Work-Life Balance: A Guide to Surviving the Stress

If you feel that you’re always dragging your work home with you, and you can never truly be “off the clock,” you’re not alone. There are positions where it’s normal to work ten-hour days. Long hours can leave you feeling unfulfilled regarding your personal goals, hobbies, and family life. All the time that you spend feels like a trade-off for something else you could be doing. That’s where incorporating work-life balance into your life comes into play.

Keeping a work-life balance refers to the decision to prioritize reserving energy for the time that you spend outside of work. It’s commonly believed that the work-life balance movement is an abstract millennial lifestyle craze, yet this is hardly the case. Finding a balance between one’s life at work and life at home has aided working parents and entrepreneurs alike.

The idea of work-life balance could be considered a response to how our lives and work habits have changed due to the unyielding presence of technology in the modern workplace. Technology allows work to reach employees around the clock and everywhere. As such, we might always feel like we’re tethered to our jobs. Yet this isn’t helpful to work performance, as working too much causes a dramatic decrease in an individual’s average productivity. John Pencavel of Standford University found that up to forty-eight hours a week, your productivity is proportional to the number of hours you work. Anything beyond forty-eight hours may not be worth the time you put into it.

Achieving a healthy work-life balance requires that people set aside time to unplug and engage with their families, friends, and themselves. It requires that people set goals toward creating healthy habits in their everyday lives. Work-life balance prioritizes recharge time and time spent doing what one loves.

A healthy work-life balance helps you push past the limitations that you may feel. Dissatisfaction in one part of your life is likely to breed dissatisfaction in the other. For example, spending too much time at the office could make someone feel less patient about the time they spend with their children. These feelings of frustration and resentment may then be carried back to the office. Balance is crucial for advancing not only your life goals but your career goals as well, as you bring into your workplace those same positive attitudes that you have cultivated at home.

Work-Life Balance Tips

When it comes to work-life balance, people have different ideal lifestyles. The common thread for everyone, however, tends to be finding enough time in the day for activities that allow you to recharge. With proper time management and prioritization, we can carve out time for ourselves to unwind and recharge in spite of our busy schedules.

Create a Balanced Schedule

Many of the stress and anxiety triggers associated with time management are related to not knowing where your time is going. Scheduling helps you keep track of how you spend your time, and how long your goals take you.

Prioritize tasks so that you can tackle high-priority goals first and stressful deadlines don’t loom over you while doing other things. This will also make it easier for you to not overcommit yourself, so that you don’t schedule too much back-to-back.

No matter who you are, you can’t do it all. And you shouldn’t feel like you have to. Planning out your time can help you to see what parts of your life need restructuring and where you can delegate or leave behind some of your tasks. There are many apps designed to schedule your tasks such as ToDoist or Focus List. For those who prefer a more tangible calendar, a weekly scheduler can help you keep your assignments in hand. Many have even begun experimenting with the creativity of scheduling and planning with Bullet Journal planners.

Author Kate White explains that instead of multi-tasking, she planned out overlapping tasks: “Best example: When my kids were little, I had no time for hobbies, but I was dying to try bird watching. So I introduced it to my seven-year-old son, thinking he might like it, too. He was hooked, and so we started doing birdwatching together. It became the perfect overlap of time together with a hobby for me.”

When you’re scheduling, remember to create downtime as well as space in your schedule for spending time with your family and socializing. Don’t wait for the weekends to reward yourself. Join a weekday social group and give yourself time for your hobbies and personal goals.

Tracking your time can help you to develop appropriate expectations for yourself. Rather than feeling stressed and punishing yourself for a task that took a longer time than you expected, whether its a work assignment or learning to cook a new recipe, take it as a learning experience. This way, you can budget the right amount of time for yourself the next time you attempt it.

Task tracking varies from person to person but tends to be a combination of these options:

– Start a task tracking journal. For digital natives, this can be a notebook that you sync to all your devices like Evernote. For the more analog-minded of us, it’s nice to pick a notebook for this purpose and stick with it.

  • Get it all out. Reduce your mind-clutter by making a list of all the little to-do things that are on your mind. They can be things you need to do this day, this month, even this year. As long as you feel that you still need to hold them in mind, they will distract you from focusing, so write it all down. If you’re in a time-crunch, you can turn the page and go back to organize later.

– Keep daily expectations and tasks. On its own page, write out your daily expectations for yourself. These can be anything from a complicated project with multiple sub-tasks to something as simple as getting groceries. Leave plenty of space for additional notes.

– Keep track of your time. Timers can be small and unobtrusive, and they do not intrinsically judge you. Keep a timer while you do a task. If you’re going to the grocery store, find out how long that takes. If you’re cooking a dinner or meal-prepping, keep track of your time. Then put this in a note on your task list. This gives you data for planning your day in the future.

– Use the data you collected to plan reasonably. Now that you know how long some of your tasks take, try not to set unreasonable daily expectations. If you only have four hours of time left when you get home from work, try not to plan five one-hour tasks. Instead, pick just two of those and let yourself enjoy them.

– Use a habit tracker. Habit trackers can be both analog and digital, and they help you build daily habits by giving you a space to mark off doing your habits each day of the month. This helps you to see and analyze when you best reach your habits. Some common habits include playing the piano every day, drinking 32 oz of water every day, going for a 15-minute run, and spending time planning or journaling. Habit trackers also help you evaluate what habits are feasible for your schedule. For instance, if someone only manages to go to a yoga classonce a month, maybe it’s not a feasible habit for their schedule.

