Life hacks for “Always On” Women

Womenlines is delighted to welcome Jenn Villalobos, VP & Head of Digital Business @ NTUC Income as a Guest Influencer for Corporate tips section in Womenlines. In this article, Jenn is sharing smart energy management hacks for women who are always on for work –

I clearly remember my first burn out. It came out of nowhere and when I least expected it.

I was walking down my work’s emergency stairs (you know, the ones you take instead of the lift to hit that 12,000 daily steps Fitbit goal) when my phone flew out of my hands and in a clumsy attempt to save it, I lunged forward – in heels – to try to catch it. Instead. I came crashing down bruising my elbows and scraping my knees. I also injured my right wrist. But because I was running late for a meeting, I quickly dusted myself off and proceeded to my business. Somehow the stress-induced adrenaline kept me going. After the meeting ended, I tried to stand up but my legs wouldn’t respond. Everyone had left except a college who turned around and sarcastically said: “Come on Jenn, aren’t you going to race me to the next meeting?”

I looked up at her and started shaking uncontrollably. No tears. No words. Just responding to a freezing sensation like I was sinking to the bottom of the Arctic Sea. My colleague hugged me, really hard for about 10 minutes until I stopped shaking. She then snatched my laptop away and held my hands: “‘look at your palms, Jenn: they are bruised”! She called a cab and sent me home. That day, I lied in bed all day scaring the living daylights out of my husband and children because they have never seen mommy sick and silent.
But here is the thing: I love being “Always On”. I want to keep parenting intensely, working passionately and leading bravely; so slowing down is not my fabric setting. I had to consciously figure out a way to manage my energy and presence without burning out. As a wise mentor once told me: “It’s all about achieving predictable sustainable growth”.

Therefore, I started studying and researching Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – this was the temporary diagnosis the doctor gave me – and started following online, individuals who have successfully learned to manage their disease naturally. I then proceeded to use myself as a test subject to some of their advice. Though CFS is a serious disease that paralyzes about 24 million people globally (*) many have successfully overcome their suffering by changing how they do things in life.

Based on my research and self-experimentation, here are my modified Top 6 Energy Management Hacks for Women who like to be “Always On”.

1. – Be Mindful of your Full Circle: Waking up and falling to sleep happens to be the most impactful moments of our daily lives. But more than often, we let biology and caffeine do the heavy lifting. Moreover, once we become parents we become utterly aware of the importance of keeping a healthy sleep routine for our children but we perversely forget we need sleep and wake up routines too. I have found that taking control of my wake-up and sleep routines, allows me to come ‘full circle”.
Set up an Intent for the day: If you set an intention for the day before you get out of bed, you will have a higher likelihood of becoming more productive throughout. For example, if your intent is to finish a task that you have procrastinated over such as: “Today I will finish that white paper”; that verbalized thought will accompany you as a priority. Chances are, you will be closer to finishing your task, stress-free and without the time constraints you are used to as a “last-minute”
Reflect before you close our eyes: Don’t let your phone screen be the last thing you see before you close your eyes. Instead, find a point in the ceiling and ask yourself: “Why did I or did not finish that white paper?”’. Most likely, you will find insights about your behaviour that will help you consciously inform a better decision for the next day. For example, perhaps you realized that you need to set better boundaries when accepting meeting requests and giving too much of your time or that turning off email when writing works wonders.

2. – Swap the Coffee for Matcha: If you need your cup of coffee in the morning to function, try Matcha instead. No sugar, no milk. Matcha has a better caffeine kick than coffee because it releases slowly throughout the day giving you sustained focus and alertness. No more caffeine sugar crashes that make you have to go for coffee break mid-morning or midafternoon. Not to mention, the art of preparing Matcha is quite beautiful. It forces you to be mindful and perhaps it’s a good time to set out your intentions for the day,

3. – Stretch and release muscle tension for 5 minutes every day: I’m not asking you to become a pretzel or a Yoga instructor but to build out the daily habit of releasing your muscles and their tightness. Now, everybody is different but you know exactly which muscle group is a ‘’high tension spot”. Don’t ignore it. I tend to feel tightness in my lower body at night time. So I now keep a cheap yoga mat next to my bed. Before I hop in, I stretch my lower back, calves. etc. You can use a tennis ball to do pressure point on specific areas or you can invest in one of those fancy roller releasers. Whatever it is, don’t get into bed or start your day without stretching.

