According to the World Health Organisation, a massive one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. I got out my calculator (math is not a strong suit), and in our Recruitment consultancy alone, that is about seven of us. Seven people who, in a fast-paced target-driven environment, have to not only manage issues with their own wellbeing but also the wellbeing of all of their candidates, clients and teammates. Luckily a lot of the stigma surrounding mental illness is heading out the back door, making it a lot more acceptable to place precedence on your mental health.
The mind is our most important resource. It controls our perception of everything around us – how we feel, act, work, learn, and perceive success and failure… everything!! So we damn well need to make sure it’s as fit and healthy as it can possibly be. Most of us spend a large portion of our time at work, and another chunk thinking about and planning for it. I’m going to focus on some very simple and straightforward ways to exercise our minds and improve our mental fitness in the workplace. Feel free to implement what works for you!
In the morning…
Get up at least 30 minutes before you need to. That doesn’t sound ideal, I know, but bear with me. Rolling out of bed, getting dressed and cramming yourself onto public transport or a busy road with the rest of the city might seem like the right idea sleep-wise, but it won’t give your mind enough time to wake up properly and prepare itself for the day.
EXERCISE! The physical kind. Not everybody is a gym bunny and you honestly don’t need to be. A 20 minute walk around the block is enough to wake you up, get your heart pumping, your legs stretched out and some fresh air in your lungs. Start that release of endorphins early!
Learn something new. Absorb some new information or a different point of view. I know that seems like a a hard task before you even get to work, but podcasts like Ted Talks are great to listen to during your morning exercise or getting ready. You can find some 6 – 12 minute ones here: Short TED Talks
Well, look at that – it’s 7.30 now, you’re on your way to work, and you’ve already exercised and learned something new. You’re already ahead of the game.
Adjust your mindset
An easy mental exercise whilst on the commute to work is to make either a physical or mental list of things that you are thankful for. This is something that we don’t do enough of as a society. We spend much of our time focused on the things we don’t like, want to change or upcoming stressors. We should spend more of our time appreciating how blessed we are. How awesome is it to have a job that you can to go to every day, a house that you get to return to, family and friends that support you, and a society where you are free to speak your mind? And if you’re reading this from Melbourne, we happen to live in the best city in the world. If that’s not something to be thankful for, I don’t know what is.
When you arrive at work…
Arrive 10 minutes early, grab yourself a coffee, and write a plan for your day. It’s important to write things down, because trying to keep them all in your head is stressful and you will be prone to forget. Prioritise your tasks from most important to least important. As a rule, humans are most productive in the morning so you want to be getting those important tasks completed early, and your less important ones can be relegated to later in the day.
DO NOT try and do multiple tasks at once. The ability to multi-task is not an ability at all. Humans are actually very poor at completing multiple tasks at once and simply switch from task to task quickly, giving the illusion of multi-tasking. Doing this is very unproductive. By the end of the day you will find you have 10 incomplete tasks and a sense that nothing has been achieved – not a good feeling.
Take lots of breaks! Various studies (and my psychology lecturer) tell me that we can only sustain attention for 20 minutes. Every 20 minutes, get up, stretch your legs, make a drink, chat to a colleague, or go to the bathroom. These breaks only need to be 5 minutes, but they are enough to reset your mind for a fresh focus.
Go outside at lunch time! Unless you absolutely have to take calls, make sure you completely switch off. No need to stay in one place all day (fun fact – you don’t get paid to work during lunch). Wherever possible, take your lunch outside and take a walk. Some of our most creative ideas come to us when we are out and moving. I would recommend taking some of your lunches by yourself and completing a mindfulness exercise – here is some further reading for you if you aren’t educated on this practice.
At the end of the day…
Before you leave, make a list of the tasks that you will need to carry onto the next day. Put these tasks at the top of tomorrow’s to-do list. This will save you from forgetting things that need to be done, and also ensures you are getting them done in a timely manner. It seems obvious but I bet a lot of you don’t do it!
Finally, leave on (or near on) time and when you do, leave your work at the door. It was a freeing day when I realised my work and the role I played in it wasn’t half as important as I thought it was. Unsurprisingly, nobody will die if you don’t answer that email that comes through at 8pm.
What I have said here isn’t revolutionary but hopefully it’s a reminder to take stock of your mental fitness more often. As a recruiter with high-functioning anxiety, I have seen what can happen to my mental state if I forget to put myself first.
In the wise words of my Director, John Bell – “We work to live, not live to work.”