Smart Food Choices

Some of our favorite foods can cause us to experience bad moods. These include foods high in caffeine and trans fats, sugary snacks, refined carbs, and alcoholic beverages. The strange thing is, these tend to be the foods we turn to when we feel stressed and are looking for an outlet. Instead of grabbing sugary snacks and processed foods, you can improve your mood by eating more omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in fatty fish, walnuts, and grass-fed animal products. Fresh fruits and vegetables are also a great option.

For many people, cooking at home and ridding their routines of processed foods is a form of self-care. Cooking can be a meditative process. The emphasis on using one’s hands to nourish oneself can combat some of the mental and cognitive fatigue that many of us feel when we get home from work. Homemade meals can satisfy us emotionally because we feel responsible for what we’re eating.

Developing a scheduled meal-plan can help you to free up time (and save you some money) by taking the guesswork out of what to fix or purchase each day, preventing additional shopping trips and the need to cook extra meals. Meal planning also promotes healthy eating choices, because having healthy food available makes it less likely that you’ll reach for the quick and processed alternative.

Delegate at Home

Time is your most valuable resource, and you can buy yourself more of it by delegating some of your home tasks to keep your life in order. Delegating at home can include hiring a household cleaning service, having someone help you run basic errands, laundry services, and for some people grocery and cooking services.

If you’re worried about the cost of hiring additional help, remember that having downtime will actually make you more productive with your work, increasing your opportunities for job advancement. If you can afford it, it might be worth it.

Delegating doesn’t always mean hiring someone from outside your house. In many cases, family members can better delegate choresamong themselves in a way that helps everyone out. This can include delegating some of your tasks to your partner or your children.

Rather than trying to share chores, instead, split them up so only one person is responsible for each chore in the house. This will help you hold everyone household accountable while also identifying the specific strengths of each person in the house.

Become Less Dependent on Technology

Certain forms of technology, such as smartphones and web browsers, have been identified as addictive.

You can start to wean your addiction to technology by going off the grid for 15 minutes each day. Turn off your phone, keep the computer away, and live without any connections, if only for a moment. To begin with, it can be eye-opening how often you might reach for your phone to text someone or check a social media site. However, the more often you give yourself a break, the easier and more relaxing it becomes.

Robert Brooks, a professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School says

“There are times when you should just shut your phone off and enjoy the moment.” Brooke explains that phone notifications can cause unnecessary stress during your free time.

In some cases, it can be helpful to install productivity software such as Freedom, LeechBlock, or RescueTime, which can help you track and block applications that waste your valuable time.

Taking yourself off the grid allows you to pay more attention to what your loved ones and family say and need. It will also help you take inventory of your own needs.

Make Time to Exercise

Exercise is one of our most crucial and easiest to ignore bodily needs. Exercise helps to reduce stress by releasing endorphins throughout the body. It has amazing effects on individual self-confidence, which can help inspire us to take care of ourselves in other aspects of our lives. It also boosts your active and resting energy by speeding up your metabolism.

Exercise doesn’t necessarily mean going to the gym. Some people prefer to jog around town, take a hike, mountain climb, swim, dance, surf, try slacklining, go for a long walk, or do yoga. All of these activities are outlets for stress. They can take your mind off of work and nurture your physical ability to self-express.

Practice Self-Care

Every individual’s idea of self-care looks a little bit different. Some people treat themselves to a spa day. Others take time to meditate or set aside time to read a book. Creative pursuits, such as painting, crafts, and playing the guitar, often require the kind of intense focus that rewires you from the distraction-filled workday and helps your brain to recharge from the day’s stimulation.

Just be aware that releasing yourself from perfectionist tendencies is important for picking up new hobbies. These attitudes and unreasonable expectations will only add stress to time you should be using to unwind.

Stress in the Workplace

Long working hours, punitive deadlines, and demands that pile up on your precious time budget can bring feelings of stress to an alarming pitch. As workers, we give our time away to our employers for not only compensation but stability. We work beyond the required amount because we want to seem invaluable. We fear being laid off, and we feel the pressure to meet expectations even as they intensify without specific rewards.

Sometimes we cultivate feelings of stress in our lives out of the misguided sense that this stress will make us stronger and more productive. We think of stress as the psychological equivalent of lighting a fire under us. Small doses of stress really can give us the feeling of an adrenaline high. These effects make us feel energetic, focused, and ready to face challenges.

However, excessive stress can lower our productivity and performance. When we are feeling too stressed, we tend to feel drained rather than focused. It can also have major impacts on physical and emotional health, including muscle tension and respiratory problems. In extreme forms, these symptoms are associated with panic attacks or acute stress which can increase the heart rate and blood pressure to the point of escalating cardiovascular problems. Prolonged stress has also been known to cause nervous system problems that inhibit focus, create fertility problems in men, and cause irregular menstruation in women.

Symptoms of too much stress can include anxiety, irritability, and depression, which affects individuals both in the workplace and at home. Someone suffering from intense stress might also find themselves losing motivation in their work, losing sleep, and losing focus.

Good mental health is important for helping you to remain competitive in your workplace. People who are visibly working at capacity may show signs of wear, such as slumped posture, exhausted verbal responses, and negative attitudes. These individuals may not seem as competitive as those who are ready to move onto a new project.

Tips for Reducing Workplace Stress

Develop a support network. Talking to your peers and seeking support can help you begin to diminish workplace stress. This can mean engaging with your colleagues and coworkers, confiding in friends and family about what’s going on, and trying to build new friendships outside of work.

Delegate responsibilities. Along with wanting to feel invaluable and irreplaceable in our work, we also like to control those projects that we feel ownership over. Unfortunately, attitudes like this mean that we might often get in over our heads and not know when to delegate or trust others with responsibility. To reduce stress, try to let go of the desire to control every part of the project so that you can spend more of time on yourself and your family. This will make you more comfortable delegating tasks and only keeping for yourself what you can handle.

