Over the last few weeks, I have taken some time off to relax and reflect on my life. I realized that I was not taking enough time to focus on myself, and instead investing so much energy into work that my motivation was beginning to become unclear.
Mental health is an issue of growing importance when starting a business or becoming a full-time maker. Makers can become so dedicated to their project that they neglect the fundamentals of self-care which can have significant personal and professional ramifications, that among them are, suffering from decreased productivity, and experiencing an overall decreased mental state.
Starting and working on a project or company is a very stressful event, and often times causes you to prioritize your work over your life in order to maximize your chances for success. Although dedication to your work is a great characteristic, if you do not spend time relaxing and reflecting over your work, then stress can compile which causes you to adopt bad routines.
In this article I hope to impart on you some knowledge I have acquired after taking time off to focus on my mental health.
Take care of yourself
You should make yourself your top priority, and spend time every day to take care of yourself. There is no shame in taking care of yourself over others, and there are actually benefits to it too. By taking care of yourself, you are making a future investment in an increased state of both productivity and calmness, which will allow you to be a better worker. If you do not take care of yourself and continue to let other things get in the way, then your productivity and overall performance will be affected.
Starting a company or making a project is an uphill battle, especially when you are already in full-time education or employment. You are the sole guardian of yourself, and should take that responsibility seriously. Other people will rely on you to be productive, positive, and helpful, as your mental state will have a direct effect on how they work. The quality of your work will be affected if you do not spend time on yourself, which can cause more stress further down the line.
In addition, focusing on yourself allows you to be a more effective contributor in discussions and be more positive towards others. You will be able to not only be more efficient at work, but also develop a clearer work-life balance, so the benefits will be seen at home too. Maintaining a clear headspace, spending time to reflect on yourself, and staying healthy, will allow you to make better decisions and stay active throughout the day, at home, and at work.
Know when to take time off
One of the most important aspects of taking care of yourself as a maker or founder is knowing when to take time off. This is so important as taking time off allows you to understand the overwhelming nature of your work, and separate your personal life from that stress. In addition, vacations can also help you better understand yourself, your needs, and also what you can do to improve your mental health in the future.
I have noticed that often times makers are so invested in their projects that they forget to take vacations or some time to regroup. Of course, taking time off is easier said than done, especially if indie making is your primary source of income. However, taking a small period of time off can help you maximize your time and become a more productive and well-rounded maker, and have other positive impacts on your work.
Meditation is a great way to help get more in-touch with your body and mind, and develop a clearer headspace. Though mediation can be difficult to get started with and requires constant commitment, there are some important health benefits that meditation can yield. These include benefiting from a happier mood and feeling less irritated in your life, being able to show more compassion to both yourself and others, and also help mitigate the risk of developing mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression.
Perhaps the most important is by maintaining a clearer headspace, you can learn to distance your stress from your work, which means that work does not feel as intimidating and tedious. It is easy to let your stress build up as a maker, especially if you are relying on making as a primary source of income, but meditation helps you get more in touch with that stress and take a step back from your work.
This also integrates with the increased sense of focus that meditation can help you achieve. Decision making and attention to detail are important as a maker, and meditation can help you focus more on your work and understand how to react to negative emotions throughout the day. By doing this, you can decrease the chances your mind will wander and instead focus on building a great product, rather than worrying about all of the thoughts in your mind.
Create a routine
The practice of having a daily routine is another way makers can take care of themselves better. During chaotic days, stress tends to compound which can result in a decreased state of productivity and negative emotions to take over. Strong routines can help you stay grounded on days where everything is changing, and have a sense of consistency in your life.
Daily routines are built based on your personal preferences and desires throughout the day. Many people will start their day with a cup of coffee and a strong breakfast, while others will get dressed and go out for a run. Crafting a daily routine that works for you is important as you can feel comfort even in times of stress and get to choose how your day goes, and you can spend more time doing the things you love.
