My days were consumed by a seemingly endless flow of busywork. I never found time to write my novel. I felt frustrated, less joyful and tired. In quiet reflection, I realized that I was so busy doing good work that I had no time left to do my great work. In quiet reflection, I decided to take better care of myself so that I could do work that makes my heart sing.

I credit Michael Bungay Stanier, author of Do More Great Work and Get Unstuck & Get Going, for helping me create the following self-care action steps:

  • Get enough sleep. Wake up without an alarm and spend a few moments breathing and praying before you get out of bed. We can operate on six hours of sleep a night. But most of us feel better getting eight hours. We pay a price for sleep deprivation. Going 17 hours without sleeping is like you’ve got a .05 blood alcohol reading. For 21 hours without sleep, it’s a .08 blood alcohol reading.
  • Set daily goals. A long “to do” list can feel overwhelming and limit your effectiveness. Begin each day by choosing one high-impact action you most want to complete. Then pick two bonus “gravy” tasks – great if you get to them, but not a stick to beat yourself up with if you don’t. Starting each day, check back on yesterday’s tasks.
  • Choose who you spend time with. Avoid spending time with people who distract, drain, discourage and disable you. Make time to hang out with people who stretch you and remind you of your brilliance, as well as your blind spots.
  • Decide who matters. If everyone else is happy, then you’re likely not doing Great Work. Great Work involves making choices. Be very clear about who you want to say “Yes” to, and who matters less. Say “No” to some Good Work so you have time for Great Work. Master the art of saying “Yes” slowly by asking at least three questions before you make a decision.
  • Cut down on meetings. Meetings can seem to expand endlessly to fill the time available. Decide which are the most ineffective meetings you’re asked to attend. Then stop attending them. Ask to be sent a list of action items instead.
  • Manage email. Our culture of relentless connectedness disrupts our focus and our ability to do Great Work. Answering 150 e-mails a day is no one’s definition of Great Work. Try avoiding email until after lunch. Aim for short replies of no more than four sentences. Consider putting this “out of office reply” on every email: “I typically respond to email three days after receipt. If this requires a more urgent response, please call me.” When going on vacation, try this “out of office reply”: “I will not read this, ever. On my return from vacation on [date], please resend this email if it is still important and relevant.” Then keep your promise and boldly delete all awaiting emails when you return.
  • Change your work place. Starting the day by sitting at your desk, turning on your computer and cranking through emails sets your body and brain into Good Work mode – productivity and efficiency. If you want to do Great Work, you need to think differently. Change where you work. Go to a different part of your office, another room, coffee shop or library. Changing your work context changes the way you think.
  • Avoid internet information overload. What you want is wisdom and meaning. Amongst all the chaff of the internet, there are kernels of genius. Create your top 10 reading list of sources that inspire, provoke, make you laugh and remind you of what’s good in humanity. Limit your friends on Facebook. Do you really want to read what 400 people write? Shut off anything that’s noisier than it is useful. Pick a handful of sincere good people to be your influencers.

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