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Work-Life Balance

Stressed Out? Adopt these 4 Hacks for the Ultimate Weekend Experience

By | Featured, Work-Life Balance

Suddenly that phone of yours starts buzzing; you ignore it with a tight-lipped, worried smile. It vibrates again and beads of sweat pour over your forehead. Your family, or maybe your friends, start looking at you all accusatory. You and them know what this is about; you just can’t bring yourself to admit it. 

Finally, you hesitantly pluck up  your courage to open the dozens work emails you received in the last minute or so, Knowing that now you are branded a workaholic, whose very existence has become a black hole sucking all the fun out of the hangout, AGAIN! 

Vacation Guilt: Busy is not a badge of honor

Deep down inside, you want to unplug from work and enjoy your weekend, but we are a generation that was raised to look up to people like Steve Jobs who sacrificed their whole life in the name of achieving their “dreams.” But you don’t want to end up like this guy. 

So the dream narrative prevails, with a pang of intrinsic guilt against time off and vacations.

The vacation guilt phenomenon is about the raging war that takes hold of you once a few off-days are on the horizon. Theoretically, you know you should disconnect and the benefits of some work/life balance are not lost on you. However, practically, the burden of the “vacation guilt” is holding you back. This “vacation guilt is the nagging urge to cancel or delay a vacation due to a self-imposed work-related guilt.”

With vacation guilt, one of three scenarios happens:

  •  You procrastinate on the workweek and your guilt drives you to overcompensate for that on the weekend.
  • You’re a member of Workaholics Anonymous. You just feel compelled to work because of this internal pressure and persistent thoughts about how a few days off might derail your career.
  • You start perceiving your work as more than a social contribution; it’s now vital to your financial status as well as your mental health. You treat your job as if it is your identity, and your work is now tied to your sense of self-worth and your significance in the world.
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The vacation mindset: Hacking your rest state

Just because the vacation guilt exists doesn’t mean that there is no way out of it. As the title suggests, this article is mainly focused on weekends; yet I keep using the word “vacation.” It’s basically because I want to enlist this vacation mindset. Your weekend should be a restorative experience just like your longer vacations. 

In a study published by HBR, the team wanted to test out if being more aware of how you approach your weekends and your mindset towards them in general would actually affect the enjoyment levels of the employees. 

They gathered a pool of employees and divided them into two groups telling one group to treat/approach their weekends as a vacation and the other group were simply told to treat their weekends like they normally would. This seemingly minor change affected the results noticeably. The participants who were asked to treat their weekends like a vacation were significantly happier than the ones who didn’t. 

Digging deeper into this, the researchers realized that it wasn’t the scope of chores made the difference between the two groups; rather, it was the very fact of thinking like a “vacationer.” Having this mindset made the participants more mindful and attentive to their weekend activities and the fact that it’s a weekend.

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So how exactly to do that? This study asks you to bring your awareness to the concept of time-off, pushing things to the weekend is not an option anymore when you are prompted to actually take that time off and disconnect.

Hacks on how to disconnect during the weekend

1- Make the right plan for the weekend

You have to set an appointment to go off the grid as surely as to go on it.

Mike Huckabee

You might think that making plans for weekends is an absurd idea, since weekends should be free and spontaneous. But planning for the weekend ahead is not about hindering your freedom or spontaneity; it’s just about putting things into perspective. 

This doesn’t need to be a rigid or strict  schedule. Think of it more as a sort of reference.

How to do it?

“Man is so made that he can only find relaxation from one kind of labor by taking up another,” says the French Poet Anatole France. Your plan here is not about schedules and restricting yourself to one thing or another; it’s simply adopting another form of labor. Be it exercise or a creative hobby, just deciding to make your weekend about a different kind of effort and flexing a muscle that your work doesn’t usually let you flex.

For maximum effectiveness, try this:

There is no right or wrong way to plan; make it as loose or as tight as you want to. But just like vacations, weekends need some sort of guidance. Feeling productive during the weekend will help you charge your energy for the next week. The key is not to try to impose excessive control over yourself since the weekend is all about relaxation and fun.

    • Listen to your body: Wake up and see how the day feels to you? Do you feel like consuming or creating? Do you feel like physical exercise or human bonding time? Put a theme for your day and go with your gut, but stay away from Netflix!
    • Schedule what you want to do, not just what you have to do: A good way to determine this  is to see your tasks under the 3 major categories: Career, Relationships, Self-development (includes exercise, hobbies, … etc)

For example, if you feel like consuming more today, you can consume more by reading an article on self-development, or watching a documentary that has some insightful information about your career, or listening to a friend talk about the last book they read. All of this is what your body wanted to do but you simply sought it out in different forms to keep it balanced.

