Wednesday, July 30, 2014

How to Burn the Candle at Both Ends and Stay Healthy

After packing a 40-hour workweek into just three days, and with several projects still to get through in the four remaining days, I had to take a deep breath and think about how I was going to make it to the end of the week and still have my sanity. Every so often, no matter what’s on our plate, it’s important to make time to look out for number one and make sure that all those hours, and all that pressure, don’t catch up to you and knock you down. One of my favorite health podcasts recently took the opportunity to address this very question about how to stay healthy while doing shift work. While the podcast is specifically addressing people who work off hours, most of the tenets of health outlined in the podcast are universal.

It’s all about the Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone that’s naturally produced by the body that regulates the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle. During the day melatonin is naturally low and high at night, and is a result of millions of years of evolution of our bodies working in harmony with light and dark cycles. This rise and fall in melatonin secretion is related to our circadian rhythm and what happens when we work late into the night is we expose ourselves to artificial light which disrupts melatonin production, raising cortisol (also known as our stress hormone), and interfering with our body’s natural rhythm. The health effects of this hormone disruption are significant.

Some frightening statistics

Every cell in the body seems to be affected by this disruption and shift work is associated with a wide variety of problems including insomnia, depression, and gastrointestinal disturbances, as well as an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, decreases in fertility, increased risk for diabetes and other metabolic disorders, increased risk for cancer, and an overall increased risk of death. More specifically, rates of prostate and breast cancer in men and women who do shift work rise 40% to 70%. There’s also some evidence suggesting that one’s risk of stroke rises by 5% for every year of doing shift work.

The deeper problem

Obviously it’s not as simple as just hormone secretion. What we find is that people who do shift work, or who work late into the night, also adopt a number of poor lifestyle habits.  For example, shift workers are more likely to eat at restaurants or eat poor quality fast food instead of cooking at home. They’re also less likely to seek an adequate amount of exercise. Mixing poor lifestyle habits with hormone disruption appears to be a recipe for poor health.

What can you do?

Well the obvious answers here are to make sure you’re eating a healthy diet, getting adequate sleep, getting enough exercise, and, when possible, obeying our body’s natural rhythms. Less obvious is a handy trick called light control. That is, first, ensuring that when you’re sleeping during the day that you’re blocking out all light sources and sleeping in total darkness. Second, while working at night it’s important to use the right kind of lighting, and when working at night you should be using very bright LED lighting at full power. The idea here is essentially to trick  your body that night is day and day is night. Chris Kresser also recommends that when leaving work in the morning when the sun is beginning to rise, that shift workers filter out blue wavelengths of light by wearing amber tinted glasses. By filtering out these blue wavelengths you are sending signals to your body that nighttime is coming, even if it’s not.

Get more information about this podcast by following this link:

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Lessons From the FIFA World Cup

Business owners around the world are breathing a collective sigh of relief now that the grand spectacle that is the FIFA World Cup has come to a close, signaling, at long last, that it is back to business as usual. Although soccer doesn’t have the deep roots in North America as it does in other parts of the world, the FIFA World Cup is widely regarded as the planet’s most important and widely viewed sporting event, and one reaches a truly global audience. The World Cup only takes place every four years and this year’s host nation, Brazil, is the country whose economy is most directly affected by the tournament. But the month-long tournament also has enormous economic impacts on other countries as well. Some of the numbers related to the tournament (mostly concerning the US economy), provided by InsideView are staggering. For example, 80% of the world’s population will watch some part of the World Cup; the US, it is estimated, lost $390 million in productivity during their group match game against Germany alone; and the World Cup will cost the British economy 250 million working hours. During the World Cup, quite literally, the world stops.

Where is all this productivity lost?

The biggest area affecting productivity is from workers who actually take sick days in order to watch their nation compete in games. But it gets worse. An estimated 10% of workers will come in late for work having stayed up late to watch the games. And who knows how much time and productivity is lost from workers sneaking a peak during working hours or just conversing about the tournament. All in all, as far as productivity is concerned, the World Cup amounts to a colossal distraction.

Steer Into the Skid

Some business owners’ strategies, in light of these statistics, can be to implement draconian-like policies for the duration of the tournament. But, some business owners are finding that the best solution is not just to not fight it, but to embrace the tournament, and see it as an opportunity to enhance other aspects of the business. According to Mercer research in four Latin American countries, it showed that on average over 87% of businesses are willing “to be flexible during the World Cup in offering employees short-term benefits that may have a positive impact on long-term productivity and morale”.

