Most of my college years were spent running from one thing to the next. My days were scheduled to a T and I allowed my planner to dictate my daily existence. But for me, it worked. I put myself second to everyone and everything else, always. Huge mistake. How can you take care of others if you don’t first take care of yourself? Anyways, it wasn’t until after graduation that I began to comprehend just how serious a health threat chronic stress really is. After four years of life on-the-go with minimal rest, my finite energy stores were drained. Any and all motivation that was once there was lost, and I was burnt out.
Fast-forward to post-grad life that is the real world and suddenly I found myself with this huge void to fill. I was working, yes, but only in a part-time position and nannying on the side. For about 6 months, my days looked like this:
3:30 a.m. Alarm goes off. Snooze.
4:00 a.m. Alarm goes off, again. Snooze, again.
4:30 a.m. Alarm goes off one last time. Roll out of bed. To the coffee pot we go. Yes, I’ve just interrupted what could’ve been an additional hour of sleep.
5:20 a.m. Workout aka lift heavy shit with Danny.
6:00 a.m. Home, 5-minute shower, inhale breakfast, pick up Venti coffee en route to the Y to get me through the next 5 hours. Sad, but true. No one should depend on coffee in this way. A precious commodity that’s meant to be enjoyed, IMO.
8:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. Work #9-5 #deskjob #worstfear #energydrain
1:15 p.m. until ??? Babysitting. And by “???” I really mean it. I never knew. It was never before the dinner hour, but I figured that because I’d committed to them for X hours and they were paying me for X hours, that they were entitled to me and the childcare I provided them for X + Y hours. Entitled to nothing!! YOUR TIME IS WORTH SOMETHING! I definitely allowed myself and my time to be taken advantage of. Stand up for yourself!
Post-babysitting Walk. Theoretically, leisure walk. In actuality, more like race walk. It took me a while to master the art of the leisure walk.
~8:00 p.m. Out of gym clothes and into sweats for dinner.
8:30 p.m. Shower. Yes, I shower 2x a day. Kind of obsessed with being clean.
Time variable. Bed (whacked sleep schedule).
All day, everyday. Even reading this makes me tired. All snacks and meals, barring dinner, were on-the-go; usually, in the car. Sunday was my designated chill day and my only time to do nothing. I needed those Sundays to recover from the whirlwind of the previous six days. And I dreaded knowing I had to recharge enough then to make it through until the following Sunday, when I’d have the opportunity to rest again. Guys, this is ridiculous!! If you take nothing else from this blog, let it be this: periods of work should be offset by periods (yes, plural) of rest EVERYDAY!
Having spent the last eighteen years of my life in school, I struggled with wrapping my head around the reality that I had nothing to be studying for. It was unsettling and I thought that in order to be productive, I needed to fill every waking hour of every day. Well, I thought wrong. I learned this the hard way, but learned nonetheless.
First, define productive. Tough, right? At times, it’s easily measurable; at others, not so much. Have you ever put hours of work into something, made significant progress, but still had no physical “product” to show for it? It’s frustrating and can be tough to justify to others the time spent on whatever the “it” is. Here’s the thing: you shouldn’t (and don’t!) have to justify anything. If you’re doing what you love, and can support yourself doing it, it doesn’t matter what other people think. Easier said than done, I know, but true nonetheless.
An example from my own life comes to mind.
I chose to take time off after school not because I was lazy and didn’t want to better myself, but because I honestly had no clue what I wanted to do (and am still in the process of figuring that out). I didn’t want to prematurely rush into more school just because it meant a plan for the next 2-4 years. I could have, but was so unsure of myself. I needed time to both realize my passions and find purpose. Here I was, a fresh out of college twenty-something with a degree from a private liberal arts school, often deemed an Ivy of the South, employed at the YMCA. I found myself answering to members who inquired daily as to what I could possibly do with a degree in Health and Exercise Science. Or why I didn’t study business when I attended a school with one of the top programs in the country. Was I overqualified for the Wellness Coach position? Definitely. But what I can also tell you is that I absolutely needed that time. In fact, it was a tremendous period of growth for me. They just weren’t able to see it like those close to me did.
And just now, sitting in Starbucks writing this, someone came up to me and asked what I did (I’m in here a lot and people…complete strangers…ALWAYS talk to me. Even when I have headphones in. WTF?!? I really do like people. Promise. I just have no clue what it is about me that attracts the weirdest most random ones). When I told him I trained, he gave me a once over and asked if I had a college degree. I told him I was a Wake grad, and then he suggested I get a “real” job. He proceeded to inform me of places in town where I might look, and suggested that I could be doing something so much more worth my while. Was I offended? Honestly, not really. Personally, I cannot fathom ever saying anything remotely of that nature to anyone, but you know something? I’m actually really happy. I have my days, sometimes weeks where I’m in a funk over having chosen to take a nontraditional path, but I am confident enough in what I do to not let comments like that bother me…most of the time (we’re all human, right ;)). I know I put my all into training sessions with clients, and make an effort to get to know the person behind the face. Training is, so often, much more than just the workout. Everyone has a story and you can learn a lot from people if only you give them a chance. I realize the value of face-to-face interpersonal relationships and work hard to develop client trust. Will I train forever? Probably not. That said, for right now I am a trainer and I’m proud of that. It feels so good to be able to help others feel good about themselves and is kind of cool, I think, to be in a position to *change lives.*
Sorry for that lengthy detour. Relax, simplify…I think that’s where we were at? Feel free to reel me back in at any time.
