A few days ago, someone asked on Women Make: “ How do you manage your health in addition to your projects? ”. We had a talk about this topic and I shared how I recently changed my habits for the better. I thought that I could write a quick article about it, about my own experience.
After a down period and years of overwork, I started to put in place changes in my life a few months ago. In this article, I’m sharing what are these new habits. I’m not a doctor, I’m not giving specific advice. The only thing I can assure is that I’m going much better.
Admit there is something wrong
Last February, a bad event happened to Vincent and me on social media. We faced many aggressive people on Twitter after someone wrote an angry thread about Threader. We took a hit, it affected both of us a lot. Our morale was down and we were exhausted.
The positive consequence is that the impact it had on us made us stop, think, and talk. The truth is it was “the straw that broke the camel’s back” (fun fact: the equivalent in French would be: “the drop that makes the vase overflow”). After years of overwork and unhealthy work/life balance, we decided to quit our laptops and have a break.
For 2 weeks, we almost didn’t touch our computers, only the minimum. You might think it’s a regular holiday, but for two persons like us who almost didn’t take any vacation in several years, this was a lot to us. That was a first accomplishment: letting go.
We rested. And we talked. We did almost nothing, and it was so good! We went out to visit the place we were currently living in. We realized that we had to make some changes. I think we knew it from some time but kept denying it. The main reason was “We will relax and take a break when our products are enough profitable”. Which is dumb. Because you never rest, end up burned out and can’t finish the race.
Anyway, this grueling event was the trigger for a reflection on our lives. We started a work of deconstruction of our bad habits.
Time for a change
The first step was to admit we couldn’t go on like this. The next one was to put in place new rules and healthier habits. So here’s what I’ve put in place and practiced for the last 6 months.
This decision was linked to what happened and that I described above. We cut pretty much all social media for several weeks. I was only checking our business-related accounts once every one or two days to be sure everything was going well and answer our customers.
In particular, Twitter is a great tool, but it can also be harmful. I could write a full article on this topic. With time, I started to get back to it little by little. I still don’t check my personal account that often. Some people may think that it’s not great for business (“You need to build an audience”, etc.). But that’s what I needed and I’m good with it.
Sounds obvious but it was hard for me and it still is 6 months later. “20 more minutes” turns into “1 hour” so easily. I’m still using this app from Akshay Kadam, Away From Keyboard, which reminds me every hour how much time I spent in front of my computer. It doesn’t mean I always respect the one-break-every-hour-rule, but at least I know for how long I haven’t been moving my butt from the chair.
Reading has helped me to think of something else rather than work all the time. It’s a great way for me to take a break and let my brain wander. I also made a change in my kind of reads. I used to read mostly business-related books, which is good to learn, but it felt like I wasn’t resting, rather still working. I switched to a lot of fictions and novels, which I love! For me, it has also been a way to be more creative.
I’m glad that I reconnected with books because I love reading but I kind of “forgot” about it. In March I bought many books and started to read again. To put that in perspective, I read more in a month than in 2018! I know, crazy. And it felt so good!
📚 2019 is the year I read again.
At least my recent burnout would have been helpful for this. I still suck at meditation but reading is a great way for me to relax. 🧘♀️
So far I read more in 1.5 months than in a year! (I know, I haven’t been reading a lot in 2018…) pic.twitter.com/AGY2yiwMSg
— 𝐌𝐚𝐫𝐢𝐞 🇩🇪🍻 (@marie_dm_) April 3, 2019
We were always talking about trying this and that, but rarely doing it. We decided to buy skateboards since we were talking about it for some time. And it was so much fun! Until I injured my knee… The point is: we have the right to enjoy life and do fun stuff. There are not only work plans but also life plans. Hobbies are a part of it.
Now we go out more often, discover the cities we’re living in, go to the park, have a beer, get breakfast outside, visit monuments near our place, etc. I don’t want to wake up too late, realizing most of my life is done already when I should have taken advantage of it when I was younger.
Everyone is aware that sport is good for both physical and mental health, I’m not revealing anything new. I got back to sport a few weeks ago after months of inactivity due to my knee injury. I can already see the difference. I feel more tonic, and happier after I ran. I particularly enjoy going after I wake up so I can start the day fresh.
I didn’t realize my sleep was so bad. I was having trouble getting asleep, I was waking up many times during the night. I accumulated a debt of sleep for years. When we did our break last February, we took two decisions. 1) remove all screens from our bedroom, and 2) delete our morning clock alarms. The first one allowed to partially fix our sleep. I was impressed by how much impact it had, and I still do. The second allowed to pay off our sleep debt.
For the first weeks, we were waking up almost at noon! I was feeling a bit shameful about it, but the thing is we needed it. With time we woke up earlier and earlier until reaching what I would call a regular hour. Now I know not everyone has the luxury to do that, but it was beneficial to both of us.
I’m currently reading an amazing book about this topic, Why We Sleep: Unlocking The Power Of Sleep And Dreams. I really recommend it. I learned a lot.
Listen to me
I use to ignore my feelings and body signals. When I was tired or anxious, I was adopting the “ignore it and it will pass” method, which I don’t recommend. I’m being more attentive to the signs. When I have a headache or feel tired or anxious, I take a break. I acknowledge that my body is trying to talk to me, that I should listen to it and understand where it comes from.
Sometimes I just need a break. Sometimes I know I need to call it a day. And that’s okay. If I keep forcing I will feel even worse after and get a headache for 2 days. It isn’t worth it and I can start fresh the next day.
Reenlist for 6 months and more
I don’t have any secret sauce and I still have much more work to do. I made huge improvements and I’m happy to see my progress over time. I might add more new healthy habits in my life, though my current goal is to stick to it for 6 more months. I know how easy it can be to plunge back and get back to my bad habits. I know, I sound a lot like an Alcoholics Anonymous member, I’m pretty sure there are some similarities.
Overall I feel in much better shape, both physically and mentally. I sleep better. My global level of anxiety has reduced quite a lot. I’m not less productive. I work less but I don’t progress more slowly. Most importantly, I enjoy life more.
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