Establish boundaries for when you’re off work. In order to be able to reset and give our all to work when we’re there, it’s important to have routine periods of time when we’re not working, thinking about work, or checking work emails and calls.

According to a survey by Direct Line Insuranceseven hours is the ideal amount of free time in a day. However, most workers are constantly connected to their work through technology and the expectation that they answer emails, phone calls, and text messages eat away at their free time. Matt Owen of Direct Line explains that “The perfect work/life balance relies on being able to switch off once we’ve finished work, which is difficult in this ‘constantly connected’ age.”

Habits without boundaries, such as being available to answer emails during your free time and being on call twenty-four hours a day will make you feel like you’re working all the time. This can contribute to decreased motivation during those times when you are specifically supposed to be working.

Mitigate unreasonable expectations. Perfectionism and unrealistic goals can cause us to fall into slumps and negative thinking when we feel that we’ve fallen short of our goals. Instead, be realistic about your goals and aim to do your best. The self-confidence that you create from feeling capable of succeeding in your goals will help your projects excel.

Tips for Individual Contract and Self-Employed Workers

Individual contractors and self-employed workers experience the contradiction of having very flexible schedules which are also limited by clients’ deadlines and expectations. Burnout can come easily when you are the only one holding yourself accountable and motivated.

– Build a strong support network. The more honest you are about the realities of your job with your peers and loved ones, the more they will be able to say the right words and offer the right support to help you.

– Keep looking ahead of yourself. Even for self-starters, it can be easy to stagnate when you’re working along. Self-motivation often comes from looking toward the future of your business and planning ways that you want to improve. Sometimes this means acquiring new and different jobs in advance that you can look forward to. You can also do this by planning further education to learn new skills that interest you and expand your business.

– Don’t skimp on your own free time. Just because no one is making sure that you leave the office, doesn’t mean that you don’t have to.

– Without PTO many individual contractors take as little time off as possible. To give yourself much-needed breaks, put aside a downtime and vacation fund.

Tips for Office Workers

In many cases, the stressors of office work are interpersonal. They might have to do with a worker’s boss or coworkers. They might also have to do with the feeling of not being able to get enough done, or having too much to do.

– When working in an office setting, it’s necessary to carve out the proper space to focus. Some people have difficulty focusing while others are talking. Do whatever you need to in order to make sure your workday is as productive as possible, even if that means isolating yourself.

– It’s understood that office work puts many people in close proximity for large slices of time throughout the week, and this can cause disputes and discomfort with other workers. If you’re stressed out about other workers, whether they have a negative attitude or a tendency to be distracting, you can institute quiet work hours, or try to engage with them as little as possible.

– Use your resources. Many offices have human resources departments which can help them with interpersonal problem-solving, as well as helping workers to find effective forms of stress-management. However, in some cases, HR might not be the best place to confide personal stress problems. As an alternative, you can check to see if your health plan allows you access to personal therapy or group therapy sessions for stress management.

Stay Focused at Work

Staying productive at work is a matter of silencing disruptions, quelling our addiction to technology, and staying on task.

Stop Multitasking

The ability to multitask was in high demand a few years ago among employers. This trend started because companies needed to downsize in the face of the economic turn in 2008, causing the remaining employees to pick up more and diverse tasks. Companies began seeking digital natives who could, it seemed, do many projects at one time, and the buzzword bloomed all over resumes in response.

It turns out that what we refer to as multitasking is really switching between tasks. Switching tasks lowers our productivity, and wastes hours of our day, undercutting our productivity by 40 percent. Think of adding 23 minutes every time you check you email in the middle of a task. This means that a task which should take you an hour could take you that hour and an extra 23 minutes.

Our brains are incapable of focusing on multiple things at once. We can fool ourselves into thinking that we are multitasking, but we are really only switching very quickly between tasks. Working on multiple assignments at one time is also known to cause us stress. The more tasks we try to work on at once, the more we get the feeling that we won’t be able to catch up.

Tips for Staying on Task:

– Eliminate distraction when it’s time to focus. You can disable text and email notifications (as well as phone and desktop apps) and politely make yourself unavailable to idle chit-chat from coworkers.

– Know what the task is. It can help to plan out your task before you go into deep focus mode since the act of finding out what you need to do can leave you open to inbox browsing and distracting online research. Plan out your task beforehand, so when it comes time to focus deeply, you don’t have a habit of breaking your focus.

– Schedule times in the day that you will check your inbox. Rather than being a constant checker, make a habit of checking your inbox at certain times, so that it doesn’t feel necessary to check when you’re working on something else.

– Plan your day to tackle one thing at a time. What managers are really looking for when they talk about multi-taskers is people who are able to prioritize their tasks. Prioritizing allows you to pick up one thing at a time, focus on it, and finish it, so you are able to move on to the next task.

Try Out Pomodoro Time Management

The Pomodoro Technique chunks your day into deep focus times. Begin with picking a task which you’ll devote your full attention, then set a timer for 25 minutes and work on the task until the timer rings. If you suddenly realize that you have something else you need to do, simply write the interruption down, put it aside, and continue focusing. When you have completed the time cycle, take a five-minute break. When you have completed four Pomodoros or spent two hours on your task, take a twenty to thirty-minute break.

There are many variations of this time management system, such as working in four hour blocks and taking one or two hour breaks. The important thing is to find what works for you and practice it consistently. When planning your time management system, remember to give yourself breaks and downtime from your intense focus periods.

