Words by Emilie Marie
Being a top performer and being in top form do not have to be mutually exclusive. And it is achieved through work-life balance.
Way too often we think that the way to the top means sacrificing everything else: social life, hobbies, family and most scarily our health. Well, I have good news: the truth is quite the opposite.
If you look at your role models chances are they are very much looking after their wellbeing. It might sound counter intuitive but to go to the top health, thus work-life balance, should be your priority.
Why? Because a burn out never helped anyone getting a promotion. Also if you are tired, your brain cannot function as well as it could and you won’t perform at your best.
Take it from me. I am a lawyer, have moved abroad twice for career opportunities and at times my routine was working 80 hours a week. And guess what happened? I did burn out. Since then I have learnt to look after myself properly and guess what happened? I got promoted.
And if you stop to think about it for a minute it does make sense.
Take a good look at the people at the top of your organisation. Do they look like they have got things under control? Most likely. And this isn’t random. The reality of the corporate world is that the higher you get the more stressful it gets. Therefore they need people at the top who are good in a crisis. And funnily enough the healthier you are, the better you are in a crisis because you don’t let things stress you out.
Let’s look at how to get there
Tip #1: Work your core hours
Let’s be clear: I am not telling you to turn into a clock watcher. That will never get you a promotion.
I am telling you to be efficient and impress your bosses by being able to get all of your work done within your hours.
Here are a few tips on how to be more efficient at your job
Support staff and junior colleagues are here for a reason: to support you and learn from you. Use all available resources. Training others to get things done the way you want them done might take some efforts at first but once they are there you are free to focus on what really matters and that no one else can do. Don’t waste your time on tasks that others can do for you.
Additionallly this experience will hone your management skills, which is always a plus.
Make a list of the tasks that you spend time on and categorise them in the table below.
Increase your productivity
Plan your work ahead
Once you have identified the tasks that you should work on, plan your week ahead and allocate each task to a specific slot of time. Block the time in your diary so that others don’t send you meeting invites during these times and stick to your plan.
Don’t let yourself be interrupted while you are working.
Shut your inbox and allow time between tasks to check your inbox.
Turn off your mobile and let people go to voicemail.
If you want more tips on productivity I recommend reading The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss
Tip #2: Learn how to manage stress
Contrarily to common belief, staying calm is a skill that you can learn.
Only worry about what you can control
Something happens and you start stressing about it. Here is what to do:
Stop worrying and take 3 deep breaths
Now think about what YOU can do about it
If you can do something about it now, do it now
If you can do something about it at a later time, set a reminder in your calendar and do it then
If you cannot do anything about it, let it go
I have personally learnt this technique about 2 years ago and it has changed my life.
I used to compare going to work with going to war.
As an in-house counsel a big part of my job is to say no to my colleagues and so I would start my day by preparing myself mentally for battle. Not the best mindset to start your day.
But then I met my mentor Ed J C Smith. Ed often says: “Communication is the response you get”. And suddenly it made sense. If I wanted to stop the constant conflicts I had to work on my communication skills.
Take responsibility for your communication
This can be done through several ways:
Build better rapport with your colleagues
Be more humble and truly listen to what others are saying: if you can understand what really drive them you will get to the solution faster
Learn how to handle difficult people
This led me to read the classic How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie which has changed my approach to dealing with difficult people.
And this has worked extremely well for me:
I don’t feel like I am going to war when I am going to work anymore
I am repeatedly praised for handling well difficult situations and preventing conflicts before they start
Tip #3: Have a life outside of work
This is where the life part of the work-life balance comes in.
What does that have to do with being a top performer?
Apart from the fact that having a life outside of work will contribute to your general wellbeing, it will also help your chances to climb the career ladder.
Networking plays a big part in having a successful career. Therefore you should take the opportunities that you have to mingle with people that are higher than you in the company hierarchy.
But ideally you want to avoid talking only about work because:
It might not be appropriate – always keep in mind confidentiality – and you do not want to be noticed for the wrong thing
You do not want to bore people. These people are very focused on work all day long. When these gatherings happen they like to relax as much as possible so if you have something interesting to talk about that is not work related they are likely to speak to you a little bit longer and leave with a good impression of you
Sounding like a workaholic is not a good look
How to do it
If your life has been revolving around work and you need some help on how to “get a life” here are a few tips:
The BlackBerry drawer
First things first, keep work at work. When you get home, put your work mobile away. I used to have a special drawer for my work phone at home (which I called the BlackBerry drawer as I still had a BlackBerry at the time…) so that I had to make a special effort to go and get it if I had an urgent need to check my emails.
This is a good example of out of sight out of mind: if you do not see that they are incoming emails on your work phone, you do not know that they are there and as a result you do not feel the urgent need to check them.
Have a hobby… or five
Now that you only work your core hours you have a lot of free time. That can be slightly unnerving at first. So this is what you do:
Step 1: take a piece of paper and a pen and write down everything that you always said you would like to do but never had the time to do
Step 2: once the list is done, pick one or two activities and look for ways for you to get started
Step 3: enjoy!
Warning: side effects of having a hobby:
it will improve your general wellbeing
you might make new interesting connections that could get you your next job
Tip #4: Take your holidays and switch off
This is an obvious extension of the “get a life” tip above.
Don’t let the end of the annual leave surprise you. Plan your holidays ahead.
Here is why you should always take your annual leave:
having a break from work will increase your general wellbeing
you will come back refreshed and will be more productive and motivated
you might meet interesting people – see the side effect of having a hobby above
it will give you a chance to stop and reflect on your career goals
On that last point… I often used my holidays to do some planning. I even sometimes do so with others by joining a retreat. I have attended a couple of great retreats where we set our goals for the year ahead and formed accountability groups to support each other in achieving said goals.
Tip#5: Look after your health
Being physically and mentally healthy will increase your performance at work. If you don’t believe me just think back to the last time you had a cold. How performant were you during those couple of weeks?
So if you are new to looking after yourself (there is no shame in that, I personally only realised the importance of this 3 years ago when I had my burn out…) here is a starter for ten:
You are what you eat, so think about what you put in your body. If you drive a Porsche you are going to feed it good quality petrol so that the engine can perform at its best, right? Well think of your body as a Porsche and feed it good nourishing quality food. It will thank you for it by performing at its best. For more tips on eating the right food to support your mental health click here.
Regular exercise will impact on your general wellbeing. It will help you reduce your stress levels and sleep better, your brain will therefore function better and it will improve the state of your mental health by releasing what I call “happy hormones”.
Get plenty of good quality sleep
Same as regular exercise, the better you sleep the better your brain will perform. Aim for 8 hours as it is proven that this is the amount that allows people to function at their best the next day.
To sleep better there are a number of practical things that you can do including:
avoid screens for a couple of hours before going to bed
eat a light supper 3 hours before bedtime to ensure that you have had time to digest – personally I also avoid carbs at dinner for that reason
I would love to hear how you get on with these tips so leave a comment below.
Until next month, take care of yourself.
Intellectual Property lawyer by day, blogger and life coach by night. Having suffered from depression on and off over 20 years, Emilie has done extensive research on the subject and worked out a system to manage depression without medication through having a healthy lifestyle. She shares her experience and tips on her blog https://memyhealthandi.org/