You’ll reduce your stress levels and become more productive. – By Bicycling Staff
Seek Out “Just-Manageable Challenges” in Areas of Your Life in Which You Want to Grow
Just manageable challenges are those that barely exceed your current abilities. If you feel fully in control, make the next challenge a bit harder; If you feel anxious or so aroused that you can’t focus, dial things down a notch.
Divide your work into blocks of 50 to 90 minutes (this may vary by task). Start even smaller if you find yourself struggling to maintain attention. If deep-focus work is new to you, start with blocks as short as 10 to 15 minutes. As you cultivate a deep-focus practice, gradually increase the duration in which you go deep. For almost all activities, 2 hours should be the uppermost limit for a working block.
Keep in mind that how you view something fundamentally changes how your body responds to it. In situations when you feel the sensation of stress, remind yourself that this is your body’s natural way of preparing for a challenge. Take a deep breath and channel the heightened arousal and sharper perception into the task at hand. Push yourself to view stress productively, and even to welcome it. You’ll not only perform better but also improve your health.
Find a time when other distractions are minimised, such as first thing in the morning, after brushing your teeth, or before going to bed. Sit in a comfortable position and, ideally, in a quiet space. Set a timer so you aren’t distracted by thoughts about the passage of time and begin breathing deeply, in and out through your nose. Focus on nothing but your breath; when thoughts arise, notice them, but then let them go. Direct your focus back to the sensation of your breath. Start with just one minute and gradually increase duration, adding 30 to 45 seconds every few days. Frequency trumps duration, so it’s best to meditate daily, even if that means keeping individual sessions short.
Have “calm conversations” during stressful periods; remember that you are separate from the emotions and sensations that you are experiencing. Realise when you want to “turn it off” and then choose to leave stress behind. Taking a few deep breaths helps because it activates the prefrontal cortex, your brain’s command-and-control center.
When you are working on a strenuous task and hit an impasse, have the courage to step away. The more stressful the task, the longer your break should be. Sometimes it’s best to step aways until the next morning. During breaks, perform activities that demand little to no focus. Go on a short walk, sit in nature, meditate, recover socially, listen to music, take a shower or do the dishes. You may have an “aha” moment of insight during your break. If you do, great. If you don’t have an “aha” moment during your break, your subconscious mind is still at work. When you return to whatever it is you were doing, you’ll be more likely to make progress.
Reframe sleep as something that is productive. You should be aiming for at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night, and for those doing intense physical activity, 10 hours is not too much. The best way to figure out the right amount of sleep for you is to spend 10 to 14 days going to sleep when you are tired and waking up without an alarm clock. Take the average sleep time; that’s what you need.
There’s a lot you can do to set yourself up for better sleep, such as ensuring you’re exposed to natural (i.e., non-electric) light throughout the day, exercising (but not too close to bedtime), limiting caffeine intake, using your bed only for sleep and sex, and keeping your smartphone OUT of the bedroom entirely.
Regardless of the work you do, take at least one off-day every week. Even better, time your off-days and vacations strategically to follow periods of accumulated stress; the more you stress, the more you should rest. On both single off-days and extended vacations, truly disconnect from work. Unplug both physically and mentally and engage in activities that you find relaxing and restorative.