This system plans short breaks into your day to give you time to relax and recharge. This blank time allows your mind to process what you’ve been working on, and is necessary for making connections and generating ideas. It’s good to get up and walk around in this time, meditate, have a conversation, or something other than your primary task.

There are many Pomodoro trackers available as desktop apps and phone apps. For instance, the smartphone app Forest is capable of blocking you from using your phone for other applications while you are tracking your time.

How to Reset

Health Retreats

Health retreats refer to time off that takes you out of your everyday life and helps you to reach your goals in a conducive setting.

Some common goals include detoxing and cleansing, fitness and wellness retreats, sport retreats, yoga retreats, artistic and creative retreats, spiritual retreats, and retreats that help participants work through specific psychological states including stress management and grief management.

These retreats can often be guided or allow you to choose your individual activities. Most retreats will give you tools, whether these are mental tools, meditative, or exercise-oriented to take back into your everyday life for continued processing toward your goals. Here are a few tips for choosing the best health retreat for your needs:

– Know why you’re going. Health retreats should help you focus, so if you find that you’ll be doing a little bit of everything on the retreat it might not be worthwhile. Instead, ask yourself what you want to develop on the retreat, and then make sure that the retreat will address this focus.

– Pick where you want to go. The destination is a big part of the retreat. Pick somewhere that will be inspiring so that you are more engaged with the benefits of being on the retreat.

– Weigh your ideological and ethical options. Ecotourism can be a big motivation for a retreat or travel. Whether or not earth conservation is your focus, there are many eco-conscious retreat spots that will keep problems like wasteful consumption off your mind.

Camping

Weekend camping trips can reset your body clock and take you off the grid to adjust your focus. Anyone struggling to wake up in the morning in their daily life should try camping for a weekend. It’s difficult to sleep in when the sun is rising. Campers can experience 13 times more light than someone living primarily indoors. This causes their melatonin levels to rise earlier in the day so that they fall asleep earlier and wake up earlier too. Even just a weekend can reset your circadian rhythm to improve your alertness, mood, physical strength, and endurance.

Spending time in nature, such as backpacking, camping, and hiking is has been known to relieve stress, sharpen thinking with improved short-term memory, and improve concentration and creativity. Additionally, spending time outside and under the stars is something that you can do with your children to get in touch with your family outside of the grasp of technology.

In many climates, where you don’t need a lot of expensive gear, camping is also feasible on a limited budget.

Taking a Vacation

Sometimes all it takes to reduce your stress and reorient your habits is a getaway. As a culture, we are very familiar with vacations and the idea of traveling to relax away from work.

Some tips for a stress-free vacation include:

– Plan it out. Take care of the details ahead of time, so that you aren’t sorting things out while you’re on vacation, then keeping in the know about the logistics of your vacation can make it a lot easier to enjoy the free time it offers.

– Pack accordingly. Research the location and make a list of what you will need.

– Take care of yourself. Taking care of yourself doesn’t stop just because you’re on vacation. If you need sleep, get sleep. Allow your body to adjust to any altitude changes. And always drink plenty of water, especially if you’re more active on vacation than you normally are.

Staycation

Staycations refer to staying near or around your home while taking time off. These are sometimes thought of as more budget-friendly vacations, but they do have valuable stress relief benefits, by making it less necessary to plan out the logistics of the vacation.

Staycations are great for taking time to spend with your family and exploring your own home region. However, you will be a lot more likely to reconnect with work during your vacation. Make a concerted effort to disconnect from work and you can have a relaxing staycation.

Extended Work Breaks

Aside from the sabbaticals prevalent in academic circles, talk about taking an extended work break is rare. The average person doesn’t feel comfortable asking to take over a month off to hike the John Muir trail, finish their book, take on a creative residency, or other forms of long-term unpaid leave. It’s possible, but it can be daunting to ask for that time off and still feel confident that your job will be there when you return.

Extended work breaks for many people come in between the stages of a career switch. They can take a few forms such as travel, volunteering abroad, taking a course or going back to school, teaching English abroad, and paid work abroad. A long break can feel risky, but it is a transformative option for someone who needs to completely reorient their life.

Morning and Evening Routines

The iconic figure of the morning routine was Benjamin Franklin, who reported to spend his morning nude while reading, writing, and thinking. Nor was he the only one to develop a personalized morning routine. Tchaikovsky, Victor Hugo, Immanuel Kant, and Beethoven all report that they would begin their day with some form of tea or coffee. And the 19th-century French poet and essayist Paul Valery explained how he woke up every morning at 5 to write in his journals.

Morning routines can give you a sense of stability while allowing you to feel like you’re starting your day productively. Taylor Pearson, entrepreneur and author of The End of Jobs, encourages individuals to design and practice a tailored morning routine that highlights a “small win” based on each of the goals you are serious about moving forward with. According to Steve Kay, a professor of molecular and computational biology, these morning routines are just the wind-up to prime our brains and warm our bodies for the time of day when it will function best. Kay explains that

“when it comes to doing cognitive work, most adults perform best in the late morning.”

Checking Your Email in the Morning

Whether or not to check your email in the morning depends on your preferences. Some people see this as a violation of the careful boundaries that they set between work and life, while others see it as a productivity move to help them better prioritize their tasks for the day. Much of this has to do with a person’s position in a company, but it is also up to you whether it helps your mental health to delay reading your emails or to begin your day alert to what you need to do.

CEOs are frequently among the 8 percent who rise at 5 a.m. or earlier in the case of Apple’s CEO Tim Cook, who wakes at 3:45 a.m. every morning. They commonly begin their mornings by checking their emails. Tim Armstrong, CEO of Oath Inc., describes his morning routine as immediate emailing: “I usually get up at 5 or 5:15 a.m. Historically, I would start sending emails when I got up.”

