How are you feeling this Monday morning? Like you’ve had an energising and refreshing weekend, and now ready to start a new week? Or like the days are all blurred together, the boundary between rest” time and “work” time nothing but a foggy idea, a distant dream that fades quicker every time you try and catch hold of it.
At the best of times, many of us struggle with setting the boundary between work and rest. Rest is often inadequate, leading to unproductive work, and so a vicious cycle is perpetuated: longer hours, lower productivity, procrastination and distraction, curtailed and unsatisfying time off – often spent worrying about the to-do list for the next day. From talking with colleagues, it seems to me that these problems have been all the more exacerbated by lockdowns and working from home. Lack of physical separation between work space and rest space, lack of external sources of entertainment, lack of structure and routine, can only serve to heighten the blur between boundaries.
Yet at the same time, working from home, with the time saved on commuting and greater flexibility in the day, can present a golden opportunity to actually establish and maintain an excellent routine to suit one’s individual needs.
It is a simple principle that can be hard to implement in practice, but the key to greater work productivity and more satisfying rest is to be fully present in whatever phase you are in. So, if you make the time to practice yoga but spend the majority of your time thinking about the work you need to do after you finish, the benefits of your yoga practice will be drastically limited. You’ll go back to your tasks after, thinking of how much you want the working day to end so you can relax with a glass of wine, whatever your preferred way of unwinding might be.
How, then, to break the cycle and become more present? Well there’s no quick fix and it takes time and practice, but one thing that has helped me significantly is focussing on how I start the day.
Every second in life, we have the chance to change our habits and our outlook for the better. But what better moment than each new dawn, to set the tone for the rest of the day?
I avoid my phone for at least half an hour after waking. Avoid any external influences and allow my mind and body to move naturally from its sleep state, into the alert and focussed state required to get my tasks done in the most productive and efficient way. During this “transition” phase, I typically avoid noise or conversation- even when living in shared spaces. I take a moment to observe my surroundings, look out the window, find something beautiful to marvel at- perhaps a bird, a tree or a cloud. Think of something or someone that I am grateful for, and focus on the energising and positive feeling of having that in my life.
It’s not always easy. Sometimes we wake feeling heavy and negative. Let those feelings be- they, too, are a part of you. Take a pen and, without thinking, scrawl some words in a journal. Release those emotions, and then put on a favourite song to help shift your mood.
Set an intention for the day. How do you want to live this day? How do you want to feel at the end of it?
Make a coffee. Not in a hurry and out of desperation to get a caffeine hit, but slowly and deliberately, noticing the smell of the beans and the warmth of your cup. I always grind my beans, prolonging the process and turning my first coffee of the day into a ritual that closes the door on sleep and rest, and prepares me for all that is to come.
The transition time between sleep and wakefulness is a precious dreamy moment where we can shape how the rest of our day will unfurl. We can’t change our external environment, but we can change our perception of external factors, and how we react.
Try it, and see how different you feel when you have taken the moment to wake up properly, stepping into the day with positivity, clarity and intention.