How to survive a 60-hour workweek. I read somewhere recently that Singapore is the hardest working nation in the world and I think this is true. Certainly, compared with my previous home in Spain, the work ethic here seems to be off the charts.
People I meet, and certainly many of my patients, regularly tell me that they put in 60+ hour work weeks. This is not without a cost and every year we are seeing more and more health-related issues that can be traced directly to this sedentary lifestyle of technology and stress.
If you are deskbound for this number of hours, you may be feeling overworked and anxious, or you may be coping and for you, it just feels normal. Everyone has differing levels of resilience, but what we do know is that this intensity inevitably takes its toll, both mentally and physically.
Of course, if our people are being affected like this, then this must inevitably affect their quality of life and at work lead to a drop in productivity, both in terms of quality and quantity. As we see more and more effects of ‘burnout’ come to the surface, characterized by apathy, loss of focus, stress and even depression, it is becoming increasingly evident that we must be proactive in this area.
Reflection is key
Today I’d like to ask you to reflect a little on your situation. Of course many will say that they have no choice, and if they don’t put the hours in then someone else will. That indeed may be the case but pushing yourself to burnout will ultimately help no one and eventually, something will have to give.
So. Let’s take a quick look at what we can do about this. The hours you put in may not be optional, but many other aspects of your life are. I’ve put together a list of actions you can start to implement immediately, that, given time to work, will change things for the better. But obviously, like most other ‘healthy initiatives’, they will only work if you give them a try. Also, show faith in allowing them time to work. Here’s my list of 10 tips to help you not only ‘survive the 60-hour workweek’ but to actually thrive with this lifestyle.
1) Remember what it is all about
Too many of us spend much of our time spinning the hamster wheel of life, detached from our loved ones, chasing some notional idea of the future. This is a huge shame as what is important in life is not so much the destination but more the journey. They say that we should ‘stop and smell the roses’ sometimes, well that may be just about the best advice you will ever get.
Earning more and more money is a very poor indicator of future happiness. What really matters is spending QUALITY TIME with those you love. The one regret that people have later in life is not that they didn’t earn more money, but they didn’t make the most of what they had, and especially from not valuing and nurturing those close family relationships. This IS the most important thing, so give them more of yourself. They won’t be around forever
2) Take frequent breaks
There’s much science supporting this basic life strategy. We need to rest our mind and our body if we are going to be fit for our purpose long term. If you are not taking breaks you are not giving your body the chance to freshen. You are deconditioning and stiffening, and inevitably you will lose your focus and become stale. We are most productive as you start a task, so it follows that if you have plenty of fresh starts you can retain that freshness that yields great results.
Leave your work station, move your body, get some water, breath deeply and stretch. Take a few minutes every hour to reset things and you will find you have more energy, greater drive and focus, whilst feeling less stress. Ultimately you’ll find it easier to stay ‘on track’ and success will naturally follow.
How do I apply this? Well here’s an example. I guarantee I won’t write this blog in one go and I’ve already planned a couple of breaks. Midway, when I know the time is right, I’ll either cut the lawn or hang a picture (we’ve just moved house). “We all have a job list – remember a change is as good as a rest.” Then I’ll get back on track and finish what I’ve started. This is what works for me – I wonder what will work for you? Try it and perhaps you’ll see.
3) Don’t allow your exercise regime to become a casualty
Everyone knows that when we get busy at work one of the first things that gets pushed to the back of the queue is our exercise. ‘We’ll make time later!’ Well later usually never comes as most of us must surely agree. All we ever have is ‘now’ and it’s in the now that we must look after ourselves. If you’re always going to look after yourself ‘tomorrow’ then you’d be right to worry about your future health.
Don’t waste the opportunities that today brings. Both health and loss of health ‘bio-accumulates’, meaning it builds up inside us. Because we are in a constant state of change and renewal, only consistency will keep us fit for the life we want.
Lose fitness of body you lose fitness of the mind, it’s the law. We need to exercise pretty much every day – it’s written into our genes. It’s one of the best stress relievers out there. If you don’t move your body today then that opportunity to provide life-nurturing movement has gone forever. Even if it’s a brisk walk around the block, you decide, but make every day count. 15 minutes twice a day is all it takes.
4) What about nutrition?
Yes, this is another ‘Pillar of Health’ that often becomes a casualty when stress builds. Of course, convenience food is quick and easy, but it doesn’t sustain vitality and if this becomes your lifestyle then you are heading for a health disaster down the road. Then, what’s the point of all this hard work and stress if you aren’t even healthy enough to enjoy your life? What we are talking about here is making sure there are no regrets later.
