If you eat the frog first, you get eight hours of feeling good. It's like closing an app in the background. To be happy and productive at work we need to be energised and focused and, if we're not, we might need to change some of our fundamental beliefs.
Life coach Louise Thompson is sassy, funny, and exudes vitality at a Diversity Works NZ (formerly the EEO Trust) Wellness Workshop, where she peppers her inspiring wellness advice with anecdotes from her own and her clients' experiences.
After collapsing in a high-stress work environment seven years ago with severe adrenal fatigue and unable to work for 18 months, Thompson is well qualified to warn us of the dangers of overwork and burning ourselves out.
During her recovery, she "figured out a whole load of shortcuts to wellness" and the now yoga teacher and life coach is happy to share them.
Thompson says her clients ask about work/life balance more than anything else, with the word "overwhelm" being used, particularly among professional working women.
"With increasing connectedness and things getting faster all the time, there's a perception that everything is urgent and it's pushing people's stress response all the time."
But she says it's not work/life balance that's the problem -- it's work/life volume. Women can be dealing with paid employment, childcare, volunteering at school, working on committees, preparing meals, going to the gym and generally trying to fit 29 hours into a 24-hour day.
"It's a maths problem rather than a balance problem, and some hard choices need to be made," says Thompson. "Add up the hours it all takes and see what can be jettisoned. If you're going to the gym, take into account the time taken to drive there and shower afterwards. Ask yourself, what are the essentials? Give up a committee, drop the volunteering, batch cook and freeze meals, find an exercise class close to work. The only way to achieve work/life balance is to get the volume down, and then keep making those tough choices. It's a continual process."
Thompson believes there are five steps to lasting change: belief, thought, action, habit and outcome.
She says we should throw out the old idea of it taking 21 days to change a habit because we can create a new habit instantly just by changing our belief.
Thompson had an exhausted client doing everything for four grown-up boys, thinking "I'm here for them, not here for me", until she realised she should have outgrown that belief. "She changed her belief instantly to 'actually, this is my time' and it transformed her life."
Repetition is key, and using Post-it notes and changing screensavers and passwords to the new belief can help reinforce this.
Thompson says we need to assign the same importance to our body battery as we do to our phone battery. "Our body has its own little battery monitor, but we ignore it. We say, 'I know you're saying I'm only at 18 per cent but I think you're lying, what you're really saying is I need a trim flat white'. We override our natural body indicator in a way that we would never disrespect our phone. A six-minute walk around the block could charge us up from 26 to 40 per cent!"
Splitting our focus has a massive negative impact on mental energy and concentration, Thompson says.
"We make mistakes and overlook things and it reduces our productivity. When we have things on our to-do list and we say, 'definitely tomorrow, definitely next week', it's like having Google Maps running in the background. It sucks our energy because it's always there and we're not dealing with it."
Thompson's advice is to "eat a frog" early in the day when our energy and focus is generally highest. The "frog" is an unpleasant task we don't want to deal with and if we don't eat it/get it done early, it will ruin our day.
"If you eat the frog first, you get eight hours of feeling good. It's like closing an app in the background," she says.
She recommends being disciplined enough not to check emails first thing because we'll immediately be splitting our focus.
"Our email inbox is everyone else's agenda. Take an hour first thing to go offline, concentrate on your agenda and eat the frog."
Thompson says easy integration is everything. "There are many wellbeing options that are well-intentioned but they're so complicated that no one will keep them up when life gets busy and stressful. I'm often asked, 'which yoga class would you recommend?' and I say, 'the one you can go to'. It needs to be at a time that works with your schedule, has good parking and makes it easy for you to make a change."
She says the key to a successful outcome is to make small changes consistently and aim for progress, not perfection.