4. – Minimize your communication apps/channels: The truth is we have more apps than what they need. If you are finding yourself in this fragmented communication maze of chat apps, social apps, professional apps, personal email, work emails, calendars and you are constantly opening and closing screens; then you are most likely to create unnecessary tasks, waste time, miss appointments, forget birthdays and create stress. Managing your time will become a living hell. The best way to simplify is to see the app usage on your phone. Delete the ones that have little usage. (I also use File Go to clean up my phone regularly) If you find that your social media apps are taking all the space and time then de-couple work from personal communications and set different times of the day to engage. For example, I stick to no more than 2 forms of communications throughout my workday. I only use WhatsApp and work email. I will mute all personal related contacts and don’t open LinkedIn Twitter. Facebook and or personal Gmail until after working hours.
Insight Tip: you don’t need to be on every social media platform to be digitally savvy and you should not feel guilty for not posting a story on Instagram every day. The people who matter will get hold of you one way or the other.

5. – Forego the perfect mommy role and play: I know this one is hard. We want to be great mothers, so you want to be best for your kid. Here is the thing: your kid may or may not appreciate the freshly baked batch of Halloween cupcakes you made for the school overnight, but they will always appreciate the quality attention you give them. The best gift you can give a child is your time. And time is not picking up dropping off at school, helping them with homework, putting them to sleep. Time is actual hangout time. Playtime. This means that other priorities will take the hit. So instead of arriving home and getting into your routine of making sure food is ready, house clean and uniform set; once in a while just let go and sit cross-legged in your work clothes with your kid to build that Lego, play the video game, play hide and seek, put on makeup on the doll. Whatever your kid is into just playing with your child and enjoy being one too once in a while. You will both the grateful for it.

Insight Tip: Don’t ask your kid about their day. Especially if their teenagers and you don’t want to get the over the top eye roll. Ask them something different about their interest at the moment. Ignite their curiosity by being curious about their hopes and fears. They will feel valued and listened to. Not just bossed around or feeling judged.

6. – Practice Mindfulness: According to its “creator” Jon Kabat-Zinn, Mindfulness is an awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally. It’s a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. What is great is that mindfulness has been scientifically proven to enhance performance and bring a much more responsive sense to one’s lives. The practice of mindfulness has nothing to do with sitting still trying to achieve Nirvana but the ability to understand how one’s thoughts, emotions and sensations can distort the moment. It’s been incorporated into many corporate leadership programs as well as schools and even preschools. Why? Because its practice works. It reduces reactivity and stress; it increases the overall sense of wellbeing and it gives people clarity of mind. Sadly, it’s not digested in a pill and the only way to see its benefit is by practising it. I did MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) 8-week course twice with a great company called Life Steps and I have never looked back. However, It requires time and discipline. If you feel you are not sure how to get started, I would recommend you download Calm or Headspace. These apps have many aided support to get you started. I personally love the deep sleep guided meditation that uses a body scan to snug you to bed.
These small hacks have changed how I approach stress and I may still be my usual busy body but I have stopped ignoring my the pre-emptive signals my body gives me to say: “Hey, slow down” before it’s too late,

Thank you
Jenn

(*) According to the CDC, there are currently more than one million people in the U.S. with ME/CFS. Worldwide, there may be as many as 17 – 24 million

 

 

Jenn Villalobos 

VP & Head of Digital Business @ NTUC Income

 

Jenn is passionate about helping incumbents become disruption-ready. She loves to inspire both founders and marketing leaders to make bolder innovation bets to achieve positive business impact. During her 12 year tenure at Google Jenn helped Brands like Singapore Airlines, P&G, IHG, Sony, LG, Lazada, LÓreal and Starwood develop their marketing’s tactical capacity to drive exceptional business results in digital marketing. In her current role, Jenn enables Income’s Innovation arm to assess the commercial viability of New Businesses Models through strategic partnerships.

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