I am in Fiji with my family on a break, which really just means that I am working a bit less, and in a much nicer environment than usual!
I overheard this somewhat amusing verbal exchange whilst sitting on my ocean-view balcony… (I’m sorry, I just had to mention that bit).
Isaac and Oscar, who I guessed were aged 8 and 10, were playing in the pool – loudly. Before long, the overused and much-maligned (if you are a mother) call began…
A slightly irritated mature and female voice finally replied… “I’m busy!”
Oscar, equally as irritated, then responded with a delightful “Doing WHAT?”
Mum (gritting her teeth) quickly replied… “Having…a…holiday!”
After a giggle…I did start to reflect.
I wonder if primitive man needed to go to Fiji for a holiday to ‘get away from it all’. The Fijians, who openly and proudly operate on Fiji Time, don’t seem to be stressed and in need of forced relaxation. The speed at which they operate in making my holiday wonderful, is not break-neck, yet it is effective, and most things manage to happen on time – at least those that are important. The Fijians definitely are not stressed, overworked or cranky!
From my observation, Fiji time is far from an excuse, it is a sophisticated attitude that keeps an entire nation calm, unstressed and functional, regardless of its challenges. It is an attitude that enables them to consistently deal with the present…with what is presented to them in that moment, and to be OK with that. After all, what can we usefully do about the past or the future without dealing with the present?
One area of focus in my Master Leader program is to help leaders to develop mastery in Execution – in getting the very best from themselves and others – leading to better performance. Not to mention the benefits in terms of sustainability and good quality cognition.
Here is a reminder of some small things you can do that might have a big impact on how you ‘execute’ your day.
Get enough sleep – you’ve heard it before, but make sure you do. The best quality REM sleep for most people is between 10 pm and midnight – so going to bed early and rising early is much better for your brain. And remember, close down the blue light screens at least an hour or two before bed (just video record ‘The Bachelor’ and watch it on the weekend).
Novelty – the brain loves novelty so change it up a bit during your day – have a meeting at a coffee shop, or a standing meeting. Schedule a meeting for 17 or 47 minutes and stick to it. Novelty creates a release in Dopamine (the happy hormone) and dopamine helps us to be focused.
Brain breaks – take one every 45 minutes – even it that means to stare out the window for a few minutes and daydream, then you can get back to your task. Plan for the 45-minute break – focus on something that you know will take around 45 minutes to complete. You can download a ‘mindfulness bell’ (google it) to remind you to do that.
Brain cycle design – your brain will naturally work on a cycle of focus and mind-wandering around every 45 minutes, so be present to that natural break, then stop and ask yourself… ‘What have I achieved in the last 45 minutes? Was it quality? Was it useful? How should I best spend the next 45 minutes? Another app that can help you here is the Pomodoro effect (google it).
Manage your Executive Brain resource – you have around two to three hours of good quality thinking brain time – to focus on tasks and activities that are not automatic for you. Be aware of that and manage that time well. Do your most challenging and high level thinking when you are fresh and aim to only do three of those kinds of tasks in a day. Make sure that you ‘top up’ through good quality nourishment, and are taking those brain breaks. If you don’t manage this well, you will, at some point, switch from running on brain fuel to running on adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormones) which have long term negative impact on your brain and body.
Harness the power of mind-wandering – your brain will make its most powerful and useful connections (AHA moments) when NOT thinking about an issue or problem. So when you are trying to think something through…do the thinking, the research, and be clear on the outcome you want, then put it to the side and either do something else, take a walk, daydream about your upcoming trip to Fiji, or close your eyes and have a nap or a doze (between 6 and 20 minutes in a nearby park is all you need). This will allow your brain to work it’s magic.
Stay refueled – your brain runs on a fuel of glucose and oxygen, and is heavily reliant on water (it’s made up of 80% water), so stay actively hydrated (maybe at that 45-minute break) and go for short and long walks when you can. In terms of your brain, walking is much better than running, because when you run, much of the oxygen you take in will be re-directed to your muscles rather than your brain, so make sure you do both. Take the stairs, deliver the message on foot rather than email, and of course some mindful deep breathing will also do the trick.
And finally, do not underestimate the power of deep, diaphragmatic breathing to manage stress. Your lungs, heart and head are connected in a ‘system’ and the most effective way to control the pace of this system is through your lungs – through breathing. Fast breathing sends a signal to the brain that there is danger, and sets off the fight/flight system. Slow breathing lets it know that the danger is over, and the system returns to what is called ‘homeostasis’ and resumes normal functioning. Three to four breaths every 45 minutes will provide ‘amazing’ return on investment – great for before and after that very important presentation or meeting. Check out an app called ‘My Calm Beat’ to help you.
You may know all this, but so do I, and yet, in our busy and distracted world, we find it increasing difficult to implement, despite the benefits. So if you are struggling, put in place systems (use that distraction machine to download some apps to help you) that will help you to develop these habits of execution that will support you to be at your best more often. And maybe turn that machine off occasionally.
But…don’t let that stop you from booking your holiday to Fiji!