Looking After Yourself

This is a blog I wish I’d read before I started my business because I probably would have had a different outlook. When I started my business in 2001, there certainly wasn’t as much scientific information freely available to demonstrate the importance of looking after your health. 

However, looking after your health allows you to be far more focused and have much more creative ability within your business. So, this blog is all the things I wish I’d known about and read about before I started my business. I’m not a health expert and I have no medical background. What follows are just my own personal observations and the things that I do. I also keep an active interest in health, fitness, and technology and how that’s changing and helping the general population to be healthier, as well as in particular how it could help entrepreneurs to be healthier and consequently be able to put more into their business. 

It’s generally accepted that there are three main areas that affect your health: sleep, exercise, and diet. Back in 2001, I had the view that sleep was for wimps, a kind of you can sleep when you die attitude. Exercise I was actually pretty good at (and I still am) because I enjoyed it and I was competitive. Food has been, and probably still is to a point, the area where I fall down a bit because I don’t eat as healthily as I should and I certainly didn’t eat healthily back then either. 

I’m going to share some practical suggestions of what I do in each of those three areas, and what I wish I’d done a long time ago because it really does help you run your business more effectively. 

The importance of sleep

Looking back, I wish I’d known a lot more about sleep. Sleep is probably considered to be one of the most important aspects of your health. There are so many things that happen in your sleep. Sleep is definitely very important for your body’s regeneration and for your brain health. There are plenty of things that happen at the various stages of sleep that mean if you have a good night’s sleep, you’re able to do things better both in the short and long term.

As an example, your memories are organised at night. All the information you’ve taken in during the day is filed and it’s filed in your brain in a certain way. Sleep allows that to happen, so if you don’t have enough sleep then there’s a good chance that you won’t retain some of the stuff that you learn. 

There are various practical things you can do with sleep. Like I said, I think I always had what people nowadays would consider to be a pretty old-school attitude to sleep in that I didn’t think it was important and I didn’t understand what happened at night or how your body repaired itself. Now that I understand that, I consciously try to make sure that I get enough sleep and a lot of the time I’m good at that. Of course there are times when I’m not as good as I should be. We all know how easy it is to be watching a series on Netflix and just watch one hour after another and before you know it, it’s 1am and you have to be up at 7am the next morning for a call at 8am. 

There are several things that I do to try and avoid that now. One of them is using an Oura Ring, which is an IoT device that measures things like your body temperature, heart rate and movements. The technology combines with the science that goes into the app and this device learns your behaviour over a period of time and makes intelligent suggestions as to how you can improve your sleep in particular, but also activity and that kind of thing. It actually gives you a readiness score for the day, so if you’ve had a good night’s sleep and you’ve done some exercise the night before, you wake up refreshed and all the indicators are that you’re going to be far more likely to have a successful day and have plenty of energy, rather than feeling tired halfway through your day.

There are various other devices available that do something similar. Oura is just one that I use, I also use an Apple Watch. Both look at your activity and at your sleep and I just find they’re a really useful way to get an indication of how well you’re doing on that front. The data they provide is scientific and not just a figure plucked out of the air.

One thing I often find with the Oura Ring app is that when I wake up in the mornings, my readiness score is a bloody good indication of how I feel for the day. 

This isn’t all about the time that you sleep. You might still have had seven or eight hours of sleep, but it could be disturbed because maybe you have something on your mind or maybe you’re too warm or too cold, so you might not be sleeping as well as you should. The app gives you some really interesting suggestions, such as looking at your duvet to make sure you’re not getting overly hot or cold. 

The importance of exercise

Exercise is one element that I think we’ve known about for quite some time, but there’s clearly more and more science coming out to show how important exercise is and that you really need to do that minimum of 20 minutes of vigorous exercise every day to get your heart pumping. You can do that in any number of ways and you’re probably better to keep it fairly varied and not do the same thing all the time to keep it interesting and build up different muscles.

You don’t have to be a gym bunny and spend two hours a day in the gym. I’m a big lover of technology, as you’ll know if you regularly read these blogs. I use the Peloton bike and I find that incredibly useful and motivating. It’s as close to being in a live spin class as you’re going to get, but it also has other activities like yoga if you’re into that kind of thing. The great thing is you can do a 20-minute class, or a 30-40 minute class and you can tailor it to where you are in your day and how much time you have.