There is also the opportunity to reduce procrastination as understanding the future direction of your day means that you can get more done and plan ahead. Routines allow you to create a schedule of your day and delegate specific parts of your day for work, recreation, and the things you enjoy doing. This reduces the chance that you try to avoid tasks as by having a specific time period where you complete them, they will become a habit rather than a burden, and your mental approach to them will change.
The traditional culture of engineers and makers are people who eat unhealthily because they are so focused on their work they do not have the time to prepare substantial meals. In fact, most makers actually spend time preparing healthy meals so that they have the energy they need to approach their day, and benefit from an increased state of productivity because of that.
The old adage of “healthy body, healthy mind” applies here in that you should prioritize eating healthily throughout the day. One common approach is to create a meal plan for the week which makes you less likely to resort to unhealthy options as you have a clear schedule of what you are going to eat. Meal planning can also be a social activity where you compare notes with fellow makers, allowing you to discover new foods to try and explore, while socializing with others.
I’m not saying that you should abstain from eating snacks. The best way to eat is to maintain a consistent and balanced diet which means that you can stay focused on your work for longer. However, you should feel free to treat yourself after doing some great work, which can in turn motivate you to work harder.
Sleeping is an essential part of staying productive. Taking time to get a good and long sleep allows you to be more focused towards your work, and also stay positive when interacting with others throughout the day. Sleep may seem like an escape from work, but it actually is a great way to stay refreshed. Often times, you will even wake up in the morning with the solution to a problem you have been thinking about.
“There’s lot of research showing the positive effects of being relaxed and well-rested on productivity. Sometimes, doing less now and taking care of your mental health means being able to do more later.” – Anne-Laure Le Cunff, Founder, Ness Labs.
This is more difficult in practice, especially if you have so much work to do you do not have time. One of the best ways to build a good sleeping schedule is to hide away or turn off your phone, and not check your emails after a reasonable time, so there is no immediate issues that your mind will be focused on when you are trying to fall asleep.
The best way to approach your sleep is to develop a consistent routine. If you go to bed at the same time each day, it becomes another part of your day, and your body will naturally prepare you for that time. Sleep is your chance to relax and put everything that has happened in the day behind you, so you are ready for tomorrow’s challenges.
Staying active is an important part of staying productive. Exercising is an investment in your future self, and allows you to maintain a healthy and clear mind throughout the day. In fact, regular exercise often leads to an increased sense of self and energy, which allows you to appreciate your life and therefore get more out of your day.
The key to exercise, as with meditation, is to create a routine. If you create a routine, exercise becomes part of your day, rather than an event you need to plan for. This also helps you to curb some of the resistance people have towards exercising, and focus on your work, rather than obsessing over your exercise routine. I find that listening to a podcast in the morning while exercising can make the time you spend exercising more enjoyable.
One of the best approaches to building a good routine is to start exercise in the morning before your cup of morning coffee. By doing this, you will feel an increased sense of awareness in the morning and feel prepared for the day ahead. Exercising at this time can get you into a positive mindset, and does not impede on your daily life, so you are more likely to stick to it.
Starting a new exercise routine can be tough. If you are having trouble getting into the right mindset, take some time to identify exactly what is stopping you from exercising, and figure out how you can overcome that block. If you have too much work to do, mute your emails until you have completed your run, for example. Try to make the exercise as positive as possible, and incrementally try harder workouts to challenge yourself when you are ready.
The factors mentioned in this article can help you maintain a clearer headspace, stay more positive, and be a more effective contributor at work. While it can be difficult to get started, there are other people who feel the same way. You should reach out to other makers and ask about their diets, routines, and sleep patterns, and seek support when you feel like you need guidance.
Take a moment to reflect on whether you feel happy, productive, and satisfied with your current life. Do you feel that stress has caused issues in your personal life? What is most important to you? Is work becoming a barrier to focusing on other aspects of your life? Your answers to those questions will allow you to frame your current mental state, and determine whether you need to spend more time on yourself.
Staying healthy as a maker and maintaining a strong work-life balance is a critical part of staying productive. Investing time in clarifying your headspace and adopting a strong routine will pay back in happiness and increased productivity, and allow you to cope with all of the stressful parts of being a founder. The best way to get started is to start now.