Heather Rabbatts, the director of the Football Association, is an outlier as she reports that she does not begin her day with emails. Instead, she appreciates a more personal morning routine:

“If I’m in London, I start the day with a cup of tea and a digestive biscuit. If I’m home in Kent, I feed my two spaniels, have a cup of tea and defend my digestive biscuits from being snaffled by my crafty dogs.”

Common Morning Routines

Standardize when you get up. This is possibly the most important part of your morning routine. No one is saying that you have to get up early. Many successful people sleep in past 5 am. Nonetheless, to live your healthiest life, it’s best to wake up at a standardized time every day.

Having consistent sleep patterns means that you go to bed at around the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning. Consistent sleep patterns were found to be as important as the number of hours that you sleep for improved performance. Consistent waking times are correlated with better digestion, immunity benefits, improved concentration and productivity, and emotional stability.

According to Edison Research, twenty-three percent of Americans wake between 6 and 6:30 am, and another 26 percent rise in the following hour between 6:30 and 7:30 a.m. Whether you’re a bright-eyed early riser or a bed-headed night-owl, your body will thank you for picking a time to rise and sticking with it.

Make coffee. Up to four cups of coffee, a day can increase memory, mood, energy, reaction times, and cognitive function without risking dehydration. This is also the best time to drink coffee since, in the interest of preserving your sleep cycles, it’s not recommended for the average person to consume coffee six to eight hours before going to bed.

Eat a healthy breakfast. Whether you like to start out with a full meal of just a simple breakfast of yogurt, water, and fruit, eating breakfast can help you look forward to your routines. Morning breakfasts also make it possible to eat lunch later, thus prolonging your productive time before the after-lunch slump.

Groom yourself. You daily hygiene routine probably involves washing your face and brushing your teeth, but when you carve out the time, it can also include practices such as giving yourself a careful shave and using a face mask.

Meditate. Mindfulness meditation refers to being presently aware of sensations, emotions and thoughts. Meditation literally helps you to rewire your brain to be less reactive and promote emotional control. Meditation can help you manage fear and stress as well as increase focus and pain tolerance.

Read a book or newspaper. Adding reading to your morning routine will make it more likely that you will read throughout the day and keep your mind engaged. For some, reading is a form of self-care that invests your time in your own mind, education, and imagination. For others, it is a necessary step to staying abreast of all that’s happening in the world.

Write in a journal. Writing is a therapeutic way of organizing your mind and producing ideas. Journaling has been proven to reduce stress by allowing you to understand and learn from your emotions and clarify your thoughts and priorities. Even if you are ready to get in touch with your feelings, your morning routine is the perfect time for routine scheduling, working on a gratitude journal, writing down your goals, and prioritizing the rest of your day.

Exercise, do yoga, stretch, or go jogging. If you find that a light work-out, yoga session, or jog in the morning is the best way to get your brain firing, this is because it is a quick way to warm your body which improves your working memory, alertness, and concentration.

Evening Routines

Evening routines should relax you and allow you to move easily to rest. Late-night time-sensitive work can interfere with you getting a healthy night’s rest, and in most cases, it should and can wait. The truth is, you’re going to be less productive when your body is exhausted. And losing sleep interferes with your daytime productivity, meaning that those extra hours of sleepy, less-productive work that you do at night are stealing the alert productive hours from your day.

Focus your nighttime routine on soothing activities, such as reading, listening to soft music, or other low light activities such as meditation. Just as with waking up, a consistent bedtime will help you to rest better.

Try to turn off screens one hour before bedtime, including your TV, smartphones, and computer screens, or activate nighttime modes. Blue lights from tablets, computers, and TV screens keep your body from producing melatonin, thus disrupting your sleep cycle. Many screens have nighttime color schemes that do not disrupt your sleep cycle. You can also opt for something without a backlight function, such as an e-reader tablet.

Conclusion

Much of work-life balance is about forming positive habits in your daily life. These habits can be productivity hacks. They can also be measures that you take for self-care. Whatever your goals are, habit-forming is based around consistently taking the time that you need for your tasks while being less wasteful with the time you have.

When you begin building habits, your new focus can feel like a burden. Sometimes setting a timer for yourself to go to bed at night seems like a bad idea when you could be getting things done instead. And when we start to form a habit of waking up earlier, we can feel a little groggy and surly in the mornings. However, dedicating yourself to these habits will help you to level out and free up time for a healthier, happier life in the long run.

When it comes to forming habits, give yourself time. Start with focusing on one thing at a time. Changing your whole life at once will make the habits that you’re trying to form feel impossible. Instead, get used to one thing, such as starting a morning routine or scheduling a time to unplug after work, and slowly add from there.

Source: Groom and Style

A Bootstrapped Startup’s Guide to Podcasting

Even if you don’t regularly listen to podcasts yourself, you’re probably familiar with the praise they’ve recently received as a marketing tool. With an estimated 73 million monthly listeners in the U.S. alone, podcasting offers today’s advertisers a new (and effective) way to reach a large number of consumers.

Consider, for example, that podcast listeners are getting through about 90 percent of a given episode – most without skipping through ads.

Unsurprisingly, advertisers have taken this as an opportunity to bet big.

Podcast advertising spending broke $200 million for the first time in 2017, and is expected to exceed $500 million by 2020.

But they aren’t just spending on ads; more and more brands are beginning to use podcasts as part of their content marketing strategies, too. Spotify, Tinder and GE, among a host of other examples, have all jumped on board with branded podcasts because, as so aptly put in a Fast Company article, “branded podcasts are the ads people actually want to listen to.”

