I recently read an article in The New York Times that discussed the importance of work-life balance and it struck a chord with me. Hat tip to @mikasalmi for the heads up. The article elaborated on the idea that we live in this “always-on” environment.
We’re constantly checking our e-mail, responding to text messages, envying pictures of our friends’ latest amazing trip and those addictive viral memes that leave you wondering where the last 10 minutes of your life went. With the influx in technology we are able to access social media at the drop of a hat. An article in Inc. says that the average person spends over four hours a day on their mobile device. We are in a state of constant connection.
But there is no way that staring at your phone all day while simultaneously using it for work purposes is healthy. We need time to de-plug and cultivate that creative thinking.
1. Re-wiring your brain
I recently published a piece on neuroplasticity— the brain’s way of re-wiring itself to adapt, or even re-adapt, to certain situations. Dr. Iroise Dumontheil at Birkbeck University said she feels social media is affecting the brain’s plasticity, and that periods of time spent on social media could potentially cause the brain to change.
“We know that medium to heavy multitaskers, who engage in multiple forms of media simultaneously, tend to demonstrate smaller gray matter area in the anterior cingulate cortex, which is the area of the brain responsible for top-down attention control,” said Caglar Yildirim, an assistant professor of human computer interaction at SUNY Oswego. “Altogether, this means that if you are too dependent on your smartphone, you are basically damaging your ability to be attentive.”
There has got to be some sort of research that says when you aren’t able to balance work-life, your productivity, physical health, and mental health go down. Well, sure enough, there is.
2. Using your work-time to your advantage
A researcher by the name of Marianna Virtanen at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health concluded that there is a connection between being overworked and having impaired sleep and depressive symptoms, as elaborated in an article with the Huffington Post.
The piece went on to say that working longer hours doesn’t necessarily mean we as employees are more efficient, as describe in Parkinson Law: “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.” You may have an assignment that will only take 30 minutes, but if you have six hours to complete that 30-minute assignment… You’ll most likely end up using the full six hours.
According to a study in the Lancet on people who work more than 55 hours a week, those people have “a 33 percent higher risk of stroke than those toiling a more sane 35 to 40 hours each week, and a 13 percent increased risk of coronary heart disease, too,” says an article in The Washington Post. The article also covered a study by a researcher at Stanford who found that productivity starts to diminish at around 50 hours per week. The study concluded that there was no difference in productivity for those employees who worked 70 hours per week versus 56 hours per week.
This may be a bit harrowing for those who work those extensive hours a week, as I know I personally would not like to be at higher risk for a stroke nor heart disease. That’s where that right-brain creativity comes into play.
For many entrepreneurs, you always “could” be working and you have to discipline yourself not to work. You really almost have to schedule time not to work. I know it sounds ridiculous, but I’m sure many of us can relate to “sneaking work emails” during vacation to avoid a (well-deserved) evil eye from our spouse or family members.
But there’s hope!
3. Finding an out-of-work hobby
A study published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology found that employers could potentially benefit from encouraging employees to pursue an outside-work hobby in order to break from the stress of work. The study also found that those participating in creative activity had both indirect and direct effects on performance-related outcomes.
Another study, in which participants “completed a self-report measure” evaluating their involvement in ten different kinds of leisure activities, along with their positive and negative psychological states. In addition, measurements of participants resting blood pressure, cortisol levels, BMI, waist circumference, and “perceived physiological functioning” were evaluated.
The study concluded that the more leisure activities the participants took part in, the lower the blood pressure, cortisol, waist circumference, BMI, and “perceptions of better physical function.”
As entrepreneurs, we may feel like we might not have the time do participate in ten leisure activities a day, but just so much as a quick meditation could decrease stress-levels.
Please check out a piece in ScientificAmerican.com entitled Mind of the Meditator written by Matthieu Ricard, a Buddhist monk and former cellular biologist; Antoine Lutz, a research scientist at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research and at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; and Richard J. Davidson, the director of the Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior and the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The article delves into the science and effects of three major types of Buddhist meditation: focused attention, mindfulness, and compassion and loving kindness. Studies for the article found that these meditations decreased distress and increased better control of emotions. They even found that, through magnetic resonance imaging, 20 expert practitioners of a type of Buddhist meditation had a more substantial quantity of brain tissue in the prefrontal cortex and the insula than a control group did.
Even spending a few minutes each day can lead to improvements in one’s mental well being.
An article in Medium written by Blake Powell describes his journey after reading a book called The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle. The book revolves around the idea of embracing the present moment instead of worrying about the past or the future.
Powell recommends starting off with just 10 minutes of meditation a day. “In the span of a month of meditation,” said Powell, “I noticed myself tuning into my thoughts more readily and catching myself before becoming my thoughts, instead noting them as ‘feelings’ and snapping myself back to the present moment (and this becomes almost effortless with practice).”
I’ve personally found that these lifestyle habits, like meditation, are what really gets our creativity flowing. The best creative ideas seem to come to people when they’re out of the office. Founders often come up with great ideas for features, products or companies while doing things they enjoy. An article in Forbes coins this “the spontaneous idea,” saying it’s one of the “three primary paths to a new business idea.”
So, is it possible to balance your work-life? Yeah, I really think it is. Spend time with your family, delve into conversations with your kids, go on a run with your dog, find something that sparks that creativity and lowers your stress-level. Just for fun I recently built a skateboard halfpipe in my basement with my kids using almost entirely scrapped wood that I found in dumpsters or discarded on the street. My son and I built an electric guitar so we could both learn about the challenges of wiring, setting the action and painting a guitar. My current project is working on a funk album with a fun bunch of amazing musicians. The time I spend throwing myself into non-work-related forms of creativity really boost my overall attitude and effort, particularly when it comes to work itself.
If all else fails, meditate for twenty minutes a day before work. And if that doesn’t work, as the Zen saying goes, “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day—unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.”