Even just 20 minutes of a high-intensity workout is really good for you. That’s all I do, I make sure I do a minimum of 20 minutes of a high-intensity workout on one or two machines that I have at my house. That makes it really easy, it’s something that I don’t have to travel to. If I combine that with going out for a walk with the dog or the family, I’m set. I always make sure that I’m closing my exercise rings on my Apple Watch every single day. That’s my aim and when I don’t do it, I feel bad about it, which is actually a good thing. 

I’ve always exercised though and it’s the one element I’ve always been good about including in my routine. I’ve always played sport competitively as well as for fun. Although I can’t play football as much as I used to, I’ve tried to substitute that for other activities these days. In my experience, exercise just makes you feel better. I feel ready for the day when I’ve had a good night’s sleep and I’ve done some exercise. I know when I’ve ticked those boxes I can genuinely go all day without feeling tired and stay energised until 11 or 12 at night when I’m ready for seven or eight hours of sleep.

The importance of food and fasting

Food is probably my weakness and I still snack a little bit too much, but I always try to make sure that I eat healthily and have my fruit, vegetables and fresh stuff in there. 

There’s also more and more research going into fasting as an important way of maintaining body weight and health. It’s something that, having read the science, I find I fundamentally believe in. As a result, I try to make sure that I have a 15-16 hour window where I don’t eat every day and the meals I do have are within that eight to nine-hour window. Personally, I tend not to eat after 9 pm and I try not to eat again until midday or 1 pm, which is when I’ll have my first meal. 

There’s a lot of science to say that this is a good thing to do and it’s actually how we used to behave before the concept of eating three meals a day became popular, even though there’s no science to support eating three meals a day. You can make your own mind up, but I think fasting is a really useful tool to use alongside a balanced diet. 

The importance of mental health and mindfulness 

Mental health gets a lot of exposure nowadays and  I think mental health is really important. I also believe that mindset and mindfulness are really important aspects of this, although I’ll admit I’ve been a massive doubter about that over the years. 

For example, I actually meditate regularly now, but if you’d asked me 15 years ago whether I meditated I’d have said, ‘No way, I don’t believe in that stuff.’

My routine is that after my exercise, I lie down and do a ten-minute meditation. That brings my body back down. I raise my legs while I do it to allow all the blood to flow to my vital organs and help everything recover and I try to blank my mind out and clear my head. I honestly feel that it makes a big difference to my days because it’s as though I have a clear head and fresh start. Essentially I feel that I’m mentally prepared for the day.

For mindfulness, I use an app called Oak but there are literally hundreds of mindfulness apps available. I like Oak because it’s really simple and easy to use. I just spend ten minutes on meditation and although I don’t do it every day, I try to do it whenever I can. I always feel better for doing it. 

If I’ve had my seven to eight hours of good quality sleep, done my exercise and mindfulness in the morning, then if I also eat healthily I’ve hit the jackpot. 

Why looking after yourself is important for your business

I do think that looking after yourself is far more important than I ever gave it credit for during the first ten years I was running a business. I’ve said before that I didn’t look after myself in terms of my own personal development, but I also didn’t look after myself in terms of some of the important aspects of my health.

Looking back, I wish I had and now I try to take care of those things and I feel better for it. It’s something that I believe every entrepreneur should consider. 

The biggest difference for me is that I feel far more refreshed in the morning and also more refreshed throughout the day. I don’t get tired halfway through the day. I think most entrepreneurs have had times where they really push themselves, don’t eat properly, and don’t get enough sleep. I know I had nights where I was waking up at 3am worrying about the business and other things. It really does affect you the next day.

It’s hard to put your finger on one particular thing that poor sleep, nutrition and a lack of exercise impacts. For me, it’s more the case that you’re just not as effective in dealing with stuff throughout the day. You might be a bit more short-tempered with people, or it might be that your creative ability just isn’t there when you’re trying to solve a problem. You could find that you’re not coming up with a really creative solution to an issue that you’re facing and instead are just trying the same thing time and time again, which keeps failing. 

I think getting all the elements I’ve talked about (sleep, exercise, food, mental health, and mindfulness) right helps with your creativity, with your focus, and with your tolerance levels, and how you deal with other people. As a result, I think it has a genuine positive effect on the business if you’re in good health and you’ve had proper rest.

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