2- Plan 3 to 5 anchor events on the weekend

An anchor event is something you look forward to doing, and you anticipate with pleasure

Laura Vanderkam

You have 60 hours between 6 PM Thursday till 6 AM Sunday. If you decide to sleep a full day (24 hours), you will still have  36 hours left. You need to plan for 3 to 5 anchor events to take place during that time.

First, let’s get some misconceptions out of the way: 

  • Weekends are not about unplugging from life; they are only about unplugging from work. 
  • Rest is not about doing nothing; it’s about recharging your mental, emotional and physical energy. 

How to do it?

To make full use of the 36 hours left for your anchor events, use a template called “List of 100 Dreams.” This is an unedited list of anything one might want to do, have, or spend more time on in life. Consider it a list of everyday fun activities, more along the lines of a bucket list of activities within a 2 hour radius from your house.

For maximum effectiveness, try this:

  • Your anchor is there to make you excited for the weekend. Make sure you choose an anchor that always drives anticipation, excitement, and pleasure.
  • Link each of these 100 activities to the major weekend anchor spots:
  • Thursday evening/night 
  • Friday morning/noon 
  • Friday evening/night 
  • Saturday morning/noon 
  • Saturday evening

Create rituals. Pick a special weekend activity that always drives you joy and make a habit out of it. Comforting collective rituals boost happiness and over time become traditions.

3- Tackling the three challenges of the weekend: Chores, children, and office work

Housework can kill you if done right.

Erma Bombeck

I am not totally delusional to just leave you with all these happy-go-lucky tips without addressing the hurdling blocks that you will surely be meeting. Hurdling blocks are tricky and unpredictable, so this will be a general guideline for whenever things are running smoothly. But when a special event or a heavy workload arises, try to adapt to keep the “vacation” mindset alive.

How to do it?

So if you choose to believe the quote on top, your housework can kill you if you do it right, let’s try to  “do it smart.”

  • Chores:  break down your chores to small time slots and try to finish  them throughout your weekdays. Never sacrifice prime weekend anchor events to chores. 
  • Children: Narrow  down your choices to the  activities you can all enjoy. Try and schedule your activities along with theirs. Make this a collectively pleasant experience so that it won’t feel like a chore.
  • Office work: Keep it tight. See if you want to compress professional work into a small time-frame on weekends such as Saturday mid-morning or noon. Other than that try to stay totally away from work.

For maximum effectiveness, try this:

Chores: breakdown dull chores into 15-minute chunks;  try to do them a little bit of this and a little bit of that on your weekdays. Then schedule only 2 or 3 hours on your weekend to do the bulk of it.

Children: Try and get a small workout whenever you take your kids to theirs. Or try reading your books when you have to spend an hour outside their gymnastics class. When you are with your family, try to do a mini digital detox where you all detach from all electronic devices. Make it fun and turn it into a game. 

Office work: If you absolutely have to work on the weekend, I recommend unplugging your laptop from its charger. I personally tried this and it made all the difference in the world. Take your laptop to a place in your house that you rarely use or sit in. This will give you about 2 to 3 hours of battery power and a fresh environment that would strategically add a feeling of newness that will slightly offset the dull work routine. Limit your work to those 3 hours of battery power and try a new place each time.

4- Do Nothing

Setting aside regular periods of “doing nothing” maybe “the best thing we can do to induce states of mind that nurture our imagination and improve our mental health

Manfred Ket De Vries

An article published by nature.com explores the brain research done on the importance of downtime and doing nothing. From the reviewed research we can conclude that 

  •  In a resting “do nothing” state, the brain is not doing nothing. It is completing the unconscious tasks of integrating and processing conscious experiences.
  • Resting state helps you process experiences, consolidate memories, reinforce learning, and regulate attention and emotions, and keeps you productive and effective in areas of work and judgments.

How to do it?

Reflection, meditation and alone time are all essential to your recharging journey. Remember that all of this is to rejuvenate your emotional, mental and physical health. This is not about outcomes, this is about your intrinsic balance and wellbeing. To get started you need to understand that:

  • There are various types of meditation: transcendental meditation, mindful meditation, breath awareness meditation, Zen meditation, among others. Explore them all to find what better suits you, your body and your needs. 
  • Reflection is the ability to think back, observe yourself in action and think from it. So the time you spend doing nothing is not time wasted; it’s a practice to keep the balance between action and reflection.

For maximum effectiveness, try this:

  • Try these 3 steps to improve your self-reflection:
    1. Reflect on your experience
    • What happened? (action)
    • What you thought or felt at the time? (reaction)
    1. Reflect on your learning. Analyze your experience and measure it up to the values and principles you choose to follow
      • What does this experience say to me?
      • What can I learn?

    Apply. Apply what you learned and put it to practice.
    • What options do I see for the next time I encounter this situation?
    • What specifically do I intend to do based on my reflection?

