In the next weeks and possibly months you will probably work from home. Not just that, you will spend all of your time at home in isolation. We know that we will. This can be stressful. Work from home has its own challenges and sometimes it is hard to keep the productivity at a high level and in this particular situation keep…well, the sanity. The situation is not easy, but it is not dire either. It is important that we all keep ourselves healthy, but we need to work even harder to keep the economy healthy as well and avoid 2008. scenario. That is why we share one tip for mental wellbeing and productivity each day on our LinkedIn page. We hope that these will help you build a routine in these hard times and keep yourself healthy and productive.

Also, so you don’t go crazy at home we run 50% “emergency discount” on our ebook offers. Other bigger platforms like Ivy League and Pluralsite are offering free content, so you can use this isolation period to learn something new. What all of us can do is use this time best that we can and come out better and stronger on the other end. Let’s use this period to reflect on our behavior and figure out how to fix the damage that this pandemic cause

TIP #1 – Cold Shower

Start your day with a cold shower. This sounds like a draconic measure, but this measure actually became a hot trend. In fact, this is one of the best ways to mitigate stress levels and boosting mental strength. Yes, it is hard in the beginning but that is the point. We want to build our resistance against that which makes us uncomfortable. And this whole COVID-19 situation is uncomfortable, to put it lightly. During this process, you will practice something called – voluntary discomfort. Essentially, you are training the mind to lead the body rather than the other way around. The cool thing is that it is not only positive for the mind but physical benefits as well:

  • Reduces Stress and Boosts The Immune System
  • Improves Brain Function and Treats Depression
  • Increases Fat Loss

“Standing under freezing cold showers every morning, – I did that. I got up to seven minutes most mornings, and it actually works; it immunizes your body, and your body starts getting used to the cold. It really works.” – Liam Nelson

“Nothing has given me more mental confidence than being able to go straight from room temperature into the cold…Especially in the morning, going into an ice-cold tub from just being warm in bed is—it just unlocks this thing in my mind and I feel like if I can will myself to do that thing that seems so small but hurts so much, I can do nearly anything.” – Aubrey Marcus

“The body should be treated more rigorously, that it may not be disobedient to the mind.” — Seneca 

TIP #2 – Journaling

What do Virginia Woolf, Theodore Roosevelt, Marcus Aurelius, Anne Frank and Oscar Wilde all have in common? They journaled. Some did it in the morning and some at night. Some captured moments of glory, and other moments of pain. In general, I try to journal every day. It is a part of my morning and my evening routine. In the morning, I prepare for the day ahead and in the evening I review day and look for places where I can improve. What I have found out is that this activity is good for all aspects of my life: professional, personal and spiritual.

There are many “out of the box” diaries available at the market, however, I am a bit old-school and I use a plain black notebook. Morning entries are composed of few sections:

  • Gratitude – Remembering that everything is all right, and being grateful for my health and all the people in my life.
  • Values – Every morning I remind myself of my values, keeping myself aligned with the day ahead.
  • Affirmations – My long-ish term goals. Where I see myself in a year or so.
  • Goals – Three most important goals that I should achieve that day.

Apart from that, I read one page of from the book Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of LivingDaily Stoic  by Rayan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman.

In the evening, I do so-called Reflections where I look into the day that passed and see what I’ve could have done better. Scientific research to support journaling is compelling:

  • Journaling at the end of the day can have a 25% increase in performance.
  • It can improve well-being after traumatic and stressful events.
  • Writing reflects clear thinking, and in turn, clear communication.
  • It decreases emotional distress in though situations.
  • Journaling before bed decreases cognitive stimulus, rumination, and worry, allowing you to fall asleep faster.

