After reading Getting Things Done, an influential time-management guide, I was equipped with strategies for tackling tasks and ready to conquer the world.
I’d pile my plate high with projects, combining caffeine and sleep deprivation to stay ahead and leverage the GTD system. I traded all my time for work, thinking that the road to happiness was paved in accomplishments.
But somehow I felt unfulfilled. Caffeine, my focus-inducing friend, made me increasingly anxious. Sleep deprivation led to constant negative thoughts. To top it off, I became overly affected by the drama and negative energy I’d receive from customers, friends, family and employees. In short, I could no longer think straight. I went from doing creative work and leading a team to just busy work and rushing around.
It took getting hit by a van in in London, almost two years ago, to make me realize I had prioritized productivity over being present in the moment.
That day, my mind was elsewhere, caught up with worries about my business and life. I’d ignored my dear friend Sophie who’d warned me for 3 days straight, “Always look both ways before crossing!” I didn’t heed her advice. When the van appeared, I didn’t see it coming until it was too late.
Its tire caught my left leg. I was wedged under it and all I could think was, “Am I really going to lose my leg right now? Why didn’t I listen to Sophie!”
A crowd of people came immediately, directing the driver to move slowly. The weight of the van’s tire could have crushed my leg permanently, but I was fortunate, I walked away with just deep muscle bruising.
I sat in the emergency room for half a day while concerned family members and employees called to check in. I was touched by their concern, and wished that I had been as kind to myself as they had been to me. Sitting in the ER, I realized I had just received a warning. This incident was a lesson: I needed to learn how to slow down. While I still had dreams and goals for my life and business, I decided I needed to let go of the aggressive deadlines and change my timeline.
GTD had served me well, but I was neglecting my physical and emotional well-being. I still needed to manage my own personal energy in order to accomplish my goals. I decided to make the following changes:
1. I make sleep a priority. For the last year, I’ve forced myself to get at least 7 hours of sleep and parted ways with coffee. The combination of the two has boosted my creativity, reduced my waistline, and alleviated feelings of stress and anxiety.
2. I don’t leave home without doing 20 minutes of yoga in the morning. This has helped me to quiet the negative thoughts circling my mind, and start my day with a positive outlook. If I experience tough moments throughout the day, I get through them with deep breathing techniques I’ve learned in yoga.
3. I detach from drama. It’s too easy to get consumed in other people’s drama, complaints and negative energy. I’ve learned to stay empathetic but to create some mental distance for myself. I’ve done this by continuing to work with and help others, but not letting their negative energy and comments get me down or distract me, and by reinforcing the good things that are present in my life.
4. I give myself time off. I give myself a mandatory day off from the business once a week. No emails, texts or check-ins. When I first started, I tricked myself by taking day trips to places where I knew there’d be no data coverage. Once I return, my mind is refreshed and I’m able to tackle the hard tasks that require mental effort. I’ve also learned to delegate and automate as many menial tasks as possible, so that I’m not sucked into doing busy work.
5. I stay on my path. It’s easy to see and hear of other’s people’s success and feel like you’re moving too slowly. I’ve learned to manage these feelings by reviewing my goals quarterly, and showing myself how my business is making progress. I’ve also stopped being hard on myself and comparing my progress to others. Instead, I remind myself that I’ve chosen to lead a healthy lifestyle where I prioritize health and emotional well-being.
Profits and progress are important, but I’ve realized that shouldn’t come at the price of my physical well-being and mental peace.
Poornima Vijayashanker is the founder of Femgineer, an education services company dedicated to helping tech professionals and entrepreneurs better themselves in product development, communication, and leadership.