12 month progress report on taking control of my mind, body, work and health

2014-07-09 11.02.4412 Months ago I embarked on a fairly radical restructuring of my work and home life, in order to allow me to focus on my health by improving my mastery over my mind and body.

A year ago you might say that I mostly worked until I dropped, where dropping involved a flare that left me in a world dominated by weeks of pain, fatigue and terrible brain fog that made it very hard to concentrate, remember and focus.

Last year I decided that this passive approach to my health was leading me down a long term path that no sane person would want to follow and a change to be more proactive was required.  That change involved:

  1. Changing the type of work I do
  2. Reducing the number of hours I worked each day to a maximum of 4 hours of desk work, almost always afternoons
  3. Reducing the number of days a week I worked to 4, to provide a 3 day weekend
  4. Nominating one week a month as a ‘Think week’ a time for research and reflection with no work commitments. 
  5. Buying extra holidays so I get a long rest every couple of months

These changes whilst a pretty radical reduction in working hours don’t seem to have reduced my impact at work though, for a few reasons:

  1. I only work on things that will have a big impact
  2. I work with only a small number of people, people who are able to amplify the impact of the work I do and who I believe are able to make a big impact themselves
  3. I try to work on things that are important, but not urgent.  That means I can work at my own pace and the stress is much lower
  4. I no longer attend routine, weekly repeating meetings or conference calls, a major productivity trap
  5. I don’t spend a lot of time travelling (two trips a week to Chorley, 1 trip a month to Aldershot)
  6. I try to do as much work face to face as possible, which I judge to be at least twice as effective as virtual meetings
  7. I have a very efficient workflow for research and email
  8. I do a lot of work away from my desk while walking, cycling and driving, mostly listening to books, conference talks, podcasts and doing routine email processing
  9. I carefully separate work into categories, and do it in the most productive place:
    1. Work that requires only partial attention (email processing, RSS feed scanning) I do while watching TV, or a conference video
    2. work that doesn’t need a desk or a PC (listening to recorded company briefings, podcasts, audio books, conference presentations etc) that I do while moving
    3. work that can be done during rest breaks while out moving (reading web articles, white papers, analyst reports, long emails) that I do at cafe
    4. work that needs a big screen and lots of focus (writing reports, creating presentations, recording videos) that I do at home at my desk
    5. work that needs lots of discussion, brain storming, structuring that I do at my ‘office’ at Chorley, a cluster of 4 comfy chairs, a table and with a ream of A3 paper for sketching in a quiet, sunny spot

So that’s the work perspective covered.  What about the body and mind?  Over the last decade I’ve learnt that I need to take charge of my health challenges, my work and home stress.  Working less has given me a lot more time and energy to work on my mind, these are some of the many things I’ve done:

  1. I put myself first, I realised that I’m no use to anyone else if I’m not in good mental and physical shape myself, so whilst I might prioritise friends, family and work on an hour by hour basis, on a day by day basis and certainly a week by week basis I always try and find ways to look after myself.
  2. I’ve made good progress in taking control of the way I think. I’ve very much taken to heart the idea that ‘you are what you think’ so I meditate each day, I try to live mindfully, see things from other peoples perspective, work hard to appreciate life and live each day to the full.
  3. I keep track of how I spend my time, working to build good habits and chip away at eliminating my bad habits
  4. I spend a lot of time in nature, enjoying quiet and solitude, playing and enjoying family time
  5. I spend more time relaxing, listening to music, reading a good book, watching a movie, walking on the beach, listening to the waves
  6. I’ve worked hard on my sleep, although this remains a challenge, its hard to sleep through pain, nightly pain killers that make me drowsy are helping
  7. I try to keep a fair bit of variety in my life, which I find keeps my motivation levels up.  I almost always travel a little during ‘think weeks’, after decades of travelling the country and the world I do miss it a bit and ‘think weeks’ give me that opportunity again.  By travelling I also prevent myself from slipping back into my work routine rather than really resting.
  8. I also use CBT techniques to keep an eye on my thoughts, turning them always in a constructive or positive direction
  9. I solve problems whenever I can and accept the ones I can’t

Perhaps the biggest change that my new work pattern has enabled is the ability to spend much more time in motion, nothing helps reduce the pain of sore muscles, tendons and joints better than gentle stretching, walking, cycling and swimming (except maybe a good nights sleep).  A sample day would go something like this:

  1. An hours walk before breakfast, listening to podcasts and books
  2. Breakfast at a cafe where I will spend an hour reading
  3. Another hour walking, cycling or swimming
  4. Some time at home meditating, doing the housework and making/eating lunch
  5. 90 minutes desk work, with quick breaks every 30 minutes
  6. 15 minutes stretching
  7. another 90 minutes desk work
  8. 5 minutes doing body weight strength exercises
  9. A family meal
  10. A short evening walk or swim
  11. 90 minutes TV time, when I will do email and research scanning
  12. Reading in the bath

So finally how has all this change affected my health.  I have Adult Onset Stills Disease, which means long periods of intense pain in joints, muscles and tendons, fevers and intense fatigue.  Like many people who’ve been in pain for a long time I also have secondary Fibromyalgia which means the daily challenge of lower grade pain, fatigue, poor memory and concentration and I saved the worst for last chronic migraines.

Every one of these areas has significantly improved over the last year:

  1. The Adult Onset Stills Disease is now just grumbling in the background, not causing major issues
  2. The Fibromyalgia is now a challenge for 10 days a month rather than 25
  3. The migraines are now once or twice a week, rather than 3 or 4
  4. The fatigue, poor memory and general brain fog are now an issue only 5 days a month rather than 10
  5. I’m mentally stronger and able to work through the bad days with very little if any depression.  I’m mostly able to keep on going as usual
  6. I’m physically fitter, much more flexible, much more relaxed
  7. I’m eating better, mostly raw fruit and vegetables, nuts, seeds, meat, eggs, cheese, milk, butter with the odd slice of bread, bar of chocolate or cup cake 🙂
  8. I’ve significantly reduced my use of pain killers
  9. I’m sleeping long enough, but deep uninterrupted sleep remains an elusive challenge

Pretty good progress in 12 months, roll on the next.  I’ve made some further changes at work and continue to refine and improve all the areas I’ve covered above.

The photo is of the north of Lake Windermere, taken at the start of a long hike that proved too long for my poor feet only partly recovered from a flare.

For reference I have Adult Onset Still Disease, Reactive Arthritis, Secondary Fibromyalgia and Hay Fever, sometimes it’s the Hay Fever and heat in summer that’s the last straw!

Steve Richards

I'm retired from work as a business and IT strategist. now I'm travelling, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, gardening, learning, writing this blog and generally enjoying good times with friends and family

1 Response

  1. Erin says:

    Thanks for sharing! I have a relatively severe case of AOSD, and I’m trying to figure out how to make my disease and my job (a fairly intense office-based lawyer job) work without leading to my mental and physical ruin. This has given me some food for thought.

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