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Self Care: The Most Important Part of Work We Ignore

During your fast-paced workweek, it's hard to reflect and take a break - but that's exactly what your work needs. Here are five ways to care for yourself so you can achieve your best work.

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Life is complex and work can be hard. Whether you’re crunching numbers, welding airplane parts, prepping food, parenting, or doing pretty much any other mental or physical activity to fulfill your aspirations or support yourself, having a job is inherently taxing.

At least 134 countries have laws setting the maximum length of the work week. No such laws exist in the United States, where 85.8 percent of males and 66.5 percent of females work more than 40 hours per week.

Dealing with it all proactively —  the fatigue, the worry, the physical pain that work can deliver — is your best shot at improving your day, setting yourself up for long term success, and creating an overall better quality of life.

Here are five self-care fundamentals you can start practicing today:

  1. Get more sleep
  2. Meditate
  3. Communicate more
  4. Keep learning
  5. Exercise 

Sleep: repair your mind and body

I LOVE sleep and I am not ashamed to say it. Yes, I’ve read the same things about the most productive CEOs only needing 5 hours of rest. Good for them – that’s not me. A lack of sleep has devastating effects on memory and our ability to concentrate, according to Matthew Walker, Director of the UC Berkeley Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab.

“Sleep is the single most effective thing we can do to reset our brain and body health each day,” Walker says in his 2017 book Why We Sleep, a brilliant summary of scientific research on sleep to date.

“The recycle rate of a human being is around sixteen hours. After sixteen hours of being awake, the brain begins to fail. Humans need more than seven hours of sleep each night to maintain cognitive performance. After ten days of just seven hours of sleep, the brain is as dysfunctional as it would be after going without sleep for 24 hours.”

Meditation: the reset button

Meditation is more popular than ever, it seems, a trend driven in part by the emergence of apps like Headspace and Calm, which make it easy to meditate anytime, anywhere. In recent years, business leaders like Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey have extolled the virtues of mindfulness along with media figures like Howard Stern. And some companies now offer workers app subscriptions as an employee benefit.

The impacts of meditation on work include:

  • Reduced prejudice
  • Improved cognition
  • Less stress and burnout
  • More collaboration
  • Better memory

Communication: grease in your wheels

For many, this is a tough one to embrace. But I’m a fervent believer that increasing open and honest dialogue at work is key to reducing stress and improving performance.

David Blake, co-founder of Degreed, taught me that when dealing with issues, speaking using ‘real names, real situations’ is best for communication. And while it can be uncomfortable, it has led for much more open dialogue on my team. We come with an open heart, kind intentions, and truth. 

In general, companies aren’t prioritizing employee communication and engagement highly enough, according to research from Dynamic Signal.

In that study, A whopping 80% of the U.S. workforce reported feeling stressed because of ineffective company communication —­ a 30 percent jump from the year prior, according to the 2019 study, which found that 63% of workers had wanted to quit because ineffective communication interfered with their ability to do their jobs. 

So how can you become a better communicator? Volumes have been written already, but here are a few key principles from my team.

  • In person when it could be contentious. It’s hard to read tone over email and text. Pick up the phone, have the face to face. 
  • Listen to HEAR. Not just so that you can prepare a response while the other person is talking. It shows you care about other points of view.
  • Reduce distractions. Have your devices put away as much as possible. 
  • Be kind. If people trust you are coming from a place of love and trust, even hard news or critical feedback will be received better. 
  • Show gratitude. Our time is valuable. Dont say more than you need to and dont take up more time than necessary. Be grateful for what you do get. 
  • Ask questions. 

Learning: your confidence builder 

More often than not, we talk about learning in terms of helping people advance their careers. But there’s another layer to learning that’s super important — feeling good. In this sense, learning is a big part of self care. When you learn, you gain confidence. And when you’re feeling more capable, you’re feeling less stressed. With knowledge on your side, work tasks become easier to complete.

It’s easier than ever to stay up to date with skills you need to be successful, no matter what your career goals might be. Increasingly, employers offer employees online learning opportunities on thousands of topics available on-demand as courses, videos, books, podcasts, and more. 

Keep in mind: It’s one thing to explore new skills, but it’s another to ingrain them into your everyday flow. To become truly proficient, you need to apply new skills in real-world ways. You can do this by taking on new projects, by volunteering in your community, and by mentoring or teaching other people interested in gaining the same capabilities. And if your employer provides you with these or other types of opportunities for enrichment, don’t hesitate to raise your hand.

Exercise: strengthen yourself 

It’s common knowledge that exercise can make you stronger, boost energy levels, reduce stress, and help you rest.

But the upside doesn’t stop there.

“When we think about the value of exercise, we tend to focus on the physical benefits. Lower blood pressure, a healthier heart, a more attractive physique,” according to psychologist Ron Friedman, founder of ignite80, a company that teaches leaders practical, evidence-based success strategies. “There is another, more immediate benefit of regular exercise: its impact on the way we think.

“Our mental firepower is directly linked to our physical regimen,” Friedman wrote in the Harvard Business Review. “And nowhere are the implications more relevant than to our performance at work.”

No better time than now

If this seems like a lot to incorporate into your daily routine, you’re probably right. But you can start with one thing at least. There’s a huge chance it will help. I’d suggest starting with getting more sleep. You can probably carve out an earlier bedtime routine. And once you’ve started snoozing, the rest (no pun intended) will come easy.

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