Here are 10 ways I’ve learned to relax, simplify my life and increase productivity in the past year:
- Offload your plate. For me, quitting wellness was a huge step. I’m not typically one to take risks and the idea of giving up guaranteed hours for personal training clients that may or may not come terrified me. That relationship building I just talked about? Definitely paid off. I started training, my client load increased dramatically and I was making more in half the time. I also knew it was time to set some boundaries with the families I was sitting for. I told them that I needed a minimum of a four hour commitment from them to make it worth my while. I was so over these “can you swing by while I run to the grocery store” gigs in the middle of the day that broke up my afternoon and prevented me from doing other, more productive things. I also told them no Saturday nights. If they needed a weekend sitter and wanted it to be me, it was going to be Friday, and that was that. You know what? They listened.
- Learn to prioritize. You can do everything, but not all at once. Pick ONE thing, do it, practice it and only then move onto the next. I used to pride myself in thinking I was the queen of multi-tasking. I reveled in [miraculously] being able to pull off a million things at once. Sometimes, at the cost of my sanity. Not good. Had I instead taken the time to focus on one thing at a time, the end result would have been so much better, and likely attained much sooner with much less stress, every time. Guaranteed.
- Prioritize YOU time. You are a priority. I use a planner to keep track of clients, meetings and social engagements, but make sure to reserve blocks of time each day for me: work-related stuff, grad school apps, social engagements (however few and far between) and of course, some R&R. Block time = my time. My planner is color-coded and blue = my time. If you provide a good service to people and they want to work with you, be it training or anything else, they will make your schedule work with theirs. Be possessive of your you time and don’t let others take that away from you. What you do in that time is up to you, but time for yourself to get stuff done is so important.
- Yoga. I can be an intense person (or maybe just high-strung lol) and I like intense exercise that makes you sweat. All reasons why I thought I hated yoga. That, and I don’t like to do things I’m not good at. I was required to take a yoga course in high school and dreaded it in the worst way. Lying on the mat, stretching, and being told to relax and let the tension flow from your body stressed me out in the worst way. Fast forward to this new life of mine and I thought it was time to give it another go. It’s something my body (and mind) needed so bad. So, a few months back, I started going to a local studio, by myself (NOTE: way out of my comfort zone—both yoga and not knowing anyone), on Sundays and…I’m hooked. It’s definitely not something I could do every day, or in place of the intense exercise, but like they say, variety is the spice of life.
- Leisure walks. As someone with all-or-nothing tendencies, it took me a while to adjust to a pace that fell somewhere in between rest and an all out sprint. My now 30-60 minute leisure walks used to be complete in 20 minutes (same loop) – I walked so fast! I’ve gotten pretty good at it and genuinely look forward to my walks everyday. Hints: (1) treadmill walking is boring, but can be made more tolerable with a big tumbler of coffee (AM only!) and a good podcast or something to listen to. Arguably the safer option if you’re alone and it’s after dark. Still, nature > inside, I think. (2) Walking with a friend who understands what leisurely means, with coffee or in flip-flops helps to slow you down. The first makes for good company, if you walk too fast with coffee you end up wearing it and if you walk too fast in flip-flops, you get blisters. *Speaks from experience.*
- Pedicures. I’ve abused my feet so much in the past, and ironically, didn’t get pedicures much back in the days of crazy cardio. I literally couldn’t rest long enough to let them dry sufficiently. Now, pedicures are one of my favorite rest day activities and happen…often. Or after a tough track workout. I’ll even bring a book with me to read in the chair. I do love people, but also need “me” time and sometimes just don’t want to be bothered. If pedicures aren’t your thing, or you’re a guy and are thinking “guys don’t get pedicures and I wouldn’t be caught dead in that chair” (false- I forced my Dad to get one with me…without polish, of course, and he loved it!), try a facial, massage, etc.
- Energy management. Energy is a finite resource and because we all have things in our daily lives that drain these stores (i.e. school, work, relationships, kids… parents, for that matter), it needs to be renewed. Restorative activities (i.e. leisure walking, yoga, family/friend time*) can help us to do so. Highly recommend The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz if you’re looking for more on this. *Be careful. This can also be an energy drain.
- It’s okay to have moments of doing nothing, so long as they’re offset by bouts of doing something.
- Tea & journaling. As I mentioned earlier, my sleep schedule through and immediately out of college was…not regular. I couldn’t fall asleep, stay asleep and had the worst nighttime anxiety. Yogi Bedtime Tea came recommended to me and I gave it a try, but quickly eliminated it from my nightly routine because it made me…relax ha. As weird as it sounds, I hated the calming effect that some external factor was having on me. The taste was a bit sweet for me, but that’s beside the point. Once I got over myself, I reintroduced a lavender and chamomile tea that has a similar effect and enjoy a big mug every night after dinner, in bed, with a book or my journal. Which brings me to journaling. I’ve said this before, but a year ago I would’ve told you this was dumb. But as you all know at this point, I have a lot of thoughts and my mind races. A lot. Writing things down has helped to alleviate this some. Sometimes I write with no intention of rereading it, more like a stream of consciousness. But it can be cool to look back and reflect on how things have changed. I started this when I first got into weights a year ago to help keep me accountable and have recently looked back at those entries. Got a good laugh, for sure. It’s crazy the difference a year makes! The cool thing with this is that there are no rules. You can write whatever you want.
- Power down and read. Last, but definitely not least. I LOVE reading, but in school didn’t have time to read much else than textbooks and for class. A school nerd, I love to learn so not having anything to study for in this last year left me, at times, bored and craving mental stimulation. Reading has, in many ways, satisfied that craving and given me perspective on an array of topics. Getting lost in a good book in bed at night also helps to calm my racing mind. I try to power down from all technology an hour before bed and don’t watch TV (other than sports…sometimes, the news but it’s usually more depressing than not). This also means that text alerts go off. If it’s that important, whoever it is will call and if not, the text will still be there in the morning.