4 areas remote workers should invest in
The number one benefit (IMO) of remote work is flexibility! As a remote worker I determine where, when and how I get my work done to a much larger extent than in a regular office setting. If schedule permits, I can run errands, go to the gym, have 3 hour lunches during regular work hours, and work when everyone else is asleep (not me though! my bio-rhythm does not allow that!).
Yet, this ability to organize my own schedule also comes with a new challenge. My life cannot be easily separated between work, family and leisure. As I mentioned in my post about mindfulness, we have to be ready to deal with disruptions of a new kind at any time: kids or spouse wanting our attention, a neighbour wanting to chat, or work requests coming in at odd times (esp. when you work across time zones).
As human beings, we tend to prioritise what is urgent or in front of us, as it creates stress in the moment. If we give into this impulse, we end up relegating everything we need to do that takes focus and concentration (usually the really important stuff) to the times we would otherwise use for our own well-being, for our self-care: we stop going to the gym, we do not sleep enough anymore, we eat lunch and dinner in front of the computer and we go out less and less, neglecting our friendships.
“If my schedule permits…” is the important part here. Remote workers in particular have to create a structure for themselves, so they can get their work done, and be present for family and friends without compromising their own self-care.
How do you do that?
The first step is to make sure you have your priorities straight. What is it you want to achieve, how do you want to live your life? This always involves some trade-offs: working 60–80 hour weeks means you will not have much time for family and friends, or conversely being a stay-home dad will gain you a very close relationship with your kids but most likely not leave enough time to have a big career. The same is true for many freelancers and entrepreneurs without a clear focus. If you invest your time in 5 projects at the same time, chances are high that none will come to fruition and take off.
While we do have to take some hard decisions about the things we want to prioritize, there are a few things in life we should not compromise on: unless you want to spend all those millions you want to earn on your own health care, you should make sure that the trade-off you are making does not compromise your ability to do any of the things you deem important.
What are these things that are so important for our long-term productivity, for our resilience? Your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health.
Let’s start with the basics to make sure we are physically fit:
The number that gets thrown around a lot is 8 hours per night. A number of studies confirm that number, and while there might be people you can live with less and still be productive and not burn out, chances are high that you and I are not part of this group. Getting only an hour less than 8 per night, reduces your productivity considerably.
While the debate, which diet is the best for us is unlikely to be settled any time in the near future, there is a consensus among nutritionists that we should mainly be eating a plant-based diet (fruits and veggies) and that not all fat is bad. Good fats that can help your brain be more productive include high-quality oils (from olives or nuts), but also fish, nuts, seeds, and veggies like avocado.
Another thing we should not underestimate is how we eat. Slower is better than fast, and eating with others can also have a number of health benefits.
Unless you believe Donald Trump, you will know that some exercise is good for you. How much and what is hotly debated, but just like with food, experts agree that some exercise (30 minutes brisk walking is the commonly accepted point of reference) definitely helps.
Mens sano in corpore sano.
But physical health is not enough! When you search for self-care on the webs, you find a lot of articles talking about ways to help you deal with stress. For the purposes of this post, I will briefly touch on emotional, mental and spiritual health:
How do you deal with bad emotional experiences? Say you had a fight with your significant other just before starting your work day? Do you have a way of dealing with this, to refocus, so you can be productive in the short-term, but then also come back to the topic to find a solution with your partner?
When stressed, our emotional brains start taking over. Not only does this lead to let’s call it “sub-optimal” behavior (e.g. overreacting when your child spills a glass of juice), but also affects your productivity and your memory. Do you have a way of calming yourself down, so your rational mind comes back online?
Are you easily distracted? Do you jump from task to task without finishing any? That does not necessarily mean you have ADHD, rather it might mean that you are training your brain to not focus by but letting constant interruptions, in particular notifications, determine what you do at any given moment.
How do you train for the opposite? Mindfulness meditation is a great way of not only training focus but also adaptive flexibility. Another interesting tool you can try out is a technique that James Altucher attributes much of his success to: make lists of 10 things. Anything goes — from 10 business ideas to 10 ideas for the perfect birthday party for you kid — so long as completing the list makes your brain sweat!
Spiritual practice can but does not have to include prayer or meditation. For me being spiritual is aligning my inner growth process with how I show up in the world, which has a lot to do with living my values and finding meaning in what I do.
A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the “why” for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any “how”. -Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
Any job or project, any enterprise requires us to do work we do not like doing. Work we have to push ourselves to get done.
It is a clear sense of purpose that helps us find the energy to push though. Do you know why you do what you do day in day out? And if you do know, do you remind yourself often enough?
Find your practices
Finally, you have to figure out how you get these needs met. There is no shortage in recipes to a happier and more fulfilled life: from the right morning routine, to writing a journal, or doing the 7-minute workout and the 3-minute mindfulness breath, to following a ketogenic diet. There are tons of things you can try and experiment with (and usually there is also an app to help).
I, personally, do not believe in one size fits all solutions to self-care and personal growth!* For me, the best starting point is to understand what brings you calm and peace. For me that is being in nature, having a nice dinner with my wife, meditating, having nerdy conversations about the state of the world, cuddling with my kids, listening to good music, and many other (big and small) things.
The success recipes mentioned above, however, can still be valuable: Use them as ideas for exploration. Try out different practices, adapt them to fit your needs, and see what brings value. Then try to make those stick, which improve your life.
You will find that different practices cover several self-care areas. For example, practicing Yoga can give you exercise, and help with your emotional, mental and spiritual health. Starting a daily cleaning routine can also take care of several areas. So, don’t worry, you won’t have to add 2 hours worth of new activities to your schedule.
*My own position is similar to the one described here.