(Photo by Flickr user Mikhail Esteves, used under a Creative Commons license)
In my two years as the community manager of Philly coworking space Venturef0rth, I spent a lot of time observing startup culture.
Here’s what it looked like: a ton of coffee, long working hours, pizza all the time, lots of craft beer, free donuts and more coffee.
Don’t get me wrong — free food and happy hours are a great and really fun part of the coworking/startup world. But I noticed that so many of these hardworking people didn’t really make the connection between healthy living, feeling happy and getting stuff done.
The tech world is a whole lot of hustle. All entrepreneurs and startup employees work seriously hard to build awesome products and companies. They all seem to want the same things — more energy to get stuff done, better focus to get stuff done, and less stress all the while.
What if I told you healthy living was the key to all of that?
Let’s break it down:
1. Want more energy? Eat good food.
Our bodies intuitively know how to make us perform at our best; all you need to do is treat your body well. Consider this: Food may just be the most important part of our lives, since it literally builds our bodies and keeps us alive. Shouldn’t the food we eat be the best quality possible?
Don’t: Weigh yourself down with junk food
When you eat junk food, your body tells you, “dude, that stuff is no good,” and something manifests in your body to indicate something is off: your energy plummets, or you fall into a food coma, or you get a headache, or you get into a bad mood. Then, you reach for something to wake or cheer you up – coffee, caffeine pills, sweets, etc – and then your energy spikes and crashes again. The cycle continues.
Do: Fuel your body with real food (fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, legumes)
When you start eating real, whole foods (no, not Soylent), your body gets what it needs to give you natural energy. Avoid the energy crash before it happens! Just stop by the grocery store on Sunday, pick up some nuts, seeds and dried fruit to make your own trail mix and pick up 5 bananas and 5 apples for every day of the work week. Boom. Good to go.
2. Want to focus better? Get some sleep.
Spoiler alert: staying up all night and getting little sleep doesn’t help you be more productive and efficient. Sure, it can be fun to stay up late hacking and coding, but you’d better have a boss who’s cool with you sleeping in. Think you’re totally fine with little sleep? You can’t mess with science, people.
Don’t: Skip or skimp on sleep
Our bodies are built to recharge as we sleep and depriving ourselves of this necessary rest just makes it a lot harder to focus during the work day. When you don’t get enough sleep, your memory functioning decreases and you don’t retain information as well. It also makes you cranky and often depressed. It definitely won’t help you write some kickass code or make that awesome sales call or design a super creative website.
Do: Get 7-9 hours of sleep each night
Can’t fall asleep easily at night? Try switching up your bedtime routine. You think about work all day long, so give yourself some “you” time before bed to relax and read a book, stretch, write, etc. And I’m sure you’ve heard this one before — turn off the technology an hour before you go to sleep. The blue light in those screens suppresses melatonin, which is what naturally helps ease us into sleep.
3. Want to be less stressed? Slow down, take a break, and maybe even meditate.
We often confuse being busy with being productive. In the startup world, there’s this sense that you have to go go go, harder, better, faster, stronger to get the most done. But science tells us that’s not really the right mindset. The opposite is true: slowing down our minds and learning how to stay in the present moment can actually change our brains to function better.
Don’t: Ignore stress or overwork yourself without a break
When we are constantly dwelling on the past or worrying about the future, our brains are on constant overdrive. So many people end up operating at this level of heightened stress, and this wreaks havoc on our bodies: headaches, stomach aches, ulcers, tension, heart issues. When we forget to take breaks, or we think it’s weak to take a break, something (usually our happiness) will suffer.
Do: Give your brain a rest and practice mindfulness
Practice being more mindful in the present. Walk to meetings across the city or as part of your commute, or sit on a bench outside at lunch, and actually notice what’s around you. Try sensory deprivation. Instead of thinking about the 87 things you have to do in the first hour of the work day when you sit down at your desk, start by taking three deep breaths before opening your computer and calming your brain. Try waking up each day and taking five or ten minutes to sit still and focus on breathing. Hey look, you just meditated!
4. A challenge for the tech scene
There’s likely a level of functioning above where you’re at — one where you’re working more efficiently with more energy, less stress and, usually, a little more happiness. You just need to make a few healthy changes to get there.
What can you start doing today to bring a little more health and happiness into your life?