With all that you have going on during the early stages of running your own business, you run the risk of neglecting the single most important asset you have at your disposal: yourself!
As you probably know all too well by now, the life of an entrepreneur is a breathless whirlwind of back-to-back meetings, backlogged to-do lists, endless cups of coffee, and long nights spent staring at a computer screen. In his classic, groundbreaking book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, self-help guru Stephen R. Covey stresses the importance of what he calls the “P/PC balance”—the precarious equilibrium between production and production capacity that most busy people struggle to maintain. When we fail to make our personal needs a priority as well as our business needs, the result is an exponential drop in productivity.
But don’t worry—taking better care of yourself while still running a successful business is way easier than you probably think, and here are seven tips to help you get started.
Increasing Productivity from the Inside Out:
1: Put yourself first.
As Count Rugen says in the beloved cult classic The Princess Bride, “If you haven’t got your health, then you haven’t got anything.”
Villain though he may be, he gives good advice: Success should never come at the cost of your own well-being. If taking on one more client or signing up for one more startup competition means you’ll have to push yourself harder than you’re realistically capable of performing, it’s okay to turn down the occasional opportunity. Others will come knocking, I promise.
2: Take a break.
The paradox all high achievers face is that the harder and longer you work, the less productive you become.
Think about it: If a logger were to spend the whole day sawing away at the same huge tree, his saw would eventually wear down and lose its cutting edge. It’s only because he stops occasionally to sharpen the saw that he’s ever able to fell the tree. So instead of seeing breaks as interruptions, view them as opportunities to sharpen the saw and make sure you take them regularly throughout the day.
3: Catch some zzz’s.
The cumulative effects of sleep deprivation are startling, dangerous, and downright sneaky—and if you’re not consistently getting 7-8 hours of quality sleep each night, you’re probably already experiencing a few of them. The kind of sleep your body needs the most is uninterrupted, unmedicated REM sleep (the cycle of sleep in which dreams occur). Caffeine, stress, heavy dinners, late-night snacks, and blue light from computer screens and smartphones can impair this kind of sleep, so try to cut back if at all possible.
4: Input equals output.
The fuel you give your body definitely affects your stamina and performance, so make healthy food choices whenever possible; this means turning down donuts at the office and ordering a salad instead of fried chicken when you meet your clients and colleagues for meals. Also, keep in mind that while the caffeine found in coffee and soda does give you a temporary energy boost, too much of it can actually lead to dehydration, which in turn causes fatigue and difficulty concentrating.
5: Get off your tush.
There’s a good reason you keep being told to exercise by everyone, everywhere, every day: It’s great advice! If exercise is synonymous with torture in your mind, you can relax—even just a few minutes of sustained movement each day is enough to make a difference in how you feel. Try doing a few squats or lunges periodically throughout the day or taking a brisk 10-minute walk around the neighborhood when weather permits.
6: Remember to breathe.
A little stress now and then is unavoidable; the only thing you have absolute control over is how you choose to react to it. The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, try this to help you keep calm: Take a deep breath in through your nose, letting the air fill your belly instead of your chest (this is important), and then exhale through your mouth to the count of five. Repeat three to five times, and then carry on.
7: Be your own biggest fan.
The downside to being your own boss is that there’s no one to name you “Entrepreneur of the Year”—instead, you’re the one responsible for measuring, motivating, and rewarding your own success. Daily affirmation is a good way to keep yourself psyched up rather than psyched out. You can use any of the hundreds of examples easily found online, or, if those seem too embarrassingly cheesy for your taste, write your own—mine is Ego ferox sum, Latin for “I am fierce.”
Whatever you do, don’t get so caught up in the work you do every day that you forget to do right by your body and mind. If you make it a point to sharpen your saw regularly, you’ll eventually cut down every tree in the forest! (And then plant new ones, of course. Planet Earth needs care, too.)