I hope you had a pleasant and restful summer break! On my end, I tried to walk the talk and follow the advice we shared on this blog in June on active holidays. So I spoke at the 2015 Quantified Self conference in San Francisco, swam joyfully across the Bosphorus -from Europe to Asia!- in Istanbul, and sailed around Malta. Sweet life… But now, like for most of us, it’s time to get back to work. Did you get back to the office with a large smile, a good tan and a revived motivation? Or, on the contrary, are you struggling to adjust back to the work rhythm? Whatever scenario applies to you, the return from the summer break is an important inflection point in our yearly cycle, and we would like to share some thoughts on how best to manage the transition. Ready to rock?

Changes in work routine

#1. Make little tweaks to your work routine – The little things we do every day add up to a lot. We can transform our lives for the better by making small changes, step by step. If we try to do it all in one go, we may face failure and discouragement. Let’s be focused and change very specific things, one or two maximum at a time. Now is the best time of the year to do it. You went away for some time. You forgot your computer password, your old habits are a bit rusty.

So let’s create new ones! Here are some ideas if you need inspiration:

  • Don’t check your emails first thing when you wake up or arrive in the office;
  • Bring your toothbrush to the office and brush your teeth after lunch;
  • Take the stairs twice a day, not the lift (that’s the one I’m going for, I took the step by step approach very literally!)
  • No lunch break at your desk;
  • Set yourself a hard stop to go home, don’t linger around – it will make you more productive and straight to the point;
  • Have coffee (or tea!) every week with someone you don’t know so well.

Take the stairs not the lift

Take one or two and go for it. Be disciplined at the beginning, and soon you will have changed one of the little bricks of your life – it’s a Lego game! Importantly, this will start a virtuous circle and encourage you to more, and show you that you have control over your life. You are the architect!

#2. Do one thing in the morning – Our schedules sometimes get busy and impredictable during the day. Things move, new commitments emerge. Your good resolution to go to the gym after work evaporates after an exhausting work day. Yeah, we’ve all been there… My advice is to do one productive thing before work. This time is yours: no phone calls, no last minute meetings, no excuse. I’m not saying you should wake up at 04:00, change your sleep patterns and become a super(wo)man overnight. No, just wake up 20 or 30 minutes earlier, and do something constructive, like:

  • Do a short 15-to-20 minute meditation that will clear up your mind and set you off on the right foot;
  • Have a proper breakfast if you tend to skip this most important meal (eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper);
  • Read for 20 minutes, preferably fiction;
  • Don’t rush into the day, try to remember your dreams as you wake up and write them down – you’ll sharpen your cognitive skills and learn a lot about yourself.

Do things in the morning

#3. Take electronic breaks – In our hyper-connected lives, we are continuously solicited by the outside world. Everything screams for our attention. With our mobile phones, we get tracked and pursued without mercy: a notification popping here, another there, then a chat starting, marketing emails spamming your inbox, etc. It never stops. This information overload becomes extremely polluting and stressful if you react to everything and feel guilty or deprived when you don’t. Be selective, filter the noise in the communication flow, turn off useless notifications, and unsubscribe from marketing emails.

Don’t become a slave to your smartphone – use it to your advantage (it says smartphone), not to your detriment.

The world is not going to stop if you don’t check it every five seconds. Do you think it makes you look dedicated and responsive? Think twice, multitasking (switching from one task to another all the time) actually makes you stupid and inefficient. Focus instead on these three things:

  • Don’t watch your phone first thing in the morning. It’s not good for your mental health. Personally, I wake up, get ready, have breakfast, drive to work, settle down, establish my priorities for the day, grab an espresso and only then I allow myself to check emails. Try it out, you will feel more less tense;
  • Don’t watch your phone / computer last thing before sleeping. It will affect your sleep quality;
  • Don’t watch your phone / emails continuously, do it by batch (two or three batches a day is great, try first one per hour and space them out further).

Information overload in our hyper-connected lives

#4. Stop watching TV – Improving life can basically be achieved in three ways: (a) by doing new things, (b) by replacing existing behaviors with better ones, or (c) by putting an end to bad habits.

While most of the advice available gravitate around things we should do, it is very important to consider also those we should NOT do.

You can get incredibly positive results by simply stopping negative things (double negation). TV clearly tops the list when it comes to bad stuff. Europeans spend on average 3 hours of their day watching TV. For Americans, it’s 5 hours! Can you imagine how much of a time drain that is? All the productive things you could do with this precious time? There is a life out there waiting to be lived to the fullest. Read more about this topic in our earlier post.

#5. Focus on quality – I  saw that guy at the gym today on the rowing machine. He was calling someone, had his phone in one hand, and was loosely pulling the handle with the other hand. Well, he may have been to the gym, but does that really count? How much did it get out of that workout? It’s not only about doing things, it’s about doing them well.

Quality matters. Don’t rush into things just to tick the boxes. Give your full attention to the task at hand.

I gave you the example of the guy in the gym. Sometimes I do the same. For example, I am learning Russian and one of my targets is to study 3 hours per week. For the sake of hitting my weekly target, I find myself at times listening to a Russian radio station without paying attention: my mind wanders away and I start doing something else, checking a website, etc. This doesn’t work, it doesn’t get me any closer to the end goal (speaking Russian). Quality, quality, quality! Let’s not just check in carelessly into activities. One thing at a time. Zoom in. You’ll get 10 times more out of the same amount of time.

If that’s something you struggle with, try to plan ahead, have a structure in mind for what you are going to do. You will avoid wandering erratically. Another good idea is to have an end goal to validate the relevance and quality of the habits you want to put in place. If I study Russian carefully, I should be able to have a conversation with a native speaker. If I run twice a week, I should be able to finish a 10k race. Having an end goal is motivating, potentially rewarding, and is a good acid test. Vice versa, if you just have the end goal, you should make sure that you build the habits that will get you there. That will make the whole process iterative, efficient, and enjoyable.

Focus on quality

Let’s be the architects of our own lives!

Try some of these tricks and let us know how it goes. Experiment with yourself, build, rebuild. Make even just one change – it will show you that you have control over your life. We all have. Let’s be the architects of our own lives!

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If you are struggling to adjust back to the work rhythm or if you have other suggestions for a successful return from the summer holidays, share with us your insights, we love to hear from you!

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