Your work environment can have a huge impact on the quality of your work, your physical and psychological health, relationships, and overall happiness.
As an entrepreneur, you have more freedom to create a healthy work environment than most people working a traditional job. Take advantage of that freedom and implement some of these changes to feel better, reduce stress, and increase your productivity!
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Follow the 20/20/20 rule.
Long hours staring at your computer screen can cause eyestrain. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of eyestrain include headache, blurred or double vision, difficulty concentrating, and more. It’s no joke!
Eye doctors recommend following the 20/20/20 rule to prevent eyestrain. Look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes. It’s that simple! If you have trouble remembering, there’s a great app called Eye Care 20 20 20 and a Chrome extension called eyeCare that will remind you.
Use a blue light filter in the evening.
Blue light panic has reached a fever pitch but contrary to what you may have read online, blue light isn’t the enemy. In fact, the sun is our biggest source of blue light! That said, blue light is only good during daylight hours. At night, it can mess with your circadian rhythm and keep you awake.
I’m highly skeptical of all the companies touting expensive “blue light glasses” that filter out blue light without distorting color. Blue light has a blue tint. I hate to break it to you but if your glasses don’t alter the color of your vision field to something less blue, they’re probably not filtering much of anything.
Luckily, there’s a fantastic alternative called f.lux, a free app that filters the blue light coming from your computer screen. What’s great about f.lux is that it follows the rhythms of the sun wherever you are. It gradually filters out more and more blue light as the sun goes down and you can customize the schedule and filter strength. If you’re working late on a design project that requires you to accurately see the colors on the screen, you can turn the filter off temporarily.
Stay connected to nature.
Humans evolved to be deeply connected to the natural world but we spend most of our time indoors, cut off from our natural habitat.
One study showed that workplace employees report a 15% increase in wellbeing when exposed to natural elements such as greenery and sunlight. Another study showed that a lack of access to nature can account for nearly 10% of employee absences. Numerous studies have proven that spending time in natural environments has a profound impact on our health and wellbeing.
As entrepreneurs, we are lucky to have more control over our working environment than the average corporate employee. Here are some effective ways to bring the outdoors in:
Open the windows. I always feel a greater sense of wellbeing when I work with the windows open on a mild day.
Buy some houseplants. Indoor air quality is usually lower than outdoor air quality and houseplants have the added benefit of filtering air pollutants. Check out this list of NASA-approved air-filtering houseplants.
Move your office to a sunny space. Working in a dark or windowless environment is bad for your sleep and productivity.
For more on this topic, read The Nature Fix* by Florence Williams.
Set healthy boundaries.
American culture values hard work to an unhealthy degree, so let me reassure you:
You are not lazy for “only” working 40, 30, or 20 hours a week. Work should be rewarding, not draining.
You are are allowed to outsource tasks you don’t enjoy. You may not enjoy it but someone else probably does.
You do not have to be available 24/7. You are allowed to completely disconnect from the digital world for a while.
You do not have to work 80 hours a week to be successful.
Remember that thing called vacation? You’re allowed to take one!
Research has shown that the average worker is only productive for about 3 out of 8 hours in the standard workday. Everyone is different, so find your sweet spot and focus on maximizing your productivity during the hours you do work instead of pushing yourself to work longer hours.
Setting healthy boundaries can be hard if you work with clients, so here are some tips to help you stay on track:
Post your office hours on your website. If anyone asks why you didn’t respond to their email on the weekend, kindly refer them to your official office ours. I post my office hours on my contact page and specify that it takes me 1-2 business days to reply. This sets a reasonable expectation up front.
Use a vacation autoresponder. I don’t recommend using an autoresponder all the time (it can be annoying and lead to more incoming spam mail) but it can be a useful tool when you’re away for an extended period of time.
Schedule email replies. Let’s face it—we all break our own boundaries and work after hours sometimes. But responding to client emails after hours can set an expectation that you’re available 24/7. Avoid this by using a tool like Boomerang or MailButler to schedule late-night replies for the following morning.
