We are in the awkward, growing-your-hair-out stage of a new world. Things are changing rapidly enough that we’re still playing catch-up with life. So, while I hate to interrupt this week’s fresh journey into the surreal, I sure would love to see you at your best. That’s why I want to summarize a few of the things we’ve learned about exercise for mood and focus while working from (or otherwise spending a ton of time at) home.
Your time for deep work and high levels of focus is limited
A few hours at best. Zero hours at worst.
This time is incredibly valuable when it comes to whatever your top priorities are—from doing great work to being present for the things that truly matter. Maximizing your uptime requires setting yourself up for success.
You’re not a robot
As someone who identifies religiously as an Autobot, I too have had to come to terms with this. However, there’s no manual override here. Willpower helps but you can’t force this state into being. Your best options for control are:
The right task at the right time
Circadian rhythms are the first place to look here. Your day naturally has peaks and valleys when it comes to mental acuity. For most, early in the day is the best time for processing-intensive (or willpower-intensive) tasks.
Likewise, most of take a bit of a dive during the midday before rallying later on. You don’t need to beat yourself up about not being super-productive these down periods. This is an excellent time for low-intensity movement—like a walk or traditional steady-state cardio. Another way to think of this is that if you can’t do great work, you might just want to do no work. Some people call this taking a break—and it’s supposed to be out of sight.
You can also nap, you know?
Twenty years from now, when you’re teaching your grandchildren about the Great Stonk Uprising of 2021, they will ask you about the old days. Specifically, if you used to nap for 10-20 minutes in the afternoons when you had the freedom to do so. If the answer is no, I hope you have a great reason. Life on Mars will be tough enough.
Control yourself (before you doom scroll yourself)
Shaping the path means managing your environment—and often controlling distractions. If something consistently your attention, the simplest thing might be to make your distractions invisible and/or inaccessible for a while. Especially with anything that might pull you into a cognitive tunnel.
Priming yourself means recognizing the pre-game rituals that you might need for success. I don’t mean wearing a golden thong—like MLB player Jason Giambi used to —but instead asking what kind of exercise will help you function at your best.
This may mean prioritizing executive function, emotion regulation, or cognitive acuity—among other qualities. Depending—respectively—on whether you need to prioritize concentration, calm, or learning and problem-solving.
Create partitions and transitions
We’re used to relying on the constraints and opportunities that “normal” workdays offer. Things are different now. So, the proverbial water cooler is now something you’ll have to create. It’s now up to you to create transition moments, breaks, and slack—for both variety and rest.
The next thing I want to draw your attention to is posture. Well, more like positions. If you’re noticing more sitting-related pain, you’re not the only one. The lack of variety in positions is compounded by the sheer amount of time we’re spending in them.
A simple experiment
Think about the biggest tasks that occupy your time. Consider changing your position for each one. This could mean kneeling, standing, or even just sitting in a different way.
Use movement and exercise to transition between tasks
You’ve got a meeting in five. Yes, you could grind through until notifications start going off. OR you could get up, move around, and do a mental reset through movement. You may even want to consider a short workout. This is not just about the exercise—it’s also about intentionally creating more variety of experience for the sake of staying mentally fresh. We’ve been doing this at Bang with Microworkouts—super-quick movement integrations throughout your day.
None of these things work without awareness
What that all really means is that you need to recognize the culprits that pull you out of focus or flow. If you can’t see them coming, you can’t dodge them. Dealing with them after they’ve built up almost invariably takes longer.
If you want a reason for practicing mindfulness, this is a good one. The ability to simply stop and observe without action is priceless. It allows you to take control over your focus and not have your mood pushed and pulled by emotions. You don’t have to attend every party you’re invited to. You also don’t have to take action on every thought. There’s a big difference, though, between knowing this intellectually and being able to practice it. It is a skill that you develop. Exercise can help.
Get team support
At work, this means communicating with your team about what kinds of breaks and schedules work best for you. I have found workplaces to be surprisingly open to this and would encourage you to start a conversation about it.
Or a cohort…
If you would like to take an organized approach to apply the details in this email, our new program is just for you. Join other fine humans in learning about the crossover points where exercise meets mindfulness.
If you have questions on exercise for mood and focus—or need some financial support on this—get in touch and we’ll figure something out. That’s because generous humans—like Jill Metsaranta—have donated money to support others through this program. We’re going to be doubling all contributions.