How running away from work solved my problem

Solutions to a problem or answers hardly ever come to me when sitting in front of the screen. However I tend to forget that over and over again.

The other day I found myself starring into my laptop while trying to come up with an idea for a project I have been wanting to develop for some time. I got more and more frustrated and somewhat discouraged. After spending too much time not really getting anywhere, I closed my laptop and decided to go for a run on the beach.

As I walked barefoot down the stairs, I sensed how my scope of thinking started widening, and I noticed how narrow my perspective had become in front of the screen. My brain was still going super fast, and I could feel restlessness in my body, but just by walking I already felt the tension in my forehead loosen slightly.

My feet touched the sand; I started running and sped up as fast as I could. I kept running, my heart started pounding, and my lungs were gripping for air, I stopped thinking completely, I only felt my body being pushed to its limit; the feet moving as if by themselves on the soft sand. After some time I slowed down and shifted to walking, slowly my heartbeat and breath returned to normal. It felt like I had been cleaned on the inside, and even though my mind started being active again, it now felt expanded and open. I kept walking for some time and without any effort several ideas popped into my mind.

I paused and did some Qi Gong exercises involving deep breathing and focus. It cooled me down, and I was then completely grounded in my body.

As I walked back more ideas came to me, and by the time I was home I had a solution for the problem I had been trying to solve. I even had a whole bunch of other ideas.

If you – like me – tend to forget how effective it can be to take breaks and move in between work, then I highly recommend scheduling breaks with movement throughout your day, to keep the spirit high, clear the mind, and stay grounded. 

Here are three ways I incorporate movement into my day:

Walking: I try to walk from one place to another when relocating between office spaces (home/ coffeeshop /co-working space).

Run: I go for a short run just outside the workspace – doesn’t have to be more than 10 minutes.

Dance: When taking a short break I put on my favorite dance tune and dance like no one is watching!

In the comments I would love to hear how you make sure to move throughout the day.

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Reconnecting with myself

Nothing beats going into nature when it comes to reconnecting with myself. After a week full of social gatherings, lovely lunches and dinners with friends, working with clients, teaching and learning, I needed a time out to come back to myself, to process and recharge. So today I went on a hike to a beautiful temple on the mountainside not far from where I live.

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Nature has amazing cleansing, healing and soothing properties. I sense it immediately when I step on to the trail and start walking on the small path. Slowly – one step at a time – my brain starts processing all the inputs I’ve gotten throughout the week. I breathe in the fresh air, absorb the beauty with my eyes, and listen to the sounds of birds chirping and the dry leaves crunching under my feet. All my senses come alive. The combination of being in nature and moving the body is ideal alone time for me.

At the moment I am reading the book ‘Being Genuine’ by Thomas D’Ansembourg about Nonviolent Communication as a tool for improving relationships: with a partner, friends, colleagues and yourself. In the section, I was reading today he pointed out, how it doesn’t make sense that “relationships, whether with ourselves or with other people are expected to operate unassisted, without any fuel, with scarcely any maintenance!” I couldn’t agree more, and I especially find that we often neglect investing in the relationship with ourselves. This happens for many reasons; we might not be aware of the actual need, or we don’t think it is important, there is a lack of time or it might even be because of fear of what might come up, if we take time to tune in and listen to ourselves.

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Life for me has always been as much about the people I share it with, than any of the activities I engage in. But to be able to connect with other people in a meaningful way, I need these pockets of time just spent with myself – to help me understand my own needs, values, priorities, emotions, thoughts and relations. By nurturing the relationship with myself, I create a solid foundation for connecting and engaging with others in an enriching and expansive way.

I can only recommend to go for a solo walk and spend some time in nature; be it a park, your garden, a mountain, the sea side or somewhere else.

The Art of Eliminating Distractions

I’m my own worst enemy when it comes to staying focused. On bad days it’s like I almost invite every possible form of distraction to come my way. I purposely go on facebook every other moment, I counter attack my rational mind that tells me not to press on that link and get back to the task on my list. And as my day passes I get more and more dissatisfied with myself and my lack of self-discipline.

Being self-employed and having chosen a lifestyle, where I don’t wish or need to work fulltime, I potentially have time for many other activities than my work. However, if I let myself get distracted constantly then my work hours are stretched, and I end up sitting the whole day in front of my laptop instead of just the hours that I am actually working. It is utterly dissatisfying, and I really don’t have anyone to blame but myself.

Recently I have tried to work consciously to change these patterns of self-sabotage and the main thing I have worked on is my own approach and mindset:

I found that the core thing is to consciously make a decision to stick with the schedule that I set up for my day – to really commit to stay away from distractions (easier said than done!). I need to tap into a deeper level of awareness so that whenever I see myself being pulled by an impulse or urge to look something up, text a friend, watch that youtube clip someone sent me etc., I don’t follow that urge. Instead I notice it and write it down on a piece of paper (if it’s something I actually want to do later), and then the impulse slowly fades away since I don’t act upon it. Cultivating such discipline and self-awareness is really the key element to staying focused and not letting just any kind of desire lead you.