You have choices in everything you do and one of the most important choices you make every day is how to nourish your body. Everything you put in your body either nurtures it or stresses it, it’s pretty black and white. Don’t eat empty calories, it’s a wasted opportunity. Take an interest in what you eat, especially if you are a parent – your kids are watching!
I recommend planning ahead – make it a family thing. You won’t have time to prep a full meal on your lunch break, but you can make a huge and totally delicious quinoa salad that you can keep in the fridge (mine’s in there ready to go for tomorrow). Take some to work each day, add a hardboiled egg, some tuna or maybe chicken and there you have it. If you must snack then a fist full of nuts or some fruit will keep you going in between meals. The best thing is to make sure the fridge is kept well stocked with easy to go, ready-made, healthy food.
5) Allow yourself to have some fun
If you don’t book some ‘me-time’ into your schedule all your waking hours will be gobbled up and you’ll end up run-ragged and miserable. At least 2 or 3 times a week schedule some time with friends or family. Take in a movie or practice a hobby or sport. Try and make sure you get at least a day off each week to recharge your batteries. Get out in nature and reap the benefits of fresh air and exercise. It’s all about balance and turning off that ‘fight or flight’ response. I love to cycle, read, spend time with my family. Whatever makes you happy give it some of your precious time.
6) Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
It’s so easy to become dehydrated, especially here in hot and humid Singapore. By the time you feel thirsty you are already dehydrated so I advise you to keep a water bottle to hand and take sips all day. As I write this I am sipping on a pint of iced water with a dash of alkalizing lemon. You need to look after your levels of hydration, both for your body and mind. Very often when you feel hungry, you are actually dehydrated, and if you feel tired and sluggish again these may be signs that you need to take a drink.
Water breaks are a great way to take much-needed time-outs during the day and they serve a vital biological function for both your brain and body. Your body will thank you for it and do keep an eye on your skin; as your cells rehydrate your skin will look younger and fresher.
7) Go steady on the coffee
Sometimes we all need a lift and the go-to choice for most office workers is caffeine and especially coffee. Many offices I visit have free-flow coffee stations so it becomes to easy to keep the coffee mug topped up. Of course, it’s not just coffee, we must remember that many soft drinks nowadays contain caffeine. The good news is that coffee has been shown to have many benefits, but it is a drug and can make us jittery and lead to some gastrointestinal problems. It’s nice to get the day started with an Americano and feel that coffee buzz but of course what goes up must come down! This is how people get a little addicted. There’s no need to ditch the coffee completely, but do remember to moderate and definitely no coffee after 3 pm if you are having trouble sleeping.
8) Just BREATHE!
Whenever you can find the time to take a few moments to just breathe in a relaxed state, do so. Deep breathing, especially abdominal breathing using your diaphragm for a few minutes each day, has been shown to reduce anxiety and stress. Deep breathing increases the oxygen supply to your brain. Deep breathing also stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, this will turn off that stress or response that we are all so familiar with.
9) Embrace Chiropractic and protect your posture
Working in an office in a sedentary role at a computer almost guarantees postural changes that will eventually start to wreak havoc with your body. Before you know it you’ll be stiffening and developing aches and pains and if you ignore these then you will actually see the effects of aging accelerate. No-one wants to age faster so take my advice and be more mindful of how your body is communicating with yourself. If you can create some healthy habits of focussed stretching and maintaining movement. And also receive regular chiropractic adjustments, this will go a long way in preserving your structural alignment and flexibility. This will all create vitally keeping your nervous system clear of interference.
10) Develop good sleep habits
In a busy life, it is really easy to become sleep deprived and this is a problem that is getting out of control, especially with more and more people taking their work home. If we are not sleeping well, and not achieving sufficient quality, deep sleep, then this WILL eventually do real damage to your health and vitality. Apart from sleep helping us to be fresh, alert and functioning, when we are in deep sleep we produce Human Growth Hormone which helps us to grow, heal and make neurological connections vital for creating a memory. Sleep is necessary for the regulation of our immune system and it helps regulate our appetite. I could go on and on. The other thing you need to know is saying that you’ll catch up with your sleep at the weekend does not work! The damage has been done and can’t be completely reversed.
There are many other aspects of health that are affected by your work life but today I’ve concentrated on some biggies. My advice is to take stock of how you are coping and whether you are maintaining balance in these vital areas. Start making some small changes where necessary and remember that we are always creating habits that will either drive us towards or away from health and vitality. Let’s work on creating more good habits. ?
By the way, I did take a quick rest a couple of times while writing this article. I walked away and did a couple of jobs. I’m now feeling good, because not only is this newsletter ready to go, but the lawn is cut and the mirror is now hanging on the wall. ?