenario. As work starts to take over every waking second we tend to lose ourselves. As the job takes more and more time and energy, there is less and less to devote to our personal health and well-being. We don’t get enough sleep, we don’t eat properly, and exercise goes out the window. There is little time to pursue leisure or spiritual activities. Self improvement or personal development goals fall by the wayside. Stress levels can’t help but skyrocket, and we eventually compromise our own ability to perform well on the job.
More and more employers today are beginning to realize the overall health of their company is tied to the overall health and well-being of their employees. There are even provisions in the new health care laws in the United States for wellness programs in the workplace. However, sometimes I think the hardest thing to do is convince the Type-A overachiever of the importance of personal health and well-being as it relates to job performance. After all, when you have been putting your job first for years, it is no easy feat to start focusing on yourself as the primary concern.
What are a few ways to treat yourself with the same respect you show to your work? One of the most basic but most important things you can do is to reframe the way you view the relationship between your health and your job. You cannot separate the two; they are intertwined. If you are in poor health, there is no way you can perform to desired standards. Realize that focusing on your own health is not selfish–it is vital to success in life, both personally and professionally.
Make time to exercise. Take a walk at lunch, or take the stairs. Park in the farthest stall from the building, or get off one subway stop before you usually do. There are lots of ways to incorporate movement into your day. It doesn’t have to involve changing clothes or going to a gym. Even taking a couple of minutes a few times a day to stretch is a great way to tone your body and reduce stress.
Take a lunch–literally. Bringing your own lunch gives you control of what you eat, and helps reduce the chances of hitting the vending machines or eating nothing at all. I know people who fall into both categories, and both camps have trouble functioning in the afternoon. And when you take a lunch–take it away from your desk. Eating at the desk does nothing to promote a sense of downtime. By leaving your work area and removing distractions such as phone and email, you will be able to recharge more easily for the rest of the day.
Establish boundaries. Just as you do not bring your personal life to work, do not bring your work life to your home. Leave email at work. Since that may not be possible in today’s economy, set a time that you will stop reading and responding to it. Let coworkers know what that cutoff time is, and not to expect a response until the next day if they haven’t heard by the cutoff.
Make time for family and friends. Maintaining a support network takes effort, but it is one the best tools for dealing with stress.
For mental conditioning, spend ten minutes a day in silence. Use the time for meditation, prayer, or reflection–but be quiet. Turn down the noise in your head and around you, turn inward for a few minutes, and be still. You’ll be amazed at how much more energy and concentration comes out the other side.
Work is important, no question. But if doing your best at work is really important to you, than it is crucial that you give your own health equal time. Even if you love your work and can’t imagine a life without it, you won’t receive the full benefit if you are not contributing at full capacity. Take your health as seriously as you take your job. Both are important, but if you neglect the former, at some point you may lose the latter. And that, in a nutshell, is why you as a person are more important than your work.
So how about you? I would love to hear how you focus on your health and keep the demands of your work in perspective.