Reaping the benefits of podcasts isn’t just limited to major companies, though. With the right approach, startups can also take advantage of this new, powerful channel to reach a wider audience and gain brand credibility.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

You don’t have to host your own show

Branded podcasts often come with a hefty price tag, which can make them a tough sell for most entrepreneurs. A full season of a branded show can cost upward of a half million dollars, and even reach seven figures for one that is very well-produced.

Fortunately, as an entrepreneur, you don’t have to host or produce your own show to take advantage of podcasts. Simply participating in the podcast ecosystem by joining other people’s shows as a guest can help you effectively reach your audience, too. The only thing you have to invest is your time.

If you’re an expert in a certain field, people want to hear what you have to say, and odds are there’s already a podcast out there that those people are listening to. With that in mind, a good way to start getting involved with podcasts is by reaching out to hosts of podcasts in your field, and offering to share some of your unique insights on their shows. Even if the shows have a small listener base, they can lead to bigger opportunities in the future.

Also, once you build up a solid repertoire of podcasts and have done the work of promoting them, people will see you as a good partner to work with and will keep inviting you back. Sometimes the results can be surprising. In my case, for example, I’ve even had people apply for jobs because they heard me on a podcast.

Your omni-channel approach shouldn’t stop at creation

While you don’t have to create your own podcasts, they can be a worthwhile investment if you do. Sephora’s#Lipstories, Basecamp’s The Distance and Drift’s Seeking Wisdom have all demonstrated how much value building your own branded podcasts can bring, even for startups and other small companies.

As such, if you do decide to create your own podcast, it’s important to make them available on as many channels as possible. For starters, your podcasts should definitely be accessible for users on smartphones, tablets or other portable devices, as these are where 76 percent of listeners tune in. Needless to say, however, you should also accommodate users who prefer listening on a traditional laptop or computer.

Similarly, the omni-channel approach should extend to the platforms on which you host and promote the podcast. For example, iTunes may be the most common platform, but it’s definitely not the easiest for the more than two billion users of Android devices. With this in mind, you should also consider hosting your shows on other platforms such as YouTube, Soundcloud, Spotify and AudioBoom, among many others.

Once your podcasts are live, you should promote them on as many platforms as possible. Embed them on LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media platforms, with the goal of creating as many touch points as you can with your audience. Couple this by asking your listeners to subscribe to your channel at the end of the show and to share with their friends. While it may be a simple tactic, it can often be the spark that gets the fire going.

You must focus on consistency and quality

Regardless of whether you decide to create your own podcasts or participate as a guest on others’, it’s crucial that you make sure your content, your hosts and your guests all align with your brand. This is not to say the podcast must be about your product, but it should be related to the story your brand is trying to tell.

Moreover, you should be sure to constantly produce fresh content. This means releasing shows regularly; whether it be once per day/week/month/etc., the aim should always be consistency. This encourages your consumers to build habits, say, by tuning in for your show every Monday morning on the way to work. Creating an editorial calendar can be a particularly useful practice to keep you accountable and prepared. It also helps to have a few podcasts recorded ahead of time to use as a buffer in case you get sick or if a guest drops out.

Finally, even if you do a video podcast, the most important thing is to focus on audio quality first. If you don’t have good audio quality, you run the risk of quickly turning off your listeners. Therefore, if you choose to invest in anything, buy a good USB mic, and be sure to test your audio first. People can forgive poor video, but poor audio is a deal-breaker. If you think about it, you’ve probably sat through a movie with a fuzzy projector, but would leave immediately if the film was hard to hear.

Despite their recent popularity, the fact remains that podcasts are a young (and often underutilized) technology, particularly for marketers. Many big brands have already begun to produce high-quality audio content for enthusiastic listeners, but there is still a lot of room for startups to up their involvement. Fortunately, getting involved doesn’t have to cost a penny – it just takes a bit of networking and an extra half hour here or there. In the end, it’ll always be worth it.

Source: Startup Nation

How to overcome the many constraints, entrepreneurs have.

Entrepreneurship is by far one of the toughest paths to choose, whether dealing with cashflow issues, getting the right customer to buy your product or services, building the correct team around your business or to finding the best platform or systems to help manage your business.

It certainly is not an easy choice as you juggle all these elements whilst trying to make a living.

Enter mySME Techologies, a SME focused platform that has been testing a number of initiatives that seek to answer a few of those major challenges that entrepreneurs have, such as:

  • Access to Market Opportunities;
  • Access to a Community of Entrepreneurs;
  • Access to Workspace; and
  • Access to Finance.

The mySME Technologies team have developed the mySME platform , a platform that seeks to combine their current initiatives and answer the challenges and constraints that every entrepreneur faces.

The initial flagship platform within the mySME broader platform is mySME tools. This business management platform solves the problem of between entrepreneurs and banks or other funders, where the latter usually requires a range of data to make formal credit available to the entrepreneur. The list of requirements typically includes credit history, collateral, business plan and financial, amongst many other things, mySME Tools assists with thishence better access to finance.

The mySME Tools also provides you with business resources (templates, fact sheets, policies, checklists, how-to-videos) all with the goal of giving the entrepreneurs all the information required to be informed and knowledge about how to structure and build their business mySME Tools assists with thishence better access to information and knowledge.

As part of providing a broader offering the mySME Tools platform team decided to provide better access to markets as a key component of the platform, because without sales or the opportunity to sell, the entrepreneur’s business is virtually non-existent. The entrepreneur here is assisted in 2-ways here, (i) find a supplier directory search within mySME Tools platform and (ii) a preferred listing on mySME Procure –a Corporate-to-SME e-procurement platform linked to mySME Tools.

