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We all lead busy lives, and somehow, over the past 20 years, although technology promised to make our lives easier, more productive and create more leisure time, most people would say they feel more stressed now than ever before. So what’s going on? And how can we make it better?

There’s a growing body of research nowadays to suggest that the first step to reclaiming time in our day is to NOT check devices (phone, tablet, computer) first thing in the morning.

Yes, really.

Now, for some people, this comes naturally. For others, not ‘checking in’ the moment they ‘wake up’ is like kicking a hard drug. And you know what? Most of us fall into this category. Recent surveys suggest that an alarming number of people actually sleep next to their devices so they can check in last thing at night, and then again, first thing in the morning.

The problem is that with a technology powered world, we can be plugged into a global network 24/7. We’re wired. And we’re – sadly – addicted. And our health is suffering. Stress levels are the highest they’ve been in some years, and we’re burning ourselves out, physically, emotionally, and mentally, because we’ve forgotten how to take a break.

Did you know that when we’re stressed our prefrontal cortex (an important part of our brain which, amongst other things, is responsible for helping us to regulate our own behaviour) actually just shuts down? When it does, it inhibits our ability to:

– Focus
– Solve problems
– Think clearly
– Be creative
– Reflect and use imagination
– Form strategies
– Control intense emotions
– Control inappropriate behavior
– Ultimately, then, we become more REACTIVE!

And then one thing leads to another, and we end up spending all of our time feeling like we’re stuck ‘chasing our tails’.

Don’t you wish you had more hours in your day?

Well, the good news is that you can. And it’s as simple as not checking in – with emails or social media or text messages – first thing in the morning. All of these streams of communication are constant, and they are reactive in nature, meaning that you feel the need to respond, because that’s what you expect and what you’ve come to believe is expected of you via these mediums.

But, if the way you start your day is reactive, then it’s only natural that the rest of the day will follow in much the same way, because you are simply responding, as opposed to creating.

We’re all busy being busy, but how much are we actually accomplishing?

When we live and work in a reactive environment, it actually starts to affect the way we feel and the way we behave: Then we may tend to:

– Think negatively
– Be more anxious
– Criticize more
– Be more of a victim
– Be unfocused at times
– Experience anger and frustration
– Blame others more
– Have a sense of powerlessness because our feelings depend on the results of external events that we have no control over.

Be proactive and get out of your inbox!

Leaders are time poor, there is no doubt about it, but the trick is to PLAN your day. Be PROACTIVE and DELEGATE to get back more time.

When you plan your day, you’ll see gaps where you can invest your time in engaging with your people, in being more approachable, connecting and collaborating with your team.

When you design your day (including allocated time to respond to emails and other communications) then you’ll feel more in control, you’ll make clearer decisions about what needs your attention right now, and what you can do later, or what you can pass onto to someone else. And then you can find time to reflect and ponder and think about the bigger picture (which is where leaders should be focusing most of their time).

The global push for more time

In some ways it’s a sad indictment of the state we’ve got ourselves into when big global corporations start to encourage (and in some cases mandate) their employees to take more time out. But the good news is that these companies are concerned about the wellbeing of their workers.

Some of these global organisations encourage employees to:

1. Take breaks every 90 minutes. This is based on ensuring the human body and brain can perform at their best. Humans operate in 90-minute cycles known as the ultradian rhythms. If we want to get more done in less time, then we need to renew our energy levels every 90 minutes, and this can be as simple as taking a 5 minute break to walk away from our desks and out into the sun or fresh air. To stretch, talk to a colleague, or sit quietly in another room for a few moments and just ‘be’.

2. Stop sitting down. Some health professionals are now saying that sitting down for long periods is the new ‘cancer’ because of the damage that we do to our bodies when we do not move regularly. Moving physically also has an impact on us emotionally and mentally too.

3. Power nap. Some organisations are installing sleeping pods – quiet dark spaces where employees can nap, meditate or listen to music in headphones. The results are incredible: productivity and creativity have increased exponentially, because when we need a rest, our bodies send us clear signals – and it might be simply a loss of focus – but most of the time we push through, and carry on regardless. When we listen to what we need, we become far more effective.

The important message here is to PLAN time for being productive and to PLAN time for taking breaks. You’ll be surprised at how much better you’ll feel and how much more you’ll get done as a result. And it might be one simple change that has a massive impact on your working hours. But unless you be proactive and start making some changes to the way you operate, you will remain reactive, and feel like work is controlling you, rather than the other way around.

And while some habits are hard to break, the 21-day course-for-change, will help you to retrain your neural pathways, and get you behaving differently.

So, the challenge is to:

– Not check emails before you get to work.
– Take 5 – 10 minutes daily to plan the day ahead, set goals, intentions and timeframes for  getting things done.
– Practice delegation.
– Plan time to respond to emails and communication at certain periods in the day; don’t be always ‘reacting’ to your inbox.
– Take a break every 90 minutes.

When you practice these, you will change your daily focus from being reactive, to being proactive, and when you are proactive, you’re being a true leader. And then you are able to provide real value.

As a leader, you possess important skills and attributes that you can pass on to your team members. When you delegate, you’re developing your team and assigning responsibility and accountability. When you’re approachable and engaging, you just might hear something on the office floor, which helps you to solve a problem you’ve been wrestling with. And when you create time to reflect, you can consider the future, which is what leaders are primarily supposed to do.

To assist with your 21-day adventure I am giving away a 21-day calendar to help you breakthrough your new habit.

But remember, you have to complete ALL 21 days of the challenge to change your old habit to a new one. If you get to day 18 and you break the new routine, then you have to start your 21-day program all over again. Only by finishing the full 21-day course for change will you be guaranteed a successful outcome.

Good luck! And let me know how you go.