In the practice of eliminating distractions and cultivating focus I found four things that helped me as well:

Putting the phone on airplane mode
My main distractions come from the internet – and especially from my smartphone, since I don’t get email notifications, messages or alerts on my laptop. By putting the phone on airplane mode I can to limit the noise that interrupts me while working.

Setting the timer
I set the timer to 25 minutes and commit to work on my tasks for that amount of time. It is much easier to commit for a short time like that than to set yourself up to not getting distracted for – say – 4 hours.

Making clear distinctions between work-mode and break-mode
The brain needs breaks to be able to work well. On bad days my breaks just consist on reading something random on the internet. I make an effort to intentionally do something completely different in even a 5-minute break. I play a song aloud and sing along, I go out on the balcony and breathe deeply, I shake my body or go for a short walk around the house enjoying the air and sounds of the world.

Breaking the day into shorter slots
If I have a long work day ahead, and I haven’t scheduled in any other activities, the outlook of almost unlimited time makes me more prone to invite distractions into the day. If I make sure to change locations during the day, go out for lunch, schedule an appointment or skype meeting in the middle of the day, then I am more motivated to stay focused.

How do you practice the challenging art of eliminating distractions?

Everyday is Sunday or is it? – how I manage my work

Being self-employed comes with great freedom; I decide the hours I want to work, and since my work is online I can decide whether I want to work at home, or choose one of the many coffee shops in town – or even go for a nice walk while solving a problem. The backside is that I can work everyday and anytime which means in some ways I am never really off.

Learnt by trial and error I have four rules of thumb that help me manage my work.

1. Get things out of the head
An essential tool for me is to keep lists; to note down what would otherwise take up immense space in my mind. I keep a weekly schedule and daily to-do lists, these are dynamic and I revise them everyday; I update, cross things off and move things around. I use both an old school notebook and my iPhone when things come up; thoughts, emails I want to write, inspiration or to-do’s. I immediately note them down, this helps me keep track of task and ideas – and remain focused on what I am working on.

2. Prioritize
The list of ‘To-dos’, ‘Must-dos’, ‘Want-tos’ and ‘Would-be-nice-to-dos’ is endless when you are self-employed. So I have to prioritize. I look at my list and ask myself, what is most important to achieve at the moment. Which task will help me get there? I put these on the list. I look at what I have to do for my clients. I put these on the list. But the most important thing for me has been to make peace with the fact that I will never finish completely. There will always be more work to do. So it really comes down to focusing on what matters most.

3.Set boundaries
I have learnt that it is crucial to set boundaries: to stop checking emails at some point and to start the day without checking emails as the first thing in the morning. In some ways it is too easy to be online and available all the time, I find that I tend to prioritize work over everything even though I don’t want to. One way I’ve managed to balance my life is by setting hours for work but also to schedule time for exercise, self-care, play, quiet time and time with friends and family.

4. If it only takes five minutes do it now
I’ve experienced that I often feel more overwhelmed about the workload when I’m actually away from the laptop or not workbalanceing. I build up mental tension about all the things I have to do in the near future when I have days away from work  dedicated to my Qi Gong studies, photography or other activities. I realized that by spending 5-15 minutes revising my lists and sending off a couple of emails that are important, I can actually enjoy my time away from work much more.

Managing my time is a constant act of balance that I am (still) learning to master. These four rules of have helped me, I hope they will help you too.

How walking keeps me sane

Maybe you are just like me; you sit in front of the computer, working on your projects and forget everything around you. Where you are sitting, what the weather is like outside, how your body feels. Minutes quickly turn into hours. The longer you sit, the harder it is to let go, to take a break. I notice how it seems like my sensory scope diminishes and my outlook becomes narrower and narrower as I focus intently on the tasks on my to-do list. I forget everything I know: that I’ll be more productive if I remember to take small breaks – that I’ll prevent a headache by getting up, drinking water, stretching my legs – that going on facebook, reading blogs doesn’t really count as a time out!

When you are self-employed work is endless, and this feeling of having a never-ending to-do list is what stresses me out the most. I constantly have to remind myself that it is important regularly to step back and enjoy what I have accomplished. And to step back to gain perspective, create space in my brain for new ideas, and get away from the computer.

What works best for me is to take a walk. While my feet move almost as if by themselves, and the air gently touches my skin, it feels like someone slowly removes my blinkers. I immediately gain perspective and thoughts flow in a way more fruitful way. I can distinguish between what is important and what isn’t. And most importantly I can feel my body again.

 “Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Everyday, I walk myself into a state of well-being & walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it. But by sitting still, & the more one sits still, the closer one comes to feeling ill. Thus if one just keeps on walking, everything will be all right.”
– Søren Kierkegaard

Losing touch with our body and being lead by our minds is one of the biggest roads to stress and burnout. I know from my own experience, how the mind can trick you into thinking tasks are a matter of life and death. And that you have to continue no matter what. Beyond exhaustion. I’ve learnt my lesson.

How do you make sure you don’t work beyond your limits?