Having just returned from 10 blissful days’ holiday in Sri Lanka, I’m feeling pretty good about my work life balance. But rewind three weeks and I was experiencing heart palpitations at my desk, a result of anxiety over meeting deadlines and personal pressure to be ‘successful’ in my career. Although I manage to fit at least four workouts and one yoga class into every week and allocate time every day for meditation and reflection, I have a bad habit of letting stress get the best of me. However, I’m increasingly learning that channeling all that ambition and passion takes focus and is unsustainable without designated time to ‘switch off’ and enjoy other outlets for energy, creativity and expression.
Rosie Paterson, founder of livingrosy.com, has started her wellness coaching business for precisely this reason. She is dedicating her career to helping other people find the success they want in their careers while achieving the balance they need to embrace friends, family and other personal interests. Read on for Rosie’s simple everyday tips to get a healthier work life balance, and take one step closer to a life as enjoyable as it is successful.
Having chosen a fast-paced banking role, you must be drawn to a challenge. When did the balance shift to make you realise that long working hours simply aren’t healthy?
That was pretty evident to me very early on! I need quite a bit of sleep (my ideal is about 8.5 hours per night) and I was getting about 6 at best. I was exhausted, felt nauseous in the morning and had a constant brain fog that impeded my ability to work properly.
Since I didn’t refresh during my sleep time, I ate for energy – chocolate, pasta, anything I could grab quickly. I put on 10kg in less than 2 years (about 20% of my body weight now).
What kind of impact did your frenetic lifestyle have on your activity levels and nutrition?
My body would just run on adrenaline and caffeine. It works day to day, but the long term effects are horrendous – you’re basically keeping your body under permanent stress 24/7.
I ended up burning out and developing coeliac disease from the stress. Coeliac is an auto-immune disorder where your body attacks the small intestine whenever traces of the protein gluten are ingested. Something messes up in your body to make it think that gluten is dangerous but it ends up attacking itself. It prevents you from digesting any nourishment from food, leading to serious long-term diseases like osteoporosis, low birth weight in babies and even cancer. It also makes you more likely to develop other auto-immune diseases like MS and rheumatoid arthritis.
Through Living Rosy, you talk about helping clients achieve balance. What does a balanced life look like to you?
A balanced life is different to everyone. Some people enjoy working a little more, some would feel it detracted from their personal life if they continuously clocked up overtime. I help my clients find their own balance and break down any mental barriers they’ve created that stops them from achieving this.
For me, I love to cook and detest eating take out even for lunch. My dream when I was working was to cook lunch every day (forget the fact I could barely find the time to cook dinner). Working from home became a non-negotiable for me. I wanted total freedom in my schedule so I could get outside in the middle of the day every day, and work from anywhere. I also refuse to work ‘overtime’, i.e. evenings and weekends, as I have other interests and family/friends that I prioritise at those times.
I created all that by working for myself, but that’s because I had pretty strong demands! If you love your job, there are plenty of ways to create balance without giving it up. I developed my 15 minute morning routine while working my second stint in banking, after my burnout. It’s a super easy 5 step routine that sets you up for the day. I share that now with everyone – it really helps!
Is there one piece of advice that generally applies to someone who’s overworked?
Remember you always have choice. Rather than falling into victim mode with a “why” question, alway rephrase that into a constructive “how” question: “Why do I have so much to do?” becomes “How can I do what I need to do?”.
This way, your brain starts solving the ‘problem’. You’ll be amazed at what creative answers pop up and how ‘doable’ your challenge becomes.
When tasks and distractions accumulate, what do you do to ‘silence the noise’ and reestablish your focus?
Prioritise! Try the following task:
Take 4 columns on a spreadsheet, (1) “Important & Urgent” (2) “Urgent & Not Important” (3) “Important Not Urgent” (4)”Not Important Not Urgent”.
Write each task on your To Do list under the most relevant heading.