Once your business grows to the point where you can afford to hire some outside help, consider outsourcing things like inbox management, social media posting, accounting, and other monotonous, time-sucking tasks. This will reduce your workload and make it easier to step back, safe in the knowledge that things are handled.
Don’t forget to take breaks.
When you love your work, it’s easy to get into “the zone” and forget to attend to your basic biological needs. Aside from lunch (yes, you need to east lunch), try to take at last two breaks during a standard 8-hour workday.
Here are some things you can do during your break:
Eat a snack.
Drink some water.
Go for a walk.
Call a friend.
Give your dog a belly rub.
Take some deep breaths.
Do a guided meditation.
Stretch your muscles.
Dance it out.
Take a nap.
Also, don’t forget to stand up and walk around, just for a few seconds, every 30-60 minutes.
Connect with people and pets.
This goes along with setting boundaries and taking breaks but I think it merits its own entry. Humans are inherently social creatures. (Yes, even introverts.) We evolved to need social interaction and touch. It’s easy to forget this when we’re hyper-focused on work and all the daily worries that go along with running a business.
Make it a point to cuddle with your favorite people and animals. Hugs have so many physical and psychological benefits and touch starvation is a real thing in our disconnected society.
Don’t let your business take over your life to the point where you neglect important relationships. Good friendships come with health benefits and spending more time with your family will strengthen the social bonds that help all humans thrive.
Diffuse essential oils.
If you believe the Internet, essential oils are a cure for everything from warts to cancer. That is, of course, ridiculous but certain natural scents have been shown to reduce stress, increase productivity, and boost mental clarity.
Lemon essential oil, in particular, was shown to reduce typing errors in office workers in one study. Other scents that can have a positive effect are lavender, orange, rosemary, peppermint, and jasmine.
Essential oils can vary greatly in purity and quality. I like Rocky Mountain Oils because their oils are high-quality and the company is not an MLM scheme. I use a cheap plastic diffuser* from Amazon and it’s worked just fine for years.
Limit exposure to artificial EMF and RF.
Despite the reassurances of telecommunications companies that non-ionizing radiation from wifi routers and cell phone towers is totally safe, there is credible research that contradicts this. (Various non-industry-sponsored studies have found links to sleep issues, weight gain, and various types of cancer.)
It’s also worth noting that numerous scientists from respected institutions around the world have spoken out in support of better safety measures and that some countries (France, Italy, and others) have taken steps to reduce wifi exposure in schools for young children.
Personally, I don’t think there’s been anywhere near enough non-biased research done on the subject. In the meantime, I think it’s best to limit exposure to artificial electromagnetic fields and radio frequencies, especially when it’s convenient to do so.
To that end, I recently purchased a JRS Eco wifi router that has a 90% reduced pulse frequency when no data is being transmitted and 100% radiation-free standby mode when I’m not online. It also has a built-in timer, so the wifi turns off automatically at night when I’m asleep.
Another great way to reduce RF exposure is to buy a shielded case for your smartphone. The frontside is shielded, so you can hold the phone up to your head without any exposure. The backside (facing away from your body) is unshielded so you still have a strong signal.
Maintain good posture.
Most people have a tendency to bunch up their shoulders and thrust their heads out like turtles when working at a desk. Sound familiar? This is really bad because poor posture can lead to pain, muscle tightness, and a slew of long-term health problems.
There’s an amazing book by Esther Gokhale called 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back* that I recommend to everyone. It goes into why back pain is virtually unheard of in some parts of the world and what a truly healthy spine looks like. Plus, it includes lots of practical tips to improve your posture!
Add some background noise.
Nature is full of sound and we evolved to live in nature, so it is any wonder we have trouble working in total silence? Not all noise is good but some ambient background noise or instrumental music can help you focus and boost your mood.
For ambient sounds, I love Noisli, a free Chrome extension that plays soothing nature sounds and white noise. For background music, I’m a big fan of meditation music and movie soundtracks. Here are a few of my favorite albums:
I work best with soft, soothing music but you may prefer something with a little more zest! Listen to whatever music turns on your creativity.
Ready to create a healthy work environment?
Tell me how you’re creating a healthy work environment in the comments below!
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