“I don’t do it to find great ideas, or to put down prose I can later publish. The pages aren’t intended for anyone but me…I’m trying to figure things out…I’m just caging my monkey mind on paper so I can get on with my fucking day.” –  Tim Ferris

“Scholars, amateur scientists, aspiring men of letters—just about anyone with intellectual ambition…was likely to keep a commonplace book. In its most customary form, “commonplacing,” as it was called, involved transcribing interesting or inspirational passages from one’s reading, assembling a personalized encyclopedia of quotations.” – Steven Johnson

“Few care now about the marches and countermarches of the Roman commanders. What the centuries have clung to is a notebook of thoughts by a man whose real life was largely unknown who put down in the midnight dimness not the events of the day or the plans of the morrow, but something of far more permanent interest, the ideals and aspirations that a rare spirit lived by.” – Brand Blanshard

TIP #3 – Stop Drinking Coffee

Ok, at this moment bunch of you will stop reading these posts, because they will think I am making fun of them. A better subtitle for this chapter should be – stop drinking coffee habitually. To be completely honest, I love coffee and this is something I started practicing only a couple of months ago. In fact, I’ve picked up this practice while I was listening to The Productivity Project: Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention, and Energy audiobook by Chris Baley. One of the challenges of the book is to cut off on all stimulative substances for a couple of weeks and find your natural energy flow during the day. At that moment, I was a big coffee drinker, drinking for at least two cups of coffee each day for more than 15 years. So, I figured “Let’s give it a shot (not a shot of espresso)”. As it turned out, like any addiction, if you put your mind to it, you will accomplish it (I’ve kicked out cigarettes 3 years ago with the same attitude). It is not that hard and for me, it was eye-opening.

You see, after a while you build caffeine resistance and it just doesn’t affect you in the same way it was once you started drinking it. Plus, there is a lot of research that shows that coffee is not good for your health at all. Your adrenalin and thyroid gland work much faster and this is boosting your anxiety levels. It messes up your sleep patterns as well. Today, I drink coffee only when I have an especially challenging and important task, and I feel low on energy that day. I also drink it more than 10 hours before I go to bed. Benefits? No more energy crashes, anxiety under control, better sleep, no addiction.

“If you need coffee to get all your work done, you may not have an energy level problem. Rather, you might have a problem with your workload, your management practices or the deadlines you’re setting for yourself.” – Chris Bailey

TIP #4 – Morning Yoga

After a couple of advice curveballs, I suggest one normal activity. I am a big fan of working out in the morning. I used to do HITs and Crossfit in the morning, before I realized this that gyms, well, are really not my cup of tea (more on this in a couple of days). Apart from that, I’ve been practicing Yoga on and off for 6 years now, so I decided to integrate it into my morning routine. That turned out to be a good decision. We will all sit a lot during the isolation and that is why it is important to stretch out. Also, Yoga is great preparation for meditation (more on that later). In fact, it is a meditation of its own. It is really cool if you can do every move slowly and in sync with your breath. That way, you will get the most out of it. The main goal is not just to physical exercise, but to slow down before a busy day, work on your mindfulness and get more in tune with your body. Benefits are many:

  • Increased flexibility, muscle strength and tone.
  • Improved respiration, energy and vitality.
  • Maintaining a balanced metabolism.
  • Mindfulness and getting more aware of your body and movement.

“Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self.” – The Bhagavad Gita

“I love yoga. I like Y7, and it’s good for the independent-minded yogi who isn’t there for group therapy. They turn up hip-hop really loud. They’ll blast A Tribe Called Quest. And it’s about 90 degrees in the room. When it’s super cold out, it’s a necessary visit. — Olivia Wilde

“The word ‘yoga’ literally means ‘uniting’, because when you’re doing it you’re uniting your mind and your body. You can tell this almost immediately because your mind will be thinking, ‘Ouch, that hurts,’ and your body will say, ‘I know’. And your mind will think, ‘You have to get out of this position.’ And your body will say, ‘I agree with you, but I can’t right now. I think I’m stuck.’” —Ellen Degeneres

TIP #5 – Meditation

I guess you could see this one coming, right? Our minds are bombarded with millions of information pretty much constantly. Notifications and ads are now popping up from our fruit bowls at this point. We even do it to ourselves, instead of taking five minutes off everything and sped just a bit time with ourselves, we fall for our dopamine addiction. We check emails every five minutes and our social media every two minutes. You can try to deny it, but you know I am right. Meditation can help us to slow down and find some time for ourselves and “self-retreat”. It can help us get our time back.