Let’s put it this way: a work-free weekend is the equivalent of a healthy meal; you know you should do it. All studies show how much benefits you can reap from it but you decide to cheat; after all, junk food is a weakness. 

One last Actionable hack:

  • Make sure to conquer the Saturday blues by always ending your weekend on a good note. This will help start your week off on a good note.

 

Ready to start the weekend? Which tip are you excited to try right away?

habits-smoking

5-min. Books: The Power of Habit

By | A Book in Five, Break Room, Featured, Work-Life Balance

Does your hand automatically reach for your phone on your bedside as soon as you wake up? Do you think about how to create a knot while tying your shoelaces or has it become such a natural process that you don’t even think about its steps These actions have become unconscious sequences that we do not perform deliberately; or to put a label on them: habits. You know what you’re doing, but you do not consciously choose to initiate the action. A habit happens actually half of the time you are awake, while you are performing automatic behaviors.

the power of habit book

Today’s book summary is on “The Power of Habit“, where Charles Duhigg explores the human brain’s nature to form habits out of daily actions to make room for more complicated processes; and examines how they are created and how they can be changed. The book is divided into 3 parts: Habits of Individuals, Habits of Successful Organizations, and Habits of Societies.

To make things more efficient for you, we’ve read the book and provided you with its summary in 10 points:

The power of habit

Cue

Tells your brain to go into automatic mode. It can be anything that triggers the habit, such as a person, a place, a time of the day or an emotional state.

Routine

The activity in the habit that you wish to either break or reinforce.

Reward

The positive reinforcement that helps your brain remember that this loop is worth remembering in the future.

Habits of individuals

1

Habits emerge as the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort. The brain will make almost any routine into a habit because it gives it more space for more complicated actions.

2

Habits form in our brain through a three-step loop: the cue, the routine, and the reward. In the book, Charles Duhigg illustrates the habit loop by recounting an experiment that was executed by MIT scientists by monitoring a rat’s brain while he wandered around a maze, and discovering a chocolate bar. The repetition of the loop builds up a craving for the reward, which makes the habit more difficult to break because it has created a neurological need that you don’t even know exists. Once the brain associates a specific cue (the click in the partition) with a particular reward (the chocolate at the end of the maze), it starts craving the reward as soon as a click is heard, even if it’s not in the same setting anymore.

3

For you to change a habit, you need to identify and remove cues that trigger the routine or replace the lousy routine with a good one. Cues fit into one of the following categories: location, time, emotional state, other people, and immediately preceding actions. What makes you pull out a cigarette? Do you feel anxious? Angry? Do you smoke when you get to work, or with specific friends? Once you know when and why you perform a specific habit, you will be able to replace that habit with an alternative one. So for example, if you smoke because you’re anxious, you could practice breathing in and out for a couple of minutes or chewing gum instead.

4

To replace an old habit with a new one, you have to change the routine. Also, you have to believe that you can stick to the new habit. This belief is what helps to prevent you from relapsing to the old habit. To take control of your habits, decide your goals in life and fit them into the belief of achieving.

5

Try to adopt keystone habits. Keystone habits are ones that have a ripple effect, ones that help you in taking more positive habits and a new lifestyle. If for example, you get enough sleep at night (the keystone habit), you’ll wake up refreshed, which would encourage you to start exercising or eating breakfast (result positive habits) before you head to work.

6

Willpower is a learned skill. It is like a muscle, the more it is practiced, the stronger it gets. Having strong willpower helps in building new, positive habits. If you’re trying to maintain a habit of 1 hour of exercise every morning before school or work, it would be easy to give in to the pleasure of getting an extra hour of sleep. A lot of people quit working out a couple of weeks in. That’s why in addition to the physical challenge that you’ll be putting yourself through, there is a mental challenge as well. Practice motivating yourself out loud, or having sticky notes around your room to remind you of what you want to achieve.

Habits of successful organizations

1

With managers having the upper hand and the final say in decision-making, employees’ opinions are sometimes unheard. The author suggests that smart leaders are ones that keep their employees’ empowering and innovative ideas when structural and root changes are happening in a company. And it is best done during crises! On an organizational level, crises are great opportunities for leaders to start implementing institutional changes, and instill new, positive habits.

2

Another way companies use habits is with customers. Companies usually study consumers’ habits and try to manipulate these habits to increase profit. It is easier to market new products by utilizing the old habits that we already have, rather than aim to have us adopt new habits. Don’t you sometimes find the gym advertising for a discounted membership if you bring along your friends? They already know how you enjoy spending time with your friends, and by using a habit that you already have (hanging out with friends), they encourage you to buy their gym membership..you and two other friends. The repetition of the loop builds up a craving for the reward, which makes the habit more difficult to break because it has created a neurological need that you don’t even know exists. Once the brain associates a specific cue (the click in the partition) with a particular reward (the chocolate at the end of the maze), it starts craving the reward as soon as a click is heard, even if it’s not in the same setting anymore.

