Always On, On Demand, 24/7 -- these slogans often feel like the default for the modern work experience. We go to bed stressed, wake up stressed and check email in between. The pace of work even has some companies referring to employees as “corporate athletes.” It’s all about pushing it to the limit, winning the gold and working longer, harder and faster.
But the analogy misses one key point. Sports psychologists, like Dr. Jim Loehr at the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute, have long written about the importance of recovery training after pushing hard, for top-notch physical and mental performance. The push-recover approach helps to build speed, strength and endurance for professional athletes to expand the limits of human performance and endurance, while avoiding injury.
Related: Why Are We Always So Tired?
In contrast, corporate athletes generally follow the push till you break approach. And the evidence shows that “always on” is extremely costly in terms of burnout, stress, depression, chronic back pain, injury, pharmaceutical usage and related healthcare costs. That’s a lot of red flags.
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Personally, I spent most of my career being always on. I didn’t know what impact it could have on my physical and emotional well-being. I pushed hard with 12-hour work days and a 50 percent travel schedule for years. Without understanding the importance of recovery periods, I hit a wall and just broke. Literally -- I broke my back. But I thought I was winning, so I didn’t care. Now I do, thanks to mindfulness training.
In the spirit of helping other corporate athletes, here are five mindfulness tips to help you push hard and recover better.
1. Work like an athlete? Train like one.
Build in micro breaks for recovery. Try a few short mindfulness meditations throughout the day, especially after stressful situations. Find a quiet spot, sit and take a one to five minute break to center and calm your central nervous system. Clear your mind for what you need to take care of next.
2. Be efficient and effective. Manage mindful meetings.
Too many meetings start late, end late and don’t accomplish goals. That creates unnecessary stress. Start and end on time. Take one minute to center the room and ask everyone to drop whatever they’re bringing to the meeting extraneously. State one to three goals for the meeting, including the decisions that need to be made. Make sure everyone is heard, even if only for one minute. Use a timer if necessary.
3. Let the team recover too.
Tempted to draft emails on the weekend? Don’t hit send until Monday. It may feel good to get things off of your chest in the moment, but weekend emails are simply a way for you to pass the stress baton. Avoid the temptation.
4. Protect and value recovery time.
Turn your phone off at the same time each evening. You may be in a globally connected business, but your state of mind and emotional health play a big role in the healthy functioning of your family and your business. What happens with your family in the short time you spend together is more important than emails from 8-11 p.m., as is your sleep.
5. Show the team you care by the way you listen.
When speaking with colleagues, let them speak for two to three minutes without interrupting. Ask the same of them. This creates a recovery period where you’re listening, not thinking and outdoing your teammate -- it's ok, we are all guilty of it. Small changes in how you communicate will strengthen connections and reduce stress in your relationships.
You don’t have to run in beast mode or drain three pointers like Steph Curry to push your mind and body to the limit. These simple habits applied consistently could create long-lasting, impactful benefits, while avoiding injury and burnout.