Why being fit is good for your career13th July 2012 in Balancing Career & Family
What better time to think about looking after yourself as the Olympics nudge closer. How can you escape thinking about your own fitness, when everywhere you turn someone is talking about the upcoming Games? (Did you see that even the pubs in London are making special arrangements? They’re stocking up on beer kegs to avoid potential shortages due to unexpected road closures). But what you might not have thought about is how taking care of yourself is actually good for business.
Peak Performance – Make Sure to Take Breaks
While it might be fantastic to be able to perform 24 x 7, our physical bodies weren’t designed that way. I certainly have the ambition to be productive most of the time, but the irony is when I don’t allow time for exercise (or other recreation), my productivity plummets. Many studies confirm this phenomenon. The Psychological Review published the results of a study in May 2011 (http://articles.businessinsider.com/2011-05-04/strategy/29976111_1_work-habits-great-success-bursts) which demonstrated that world-class violinists practised for four hours intensively followed by long breaks, while lower-achieving violinists were practising for seven hours straight.
Yes, I know corporate life doesn’t allow us the luxury of “long” breaks, but the point is the same. We need to have variety in our life – exercise and other personal diversions – to allow us to be the best at our game at work. This is where business meets fitness. When we are fit, we think clearly. After having exercised (even a simple walk), you’re more inclined to be in a positive frame of mind and able to be creative and solve problems (and there’s no shortage of those!) Ever notice that when you don’t take breaks (including holidays), both your enthusiasm and patience at work start to wane?
Physical Exercise – The Perfect Remedy for Stress Relief
Another major benefit of physical exercise is stress relief. At the start of my career in the City, I remember working for a manager who was completely mad about golf. We were growing a business in Europe, which meant we were competing for resources with our US office. Needless to say there were a lot of politics involved and we were under enormous pressure to expand our client base and increase the P&L of the European operation.
What amazed me is that under all this pressure, this guy seemed to be more interested in his handicap and which golf courses were near the client sites we were visiting than in growing the business. What I then realised was that this was his way of dealing with stress. And it did work brilliantly. He was always calm and strategic regardless of how difficult the circumstances were.
Golf may not be your game – it’s certainly not mine. But find that sport outside of work that you enjoy. In fact “sport” is probably overstating the case. Simply walking or even gardening can be extremely beneficial in increasing your activity level and benefiting from that natural “high”. Think about what you enjoy doing. If you can combine that interest with the interest of your significant other, even better. (I’m a firm believer in “couples that play together stay together”).
Work and Life – A Winning Combination to a Successful Career
Ever notice how shattered we are by the time Friday comes? In the latter part of my corporate career as a managing director in banking, I noticed how much better I performed on Fridays once I started going to the health club on Thursday evenings with my older son. (And it was also a perfect way to have a relationship with a teenager.) I was no longer prone to “short fuses” or reluctant to take on new ideas or challenges. I’m sure you too have tricky colleagues, and you’ve got to be well rested and calm to come up with the right strategy for the best outcome, even on Fridays!
I’m sure the other benefit to my outings to the health club with my son was the ability to switch off from work and think about him. What was happening in his life? At home he competed for attention with his siblings so trying to engage in a conversation was virtually impossible – he normally responded to any kind of interaction with grunting sounds! So it was the physical exercise combined with being “present” in my personal life that energised me for work the next day. This is why it’s so crazy that we often refer to “conflict” when talking about work and life. Having the two environments – both work and life – is actually what can create that balance, resulting in mental fitness and preparing us for success in our careers.
Sound counterintuitive? Think about it a minute. I know that if I didn’t have a family, for example, I would have burned-out on work years ago! My family keeps me grounded. They give me perspective. When I’m enjoying my personal life, my professional life benefits as I can bring more fun and energy to the workplace. Being fit – both mentally and physically – is not only good for you personally, but also critically important to being the best you can be at work. Remember, therefore, to include both physical exercise & personal time in your strategic career plan!