Lastly, the belief that entrepreneurship being a lonely road is sadly true, often because even family and friends won’t understand the entrepreneur’s ongoing trials and tribulations. mySME Tools provides access for all entrepreneurs that are registered on mySME to their partner’s network, such as The Hook Up Dinners ,Ekasi Entrepreneurship Movement, the Matt Brown Show, amongst many others.

And lastly through mySME Space, also part of the broader mySME platform, start-ups, founders and entrepreneurs can find available co-workspace, shared office space or incubation space and connect with other entrepreneurs.

So ultimately, the role of the mySME platform is about creating systems and partnerships that enhance the mySME brand’s role – as a catalyst of trade and doing business for entrepreneurs and start-ups. This is the mySME brand’s commitment to simplify and transform the lives of entrepreneurs and enabling their progress in business.

EntBanc group CEO Vuyo Tofile, comments on the announcement of this launch of mySME platform: “Micro, small and medium sized businesses are the economic backbone of all communities around the world, and so for entrepreneurs mySME.co platform can be a great partner in helping these entrepreneurs build their dreams, their vision and their business”

Starting a food business in South Africa

You have a great recipe for rusks, you want to sell at the local flea market or perhaps you would like to become a home chef? Whatever your food business may be, our two part article explain the process  into 10 actionable steps for you.

The fundamentals of food safety

Hopefully by now you have discovered that in order to manufacture food in South Africa or open a restaurant or coffee shop, you have to comply with the Hygiene regulation under the Foodstuffs Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act, Act 54 of 1972. Yes, the regulation used to be under the Health Act, but it was moved. Of course, it is still a matter of public health concern.

So what does regulation R962 – “Regulations governing general hygiene requirements for food premises and transport” actually say in plain English?

 

1. You must have a valid certificate of acceptablity

You must apply for this certificate at your local department of environmental health. You should have this certificate before you start to trade. Try this link for the contact details: Department of Environmental Health

The best option is to actually go into the offices rather than call.

 

2. Your facility must look like a food facility

Not a scrap yard. It needs to be in an area that doesn’t pose a risk to the processes or the food handled. Open ground can lead to rodent infestation, dust from the neighbor can contaminate the product. If the environment is not idea and you cannot move, you need to apply additional measures to keep the outside from becoming a problem on the inside.

 

The regulation puts the onus on you to protect food by the best available method against contamination or spoilage by poisonous or offensive gases, vapours, odours, smoke, soot deposits, dust, moisture, insects or other vectors, or by any other physical, chemical or biological contamination or pollution or by any other agent whatsoever.

 

The design of a food facility must also be conducive to easy cleaning. The regulation uses the words, smooth, easy to clean, non-porous when describing walls, ceilings and floors. Be careful with tiles as the grout may be porous.

The facility must be adequately ventilated to remove the build up of steam. Any cooking appliances will require extraction hoods. Lighting must also be sufficient. In both cases the national building regulations apply. Kitchens for restaurants must also be of a minimum size for the number of patrons. If you are changing the building or designing a new one – make sure your plans are approved first.

Your facility must also be pest proof – flies and rodents are specifically mentioned. This means keeping them out so there should be no open windows unless these are screened, grates on drains and no opening in walls. Rubber strips on the bottom of doors will further discourage rodents.

Your waste water system must be approved by the EHP. Fat traps should be installed.

There must be a wash up facility for cleaning purposes. NOTE! This is NOT the handwash basin.

3. Enough toilets and handwash basins

You will need to provide the right number of toilets for the employees and the patrons if you have a restaurant. The regulation provides a table with the number of toilets you will need.

Each bathroom must have running hot and cold water, soap – always use liquid soap and a means to dry hands.

Rather use paper towels or adequately powered hot air dryers. Make sure there is a waste bin too. The occupational health and safety act regulations also require you to provide sanitary bins in ladies toilets.

The toilets cannot open directly onto the restaurant or the kitchen/food preparation areas. There must be a lobby/double door configuration at least.

Toilets should obviously be cleaner very regularly and preferably not by kitchen staff. NOTE! There still have to be more handwash basins in the food preparation areas.

4. A place for everything and everything in its place

There should be enough space for all activities in your process. This should be storage areas for food that are separate from storage areas for food and ingredients. Ideally you should keep raw food and any cooked/heat processed products separately.

There must be a specific designated area for waste containers.

There must be a place for staff to change and store their personal clothing away from food handling activities. Staff should not change in the toilets.

5. The right tools for the job

All the equipment used in a food handling facility must be fit-for-purpose. You have to consider that items will be used repeatedly so domestic equipment will not last. Rather spend the money and invest in industrial equipment.

 

Any surface that is in contact with food must not be a source of contamination so these surfaces should be smooth, rust-proof, non-toxic and non-absorbent material that is easy to clean. Wooden chopping boards are not ideal.

Crockery, cutlery and any other utensils must not be chipped or cracked and must be cleaned before used.

 

The second part of our article looks at hygienic practices and the duties of the boss and the food handlers.

 

The fundamentals of food safety

 

In Part 1 of this article you will have discovered that in order to manufacture food in South Africa or open a restaurant or coffee shop, you have to comply with the Hygiene regulation under the Foodstuffs Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act, Act 54 of 1972. Yes, the regulation used to be under the Health Act, but it was moved. Of course, it is still a matter of public health concern.

So what does regulation R962 – “Regulations governing general hygiene requirements for food premises and transport” actually say in plain English?

