I know how it is. When writing a project, time seems to move faster than usual, and the workload only seems to increase with time. Day by day, you find yourself needing more coffee. As the deadline draws closer, the nights seem to get shorter. And eventually, when the project is finally submitted, you are too exhausted to celebrate.
I remember when I first noticed that there was something wrong with my attitude to project writing. It was over 10 years ago, after I submitted a project just a couple of minutes before a midnight deadline. And the project was about—of all things—work life balance.
This experience was a sign that I needed to make some changes. Not huge changes and not immediately, I needed to make reasonable and manageable improvements in how I work, and in how I treat myself, my body, my mind, and my emotions. As I embraced this journey, and spent many years making incremental positive changes, it gradually became my passion, and eventually my job at M-Powered.
Now in our online shop, you can purchase a Work Life Balance Manual for Project Managers that teaches you how to introduce positive changes to your life and work. This manual can also be a great tool for a project team or an organisation to build work-life balance into their work.
In this blog, I share some of the main tips you can use to take care of yourself while working on an application or other deadline.
These work life balance tips are based on the idea that you as a human being need to refuel your four essential energy resources: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. If you are running low on any of these types of energy, you are simply not able to perform to your full potential.
1. Physical energy
If your physical energy is low, you feel tired or even exhausted. You can also have pain in different parts of your body, such as your back, head, or stomach. This is how your body speaks to you and asks for attention.
While ideally you would be able to stop what you are doing and rest, if you are in the middle of an intense period of work that can be impossible.
Here are some other things you can do to help maintain physical energy until you can take the rest you need:
- Food: Eat at least once every 4 hours. If possible, try to avoid unhealthy snacks, although it is still better to eat chocolate than to eat nothing at all. However, you should avoid continuously picking at food. Constant digestion can take a toll on your system and disrupt your focus. If you know you are going to be stuck in the office working a lot coming up to a deadline, stock up on healthy snacks that don’t need a lot of preparation.
- Drink a lot of water and/or herbal tea. Headaches are often the result of dehydration.
- Move. I know it feels like you have no time. But, believe me, if you spend even just 20 minutes per day on stretching, walking, or cycling, it will make a huge difference to both your energy levels and the quality of your work. You need to take care of your body and allow it to release tension so that pain and stiffness don’t become another factor interfering with your focus.
2. Mental energy
Lack of mental energy influences your creativity, focus, and clarity of thinking. Your mind is tired. You can energise your mind through the following:
- Sleep. I used to sleep 4 – 5 hours a night coming up to a project submission deadline. Now, I know that this did not do me or the project I was working on any favours. You need at least 7 hours of sleep to fully regenerate. Each of us is different. In my case, normally I need 8 hours of sleep to feel my best. But, if it is necessary for a deadline, I can go a few days at a time with just 6 – 7 hours, as long as I go to bed before 11pm.
- Avoid multitasking as it reduces your efficiency. Our mind is simply not capable of dealing with different tasks simultaneously. Moreover, if we try to do two things at once, e.g. talking on the phone while writing an email, we tend to perform both tasks half as well as if we had focused on just one.
3. Emotional energy
Low emotional energy can make you feel anxious, angry, sad, or withdrawn. Take care of your emotional energy through the following:
- Little pleasures. Each day building at least one thing that brings you joy, comfort, or laughter. It could be your favourite sweet treat, watching a funny show, or listening to your favourite podcast. Make sure it is easily accessible, make time for it, and enjoy it.
- Surround yourself with positive people. I love to work in small teams. We can support and motivate each other, share our problems, and celebrate our little successes. If you work alone and feel isolated, reach out to friends or family when you know you will be under a bit of pressure and ask them to support you through it. Your loved ones want to help you, and you can always return the favour one day. It is important to have someone to share your worries and wins with.
4. Spiritual energy
Neglecting spiritual life causes stress, negative thinking, and detachment from our intention and internal needs. Taking care of your spiritual energy can bring relief and calm, which builds a positive attitude and hope that our hard work will bring success.
I build my spiritual strength by practicing mindfulness. If you are familiar with this approach, try to dedicate at least 10 minutes per day to practicing it. For those who still have not started their mindfulness journey, a simple breathing exercise can be a great start:
- Take a moment right now and put everything aside. Close your eyes and take 10 deep inhales and exhales. When exhaling you can repeat in your mind a word that has a calling effect on you: Serenity, happiness, nature, etc. Put your hands on your belly and feel how they rise while you are breathing. After 10 breaths, open your eyes and notice how you feel. Try to recognise any changes in your feelings.*
*Inspiration from “Radical remission. Surviving cancer against all odds. The 9 key factors that can make a real difference.” by Kelly A. Turner, PhD
We hope that these tips can help you through your next busy work period! And don’t forget to check out our shop for our full Work Life Balance for Project Managers Workbook.