Alex Payne recently wrote out some tips for staying healthy while working in an extremely demanding startup environment. But his tips are equally applicable to attorneys with demanding jobs (such as those attorneys slaving away at a large law firm), so recommend them to you.
Aside from time management skills, his tips are straightforward but under-appreciated. First, make sure you exercise regularly, no matter how busy you are, because it will help you get more done in the long run:
This is a no-brainer: get as much exercise as you possibly can. I try to exercise daily. I work out for three reasons: stress relief, energy, and long-term health… I’m not a naturally athletic person, and going to the gym is usually utterly unappealing after a long day. At the end of a good workout, though, I always feel calmer than when I started. Exercise boosts my mood and makes me more able to see negative or combative situations from a more positive perspective. Startup life will sap your energy. At first, it’s easy to operate on sheer enthusiasm. Over time, though, even the most exciting job becomes work. Working out can tire out the muscles, but I find that it energizes my mind.
Next, recognize that your input (food) impacts your output (cognition), and eat clean:
My metabolism sucks. My ancestry is primarily a mix of English and German, and as a result I’m genetically optimized for storing fat through a chilly European winter (also for arch looks and laconic humor). If I don’t eat carefully, I gain weight, and if I gain weight, I look and feel like crap. Without strict rules about what I can and can’t eat, I’ll find myself eating whatever’s around, particularly when I’m stressed from work. To combat this, I set very clear guidelines about what I eat and drink, and when. Programmers notoriously live on caffeine and sugar. I refuse to cut the caffeine out of my diet, but the biggest change I’ve made for myself is cutting out refined sugar… I’ve also removed most “bad” carbohydrates and starches from my diet. I avoid bread, pasta, white rice, potatoes, etc. So yes, that means no sandwiches, no noodles, no fries; none of a lot of things that I enjoy…
I just try to eat fresh vegetables, lean protein, low-fat dairy, nuts, and fresh fruit. This regime removes a huge number of readily available and hideously unhealthy foods as meal options. Being able to say, “nope, that’s just not in the category of things that I eat” is helpful when confronted with a menu or grocery store full of choices… The point of all these dietary changes is primarily about achieving constancy. Yes, it’s nice to lose some weight, but by sticking to the above rules, my energy level throughout the day remains the same. Removing the sugar and carbs means that I don’t peak and trough. I generally feel less ruled by food, and it’s easier to make dietary decisions now that I have a framework.
And finally, make the time to see the big picture:
This is probably the most important of the changes I’ve made. Regular meditation is absolutely essential to maintaining quality of life for me. It keeps me calm and focused, and helps me sort out personal and professional conundrums… The hardest part of meditation is making the time to do it. Realistically, you need about 20 minutes per NSR session. While that doesn’t sound like much, adding 20 minutes to your morning and evening routines is harder than you think. It’s entirely worth it, though. Meditation cuts right through feelings of being stressed-out and overwhelmed, and neatly organizes thoughts and emotions. More than once, I’ve been meditating and have had the solution to a problem I’ve been struggling with pop to the forefront of my mind. That’s time well spent. In a way, meditation is an investment in the quality of time spent not meditating. Even if you don’t have any magic moments of clarity while sitting there with your eyes closed, you’ll probably find that the rest of your day just feels better when you meditate regularly. At the very least, meditation makes my work time more productive, and that alone makes it worthwhile for me.
In other words, these tips boil down to one principle: no matter how stressed you are, or how unreasonably demanding your client or partner is being, or how busy you are, never, ever sacrifice the long term for the short term. You’ll regret it down the road.