Specific Strategies

Many businesses are coming up with ways to make the World Cup accessible to their employees while keeping a steady workflow. They include things like allowing employees to leave work early or be flexible with their working hours, watching their nation play while working from home, and even equipping their break rooms with TVs that show the games.

The Lasting Impact

A recent Forbes article even found that the World Cup can actually have a positive impact on the bottom line of a company by boosting morale. Neal Taparia, Co-CEO of Imagine Easy Solutions, described the buzz of excitement around the office by their policy of embracing the tournament and playing all of the games in one of their conference rooms, suggesting that it connected employees to each other and to the products they design.

There’s much to learn from the World Cup, as it will surely test employee commitment. At the end of the day, the World Cup is never the difference between success and failure, but reveals much about the connection between the management and the employees.

Links to studies and works referenced in this article:

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Strategies For Juggling Multiple Projects

If you run your own business, chances are you have a seemingly endless to-do list that can overwhelm the senses and would lead a more fragile mind into despair. Sometimes the first thing on everyone’s to-do list is to figure out which item on the to-do list to actually do first. Like a car with standard transmission often the hardest thing is just getting the car rolling. Here are a few handy tips and tricks on how to manage all the items on that list so you can get out of first gear and get into the fast lane.

Organize Your Projects

No two projects are created equal and it’s up to you to figure out which ones are high priority versus which ones can wait. You also need to figure out which projects are long-term projects and which ones have imminent deadlines, or ongoing deadlines. Some individual tasks within a particular project are themselves more complicated than others and those need to be sorted out as well. In my case, I have a set of regular tasks that need to be taken care of weekly and then a variety of projects that are, on average, a month’s worth of work and all with deadlines falling at various points throughout the year.

When all the chips are down I have a way to break down all my tasks for the year by month and by week, which then allows me to plan out each day.

Organize Your Week

As a rule, I make sure that any projects with ongoing deadlines I devote a portion of any given day to complete. I also make sure to devote at least 25% of time during any given week to any of my monthly projects (this percentage may increase as any deadline looms). The reason why I make sure to devote this substantial amount of time even early in the process is because I never want to get to a point where I need to devote 100% of my time to a particular project at the expense of the work that is ongoing. Normally it is advisable to put the ongoing work at the front part of the week.

Organize Your Day

Luckily the day comes conveniently broken up into two parts: before lunch and after lunch. Lunch isn’t just a time to gas up and take a much needed break, it’s a great way to set goals. Often, I give myself a set of tasks that I can reasonably complete before lunch. I find that my productivity is highest before lunch so this is when I take care of higher priority projects. I repeat: DO YOUR HIGH PRIORITY WORK BEFORE LUNCH - save the cat videos for after lunch. The afternoon is also a good time to tackle lower priority projects, assess your progress, and plan the next day’s work schedule.

Always Spend At Least a Minute With All Your Projects

Even if it’s as simple as delegating a few minutes of thought, or simply asking a colleague “how far along are we with that?” it’s worth touching base with all your projects at least once a week. Never let a week go by without checking in. The weekend is a time of forgetting and if you don’t make it a habit to check in, that kind of procrastination can lead to a massive crunch or worse - a missed deadline.

Never Devote an Entire Day to One Single Thing

There’s nothing more demoralizing than the prospect of devoting your entire day to one single task performed over and over again. Although sometimes it may be necessary, it’s advisable to restrict assembly line tasks to a portion of the day in order to give the mind a break from that inherent monotony as staying vocationally fresh is a great way to optimize productivity. Conversely, miring oneself in drudgery is tantamount to flicking the “off switch”.

Develop Your Time Management Skills

Time management is a skill just like needlework, cooking, or playing the guitar, and all the same rules apply. Just like any skill it has to be developed to serve you any real purpose and you have to practice to get better at it. There are numerous tools at your disposal to help with all of the advice mentioned above like spreadsheets and calendars where you can jot down, make notes, color code, and organize everything that’s on your plate. Along with helping cut through all the clutter, giving myself a visual sense of what’s ahead really gives me a sense of where to start and how my time can be best used. Naturally, it takes a portion of time to carry out this strategy of organization, but the benefits over the long term are well worth it.