Always focus on Important over Urgent, i.e. do the tasks in the order of (1), (3), then (2) and – if you ever have time – (4).
How does mental wellbeing fit into the big picture of a healthy lifestyle?
Mental wellbeing is a huge part of being healthy, as both the mind and body work together to find balance. There’s a huge amount of research going into the ability of our minds to affect the health of our bodies – stress is case in point. When we’re stressed, our cortisol rises, eventually leading to issues with everything from the strength of our heart to digestive issues such as insulin regulation.
Are there any apps, classes or activities you can recommend to help achieve mental wellbeing?
Meditation is great, and so simple. I think it still seems like something a bit unreachable, like the most advanced form of yoga. But it really doesn’t need to be!
All you need to do is set a timer on your phone, even for 2 minutes at the beginning, and sit comfortably. Breathe in for as long as you can – somewhere between 3-7 seconds, hold for that time, then breathe out slowly for that time again. Just repeat that, focusing on your breath. If your mind wanders, just gently bring your focus back to your breath without any judgement or criticism. Increase the time you devote to meditation as you progress, and practice every day. (Apps like Headspace can also give you a bit of digital direction!)
What kind of ‘self checks’ do you make every day to reinforce your new healthy lifestyle?
I’m quite in tune with my body now so I can feel if something is off – if I haven’t slept enough or even if I ate something a bit different. I don’t eat much meat so if I have a very heavy meal out then I’ll notice the next day.
Try keeping a diary for a week – note down what and how much you eat, drink, sleep, work out, etc and how you feel throughout the day. If you can do it for a month, even better. You’ll start to see some patterns and you can try experimenting to see how it changes how you feel.
Everyone is different so what works for me may not work for you at all, and vice versa.
Personally, my biggest challenge is drawing a line under a task or the day and giving myself permission to switch off. How did you learn to simply pack up and call it a day?
Every quarter I take anything from 2 hours to half a day ‘off’ to strategise. I look at what I want to achieve on a quarterly basis, which informs my broad monthly plan, which then informs each week.
From there, each Friday I take stock of what I’ve achieved that week and set my goals for the next week and create a reasonable to do list each day. I literally schedule each task in my calendar. I used to schedule too much and feel guilty when I didn’t achieve it all, but this was a reflection of my scheduling rather than my own ability. If it takes me 1.5 hours to write my newsletter, I won’t write two newsletters in 2 hours!
This also forces you to focus on what’s important (going back to that spreadsheet above). What is getting you or your company toward your goals fastest? If you are employed, these plans are a great thing to discuss with your boss for 15 mins a week. Base them on your own promotion objectives or the company quarterly goals.
When you’re done with your tasks, you’re done! Go out and have a treat!
Let’s play a game of ‘Gut Reaction’. Without overthinking it, pick the preference that comes to you first…
Fruit or Veg: Veg – too much fructose in fruit to live on that alone
Fast or Slow: Walk fast, savour slow time too – like a lazy Sunday
Walk or Run: Walk fast! (I’m a Londoner and a definitely Tube escalator-walking person)
Sea or Sand: Warm gentle sea (Fierce waves scare me, even though I am a fledgling surfer)
Rain or Shine: Shine, every time
Blue or Red: Blue, goes with my eyes
Morning or Night: Morning – so full of promise
Yoga or Pilates: Yoga is more spiritual
Dining in or Dining out: Both! (Foodie right here…) Dining out with coeliac is a massive hassle as I’m always terrified of gluten contamination and have to interrogate the poor waiter, demand to see the chef and it takes 3 hours to order, but sometimes it’s nice not to do the dishes.
Squat or Burpee: Squat! Burpees are too much effort…
Laptop or Paper: Laptop! My entire office is encased in one 13″ bit of metal
Home or Away: If Away is a warm beach somewhere, I won’t say no…
How do you feel about your work life balance? If you’d like to share any tricks of your own, or have questions about how to make a change, please leave a comment below and Rosie or I will be happy to help!