Habits of societies

1

In the 16th century in Alabama, at a time where buses were sectioned according to race, Rosa Parks walked into a bus in Alabama and sat in the area dedicated to either race; and when a white man wanted her to give up her seat for him, she refused. Her act, supported by others who had previously done similar acts of rebellion, lead to a boycott.

2

What the Power of Habits investigates is how your firm or weak ties affect your habits with people and in the community. Don’t you sometimes find the gym advertising for a discounted membership if you bring along your friends? They already know how you enjoy spending time with your friends, and by using a habit that you already have (hanging out with friends), they encourage you to buy their gym membership..you and two other friends. The repetition of the loop builds up a craving for the reward, which makes the habit more difficult to break because it has created a neurological need that you don’t even know exists. Once the brain associates a specific cue (the click in the partition) with a particular reward (the chocolate at the end of the maze), it starts craving the reward as soon as a click is heard, even if it’s not in the same setting anymore.

When social movements or protests occur, they have 3 parts:

  • They begin because of the strong habits between close acquaintances.
  • They grow because of the strong habits in a community.
  • They endure because of the new habits that leaders create.

The boycott movement that happened in Alabama did not come out of the blue, but it was a result of certain habits performed by people over the course of time. The book discussed several incidents when the habits of societies were the reason for the change.

Are we responsible for our habits?

1

Charles Duhigg concludes the book by questioning our free will in controlling our habits. If we’re not able to control them, are we still accountable for our actions? To be able to choose what to do and what not to do, we have to be conscious of our habits. Once we do, we will have the ability to recognize the cues, the rewards and be able to break or change them.

As a first step in trying to create and maintain positive habits, we’re providing you with the habit tracker. Take some time to think about keystone habits that could give your life the productive turn it needs, write them down and start tracking your commitment to them.

Download The Habit Tracker

Which book do you wish to see next in our 5-min.books series?

Long Time No Sea? Prepare for your vacation with this checklist

By | Career Advice, Email & Communication, Featured, Work-Life Balance

It’s that time of the year again where the entirety of Cairo is on vacation, and you’re probably dying to take a long weekend off. As fun as it sounds to leave everything behind and just go, adulting is all about being accountable for your actions; so before you pack your swimming suit and sunscreen, here are several things you need to do at the office first.

  • Tell your colleagues that you’re going to be off for [period of time]

To prevent people coming into the office wondering where you are then trying to contact you to do some tasks, make sure that you notify your co-workers that you’re taking a vacation. If your office uses applications like Slack or Pingboard, mark your days off so that people can expect your absence beforehand.

  • Organize your desk and clear your personal possessions

If you’re the kind of person who likes to disperse miscellaneous objects all over their desk at work, it’s not a very promising setting to leave behind and go on vacation. Make sure that anything valuable is stashed away to avoid it being lost, and that your desk looks clean and organized.

  • Prioritize tasks for when you come back

Your life is going to be so much easier if before you leave for vacation you make a prioritized plan of what needs to be worked on when you get back to the office. Use Stephen Covey’s time-management matrix to mark the urgency and importance of each task you have due so that the process of getting back on track when your vacation is over is facilitated. By doing so, you’ll know what you need to get started on as soon as possible, and what is relatively less urgent and important.

  • Start working on what’s due later but could be finished now

After having prioritized your tasks for later, you will know what could be started before you leave. This way, you will get a headstart on the work you will be doing when you get back, smoothening your transition from vacation to work and relieving the workload you will have later.

  • Prepare an adequate handover

Just so that work can go on smoothly during your absence, make sure that you coordinate with your boss on who’s going to be handling your tasks until you come back. Brief your temporary replacement with clear instructions in a face-to-face meeting, then compile all essential documents in an email that they can refer to any time. This will prevent the work pattern that the company adopts from being disrupted and the flow will continue effortlessly.

  • Create an out-of-office message for when people contact you

You don’t want unanswered messages and emails accumulating in your inbox while you’re away, so it’s efficient to design an out-of-office message that can be automatically sent to people who try to reach you. To make things easier for you, here is a template you can use:

[Your Greeting]

I will be out of the office starting (Starting Date) through (End Date) returning (Return Date).

If you need immediate assistance during my absence, please contact (Contact’s Name) at (Contact’s Email Address). Otherwise, I will respond to your emails as soon as possible upon my return.

Warm Regards,

[Your Name]

  • Forget work while you’re away so that you could come back refreshed and productive.

You might think that working on a vacation is a good idea, not to have tasks waiting for you. On contrary, you should utilize your time off to completely omit anything work-related off your mind and to recharge your energy. If you holiday the right way (i.e. you detach yourself from work), you will feel motivated to come back to work, energized.