6. How to display, store and transport food

Food must not be stored directly on the floor. This includes all ingredients too. Always store on a pallet or crate to ensure it cannot be contaminated.

 

Food on display must be protected – no fingers, no flies, no dust, no condensation. Look at how you handle a buffet or salad displays in a retail store. Food in storage must also be protected – make sure you cover all containers.

 

Temperature is a critical issue to ensure the safety of your food. Make sure hot is hot and cold is cold. In fact, make sure you keep to the following:

 

 

These temperatures should be monitored regularly and be recorded. Think about it – otherwise how would you prove it when there is an alleged complaint. You will need an accurate thermometer.

 

7. The right PPE for food handlers

While a uniform can be trendy and build your brand, it’s up to you to ensure your food is protected from the people handling it. To this end, it’s up to you to clothe them with proper protective clothing. This clothing is to protect the food primarily so it must be clean and not a source of contamination. If buttons can fall off into your coleslaw, that would be contamination. So, in general we avoid buttons, zips and the like.

White clothing is always the best – you guessed it – it does show the dirt off and then you should wash it frequently. By the way, it is up to YOU to keep it clean, not the employee. Best to use a professional service who have a good reputation in the food industry. You will need more than one set of clothing. Ideally three sets will ensure you have a clean change daily.

Long sleeves are always the best option.

Hair should always be covered – to avoid it falling into food. Yes I know hairnets are not sexy….tough, deal with it and make sure you set a good example.

 

8. The responsibility of the person in charge of the food facility

If your name is on the certificate of acceptability – the buck stops with you!

The law makes you responsible for the following:

• Adhering to the legislation
• Doing the right things to keep flies, other insects, rodents or vermin under control on the food premises;
• Making sure any person working on the food premises is adequately trained in food hygiene and that your staff follow the regulations
• Ensuring waste and waste containers are handled correctly to that it does not create a Nuisance or health hazard
• Keeping the food premises and all facilities, freight compartments of vehicles and containers are clean and free from any unnecessary materials that have a negative effect on the general hygiene of the food premises;
• Supervising staff to ensure that no person handling non-prepacked food wears any jewellery
• Making sure there are no animals around food handling areas
• Esure that there are no unhygienic practices taking place at the facility.
• Make sure no one handles ready-to-consume non-prepacked food with his or her bare hands, unless it is unavoidable for preparation purposes.
• Finally keep records of illness and conditions you and your staff may suffer from as listed in the law which could potentially be transmitted via food.

9. The duties of the food handler

It’s not just you, although obviously, you will be accountable at all times. The law speaks directly to your staff too regarding the following:

Your staff must know that:

Food shall not be handled by any person –
• whose fingernails, hands or clothes are not clean;
• who has not washed his or her hands thoroughly with soap and water or cleaned them in another effective manner –
o immediately prior to the commencement of each work shift;
o at the beginning of the day’s work or after a rest period;
o after every visit to a latrine or urinal;
o every time he or she has blown his or her nose or after his or her hands have been in contact with perspiration or with his or her hair, nose or mouth;
o after handling a handkerchief, money or a refuse container or refuse;
o after handling raw vegetables, fruit, eggs, meat or fish and before
o handling ready-to-use food;
o after he or she has smoked or on return to the food premises; or
o after his or her hands have become contaminated for any other reason.

They also need to know that if they are ill with diarrhea or vomiting, it is best not to come to work. Trust me, you would rather they were not there than risk infecting the entire production or restaurant seating for the day. Don’t forget to keep a record of this though – it’s the law.
Any cuts, abrasions, abscesses or skin condition on their hands and arms should also be immediately reported to you. You will need a first aid box to be able to provide treatment and then gloves to cover the dressing to avoid it landing in your potato salad.
You will need to ensure you staff behave hygienically and therefore do not do any of the following:
• spit in an area where food is handled or on any facility;
• smoke or use tobacco in any other manner while he or she is handling non-prepacked food or while he or she is in an area where such food is handled;
• handle non-prepacked food in a manner that brings it into contact with any exposed part of his or her body, excluding his or her hands;
• lick his or her fingers when he or she is handling non-prepacked food or material for the wrapping of food;
• cough or sneeze over non-prepacked food or food containers or facilities;
• spit on whetstones or bring meat skewers, labels, equipment, or any other object used in the handling of food or any part of his or her hands into        contact with his or her mouth, or inflate sausage casings, bags or other wrappings by mouth or in any other manner that may contaminate the         food;
• walk, stand, sit or lie on food or on non-hermetically sealed containers containing food or on containers or on food-processing surfaces or other        facilities;
• use a hand washbasin for the cleaning of his or her hands and simultaneously for the cleaning of facilities; or
• while he or she is handling food, perform any act other than those referred to above which could contaminate or spoil food.
A long list which is ideally incorporated into a code of conduct which all employees should sign, including you. You might have to use it as a reminder from time to time. Old habits do die hard so expect to be talking about this daily. It’s best to have a formal inspection every day to keep everyone honest.

10. How to transport food hygienically

Finally, the law does address how you transport food. If you have your own vehicles, they are usually covered by your certificate of acceptability. If you use an outsourced provider, please make sure they have certificates of acceptability for their trucks.
Trucks must be clean – obviously. You cannot transport food with any of the following:
• contaminated food or waste food;
• poison or any harmful substance;
• a live animal; or
• any object that may contaminate or spoil the food.

So tackle these 1o items and you are well on your way to compliance with the most basic legal requirement of the country. Even street vendors are required to comply with this one. And when you see your local EHP – please give them a hug!

By Linda Jackson

Source: Food Focus

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