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Want to know how to get more done in a day with less stress?

Hands up if you’d describe your schedule as busy.

Let me guess: you have an ever-expanding things to do list and race from one task to the next.  Am I right?

If you’re anything like me, you’re hardwired to try and squeeze more and more things into your day. I mean, there’s just SO much to get done, isn’t there?

We hurl ourselves from one task to the next, stress levels sky-high, often attempting (and failing) to do several things at once or frantically blinking at what’s to be done.

Something’s got to give, right? And breakfast or lunch seem the obvious things to cull from your diary. And so food gets jettisoned to the bottom of our list as we crack on.

“Lunch? Pah, no time for that! Too much to do!”

It’s something I see all the time in my corporate wellness workshops: bright, ultra-dedicated people desperately trying to be and do their very best at work and attempting to squeeze every last drop of productivity into their days by going without any proper fuel (I don’t count pseudo-fuel like energy drinks).

But here’s the thing. Far from allowing us to get that bit more work done, this approach actually sabotages us. We end up wasting valuable time by muddling around in a brain fog, making mistakes (that will cost more time to rectify), not thinking clearly, crashing around in an endless, and very stressful, chase…but not actually making real progress.

Isn’t it amazing how we can blind ourselves to the simple truth that we get diminishing returns from driving on empty?

Just imagine for a moment that you were going to drive across Europe. You’d probably want to check your car was properly serviced and had its water and oil topped up. You’d most certainly fill it with petrol. That’s kind of obvious, I know.  And yet, how often do we apply that same common sense to ourselves? Hmmmm.

As Stephen Covey put it in his classic book The Seven Habits of Effective People, you have to “sharpen the saw”.  In other words, to be more effective, you have to make yourself more effective. After all, what tool is more important to your success than yourself? There will never be a software program, or a spreadsheet or qualification that will ever come close to being as effective a performance-enhancer as how you fuel and care for your own body.

Here’s one of the most important lessons you’ll ever learn. And it’s not one we’re taught at school, at university, business school or at work. You will make yourself more effective by prioritising your own wellbeing. You’ll also reduce those damaging, self-sabotaging stress levels into the bargain.

So, how do you do that? By making time and space to eat proper, nutritious food at the appropriate times. By keeping yourself hydrated. By regularly taking a couple of minutes to switch yourself off and take a few deep breaths so that your stress hormones subside and you can actually think clearly enough to know what the most important thing is for you to do right now. By moving regularly – even if it’s just a brisk 20 minute walk. By getting enough quality sleep. It’s all simple, fundamental stuff, isn’t it? But, I know as well as you that it can seem very daunting to get from where you might be now to adopting these as daily habits.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, just choose one thing to start with: like drinking a glass of water when you wake up and then again before each meal. Or getting up five minutes earlier to have a proper breakfast. Or walking to a regular appointment or destination instead of driving. Just start somewhere. Don’t worry about doing it all: commit to taking one little step, no matter how small, and then take it.

To see what happens when you “sharpen the saw”, I invite you to take a look at this two minute video. It shows a glimpse of the transformation that comes about when you put a bit more focus on your own wellbeing. Have a look at the results and then ask yourself this: what pill could bring about these effects? (answer: none). What did bring about these momentous changes were a few little tweaks to the diet. Do bear in mind that these are not celebrities with an army of chefs and personal trainers; nor did they go on one of those wellness spa retreats in Thailand you read about in the Sunday papers. They are simply normal, hardworking, busy people who made a few little changes to what they ate/drank and watched their health and productivity transform within weeks and sometimes within days.

They have the same number of hours in a day as they did before – but now they can do so much more with those hours.

And if they can do it, you can do it too.

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