I’ve been feeling physically tired and increasingly lethargic over the past few months, so I decided to do something about it.
A couple of years ago, I was physically quite active, and even though I didn’t have an exercise regimen (like I did some ten or fifteen years ago), I was fit enough to actually prefer stairs to elevators. In fact, I essentially walked everywhere, and had enough on-site meetings and short business trips that I wore down shoes regularly–as well as my patience, sometimes, since there were some pretty stressful times trying to juggle work and family life.
And that stress took a bit of a toll, too. When the pandemic hit, I wasn’t as fit as my pre-Microsoft days, especially back when I would regularly walk to the office and climb eight flights of stairs, partly because of a few months in Autumn 2019 and my (then upcoming) change in role.
During the pandemic, and in particular exactly a year ago, things took a marked downturn. Even though I had set up a standing desk (which improved my posture and lessened back aches), I still wasn’t (literally) going anywhere despite how well things were going at work.
That said, “well” was relative. The insanely long hours spent in meetings and wrestling paperwork didn’t help–I was getting both mentally and physically exhausted from essentially standing around, and it got steadily worse until before Summer vacation.
My recent role change meant I’ve had to re-shuffle my personal schedule a bit, so I decided to set some boundaries and re-shape it around three key goals:
- Better demarcation between work and personal time. My work inbox is bombarded with work-life balance and mindfulness initiatives, but I never have the time to follow up on them and they feel like meaningless pixels taking up screen real estate, because it is up to me to plan for that. Turning off Teams notifications on my phone was just the first step, but a decisive one.
- More, and more regular, focus time. If I’m working, and given that my work is largely a mix of practice management and strategy these days, I’m going to prioritise focusing rather than meeting. It is perfectly sensible to have a short meeting, spend some time mulling the problem and plotting a course of action, and then having another short meeting to present, agree and disband again. Collaboration is not about spending two hours building an Excel sheet with four people over Teams, and ideas and opinions can be shared and canvased via chat until some kind of critical mass is reached.
- Improving my health across the board (not just physically, but also mentally), starting with stamina but also trying to bolster focus and concentration on stuff that matters. That involves getting decent food, regular exercise, proper bedtimes, and doing less stuff but better.
So I now get up and exercise daily on the hitherto seldom used exercise bike I’ve had in the office for ages, very seldom have calls at weird hours (for the moment, at least) and make it a point to leave the house once a day to fetch kids from school or run errands on foot as the bare minimum.
Eating healthier fare is also on the cards. I’ve stopped drinking coffee altogether (yay, tea) and am doing my best to avoid any manner of processed foods, although I’m betting on diversity right now (thank goodness for Uber Eats and the ready availability of so many salad/veggie restaurants these days).
After all, every year Autumn and Winter I go through some of the most intense parts of projects (it just seems to happen that way naturally), and I end up working nights, not eating well and generally burning myself out piecemeal, so I want to try to avoid it this year if at all possible.
I take less calls in the morning now, so it’s as if an entire hour was suddenly made “available”. This is going to sound cliché, but getting a good start to the morning does work for me, even though I’ve never been a “morning person”.
6:30-7:30 - Wake up, have breakfast (typically porridge and black tea now) while reading news and catching up on Twitter/Slack.
7:30-8:00 - Change for workout and exercise, mostly blearily, sometimes watching/listening to documentaries/YouTube/podcasts. Depending on weather, the sun might not even be visible yet from my office window, so I pump up the indirect lighting to a warm yellow color.
8:00-8:30 - Shower, change, fill water glass, turn on work machines, ignore them pointedly until it’s 8:30 or 9:00 depending on days and degree of sleep deprivation. Plan for the day, deal with any personal chores. Occasional bout of dishwasher loading/unloading and ranting about the kids’ inability to keep things tidy.
9:00-11:00 - Open Teams. First round of calls/documents/etc. Usually spent sitting since this is when I typically schedule most of my focus time and am more productive. May get interrupted by deliveries, which are a hazard for my concentration. In turn, music may be a sizable hazard for any neighbours, although I try to keep it down so I don’t miss the doorbell.
Music, incidentally, was one of the things I was missing terribly from my 17-meetings-a-day routine last year. I seem to have settled on PlexAmp and my personal music collection since I have some playlists there I’ve been listening to since I was studying for exams, and they get me in the right mood for focus work faster than random cloud streaming.
11:00-11:15 - Break, typically spent walking around the house at least twice to straighten my back. Follow-up on dishwasher duties and similar chores. Pick out what I will be having for lunch well in advance, because there might not actually be time for lunch.
The choice of time slot was almost organic since it is about this time I run out of water, start to feel antsy or sore from sitting and it turns out to be when most deliveries happen (our postman, in particular, always rings about the same time).
11:00-12:30/13:00 - Round two, usually at standing desk doing late morning calls with CET. Most formal business happens around this time, so I need to be on point. Hardly any writing or otherwise creative endeavor happens from this point onward – it’s all meetings and management of various kinds from here on out.
12:30/13:00 - Lunch may or may not happen sooner (or later) than this due to the need to sync/meet with folk in CET.
On a good day: zero calls, some house chores, occasional trips to post office/pharmacy or school runs. On a bad day: 5 minutes to rifle through the fridge for leftovers, microwaving them and hoping there’s enough sunshine to enjoy wolfing them down facing a window.
Most team calls now tend to happen between 13:00-15:00 my time, so there are plenty of “so-so” days.
14:00 - Main project call slots start here, typically spent syncing with folk in CET or the US East Coast’s 9AM. May take up most of the afternoon, and may be broken up by school runs, but is usually when I spend the most consecutive time at my standing desk.
17:00-18:00 - East Coast has lunch (or at least starts thinking about it), West Coast comes online. Some focus time is scheduled here for wrap-ups or preparing hand-overs for later/the next day.
I may or may not clock out at this point. Either way, I try to spend 30m unwinding at my sitting desk and catching up on news and personal mail as a sort of break–or if I’m feeling inspired, I crank up the music again and do some actual work.
18:00-20:00 - Some West Coast calls, occasionally later in the evening. I may or may not reply to e-mail around this time, but Teams gets shut down hard at 18:30 if I can help it, although I often clean my inbox around this time.
20:00-22:00 - Depending on logistics, the usual sequence is a light dinner, family calls, and watching something on TV with the kids (Ted Lasso and Lower Decks are family favorites, but we’re now making our way through The Expanse before the final season drops).
22:00-01:00 - I almost invariably try to cram four or five hours of personal projects and reading books into one and a half to two hours, lose track of time, and end up going to bed too late and sleeping around six hours – which is the one thing I need to fix somehow, as it has a massive impact on my overall wellbeing.
It’s been a couple of weeks since I started this, and other than the late nights I’d say things are largely OK. I still feel unnaturally tired a lot of the time, but am pinning that on my body getting used to the exercise schedule and not getting enough sleep.
Either way, my legs are noticeably stronger again and I no longer get winded when walking 2 Km uphill. If my apartment stairwell were properly lit I’d also likely use the stairs, but it’s actually hazardous to do so as it is right now.
Another thing I’m planning (but haven’t gotten around to) is to switch to a single sit/stand desk, but I need to get a couple of cubic meters of stuff out of my office first, and that’s going to take some time.
Going back to a “normal” office might help, but right now I just don’t see how it would be an improvement to spend two hours a day commuting, although I do know I will have to visit my office sometime.
To be honest, I also don’t see how that would be a massive improvement, even in terms of exercise tradeoffs.