Now, I’ve discovered meditation during my time at the university and up until this point I meditate for about a decade. This is the most important daily practice for me. If I skip meditation for a couple of days I lose my edge and my patience. Doing meditation completely changed me as a person. I was this cranky arrogant know-it-all when I was 20 or so. I’ve hurt a lot of people because of the way I behaved, even my friends and family. Meditation led me to the path of self-examination and finding errs in my ways. It led me to the path of acceptance and forgiveness. It to the path of constant self-improvement. I am on this trip to this day.

How do you do it? Sit comfortably with your back reasonably straight. Bring your full attention to the feeling of your breath coming in and going out. Pick a spot where’s it’s most prominent: your nose, your chest, your belly, wherever. When your mind starts running wild (and it will) you gently focus on your breath again. That is it.

When I bring meditation up, a lot of people tell me that their religion doesn’t allow them to do that, since meditation comes from Buddhism. Now, even though some may consider that Buddhism has a religious aspect to it, in my opinion, Buddhism is philosophy. It is not a religion, but an extension of your beliefs. To these people I always show a quote from Thich Nhat Hanh: “There is a misconception that Buddhism is a religion, and that you worship Buddha. Buddhism is a practice, like yoga. You can be a Christian and practice Buddhism. I met a Catholic priest who lives in a Buddhist monastery in France. He told me that Buddhism makes him a better Christian. I love that.”

List of benefits is huge, here are some of them:

  • Reduces Stress
  • Controls Anxiety
  • Promotes Emotional Health
  • Enhances Self-Awareness
  • Lengthens Attention Span
  • May Reduce Age-Related Memory Loss
  • Can Generate Kindness

Some research even shows that this is the only period during the day when our mind rests. Yes, not even during the sleep you don’t recover as much as during meditation.

“I mean the whole thing about meditation and yoga is about connecting to the higher part of yourself, and then seeing that every living thing is connected in some way.” —Gillian Anderson

“Meditation is all about the pursuit of nothingness. It’s like the ultimate rest. It’s better than the best sleep you’ve ever had. It’s a quieting of the mind. It sharpens everything, especially your appreciation of your surroundings. It keeps life fresh.” — Hugh Jackman

“You have to be burning with an idea, or a problem, or a wrong that you want to right. If you’re not passionate enough from the start, you’ll never stick it out.” ― Steve Jobs

“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” — Thich Nhat Hanh 

TIP #6 – Wake up at the Same Time

In the end, here is seemingly easy advice and somewhat boring. Just wake up at the same time every morning. It looks straight forward right? However, this means that you wake up at the same time at weekends and on vacations. This can come as hard one to the people with intense social life, which makes it a perfect habit to build during the isolation period. I am sure people with kids will have no problem with this one 🙂

Why is waking up at the same time important for productivity and mental wellbeing? Well, this way you will sync up your Circadian rhythm, get to sleep better and build your discipline muscle. Once you have selected your wake time, consider whether it is feasible. This isn’t about making yourself into an early bird if you are not. It is not about changing your natural rhythm. Consider your own body and pick up time that you can maintain in the long run. 

Benefits:

  • Better sleep
  • Easier to wake up
  • Less morning sleep inertia
  • Easier to fall asleep (less insomnia)
  • Decreased sleep deprivation
  • Fewer naps
  • Reduced caffeine dependence 

Conclusion

Ok, in this first week we covered morning routine. Mornings are special because if you start your day in the right way the rest of the day will follow.  “Win the mornings and you will win the day”. The morning flow goes something like this: wake up at the same time each morning and take a cold shower, skip coffee and journal, do yoga and meditate. After that, have a healthy breakfast. It should take you about an hour and a half up to two hours to finish all this, so keep that in mind when you are planning your day. I hope that this advice is going to help you during these times and that we will all become better human beings once this is all done. As Winston Churchill once said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste“.

Stay healthy and stay strong. 

Thank you for reading.

Nikola M. Zivkovic

Nikola M. Zivkovic

CAIO at Rubik's Code

Nikola M. Zivkovic a CAIO at Rubik’s Code and the author of book “Deep Learning for Programmers“. He is loves knowledge sharing, and he is experienced speaker. You can find him speaking at meetups, conferences and as a guest lecturer at the University of Novi Sad.

Rubik’s Code is a boutique data science and software service company with more than 10 years of experience in Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence & Software development. Check out the services we provide.

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