Pushing the barriers
A question a lot of people ask me is how I am able to work 80 hours a week, week in week out, without really getting sick that often or suffering from exhaustion. Now, what I'm about to say will probably seem irresponsible to some and make others laugh at my eccentricity. But when you really need to put in a sustained effort over 3-6 months, you might appreciate the following tips for keeping the workflow going.
Basically, I feel that pushing the envelope consists of three major factors: diet, personal motivation, and the right working environment. On the diet front, after being a (fish-eating) semi-vegetarian for 30+ years, I have a pretty good idea of what my body needs to get a continuing stream of energy from it. This doesn't mean that I'm necessarily a health nut, but I do know what certain foods can do for you. When I was younger, breakfast was a regular necessity, and usually consisted of raw rolled oats and honey with milk. Now that I'm 44, my system can't really face breakfast until lunchtime, and in fact feeling a bit hungry makes me more energetic in the mornings.
Pharmaceuticals are, of course, the tools of every late night worker. My favorites are lots of B-group vitamins, especially the brain vitamin B12, and to keep colds away, a herbal mix of Echinacea and Goldenseal. For an extra energy hit, my choices are Ginseng, a good hit of caffeine with a Japanese "genki juice", and for emergencies, a herbal mix that I get from the USA called "Up Your Gas!" No kidding, it's really called this. Just make sure that you don't get a pick-me-up with ephedrine or MaHuang, both of which are really not good for your body.
Getting good vitamins and Up Your Gas type herbal mixes is tough here in Japan, so I always stock up when in the USA, or I ask my friends to get them for me. I guess you could also self-import - something which the Japanese allow people to do in small lots. You can do this on the Web these days.
On the personal motivation front, the key to sustained output is to have an emotional goal that really matters to you. I mean, "making money" is not really that stimulating as a goal and you'll feel tired pretty quickly. However, "making money to buy an apartment with my fianc�, now that kind of introduces a whole different level of meaning to your work and your efforts. While I do believe that some people can produce results almost effortlessly, I belong to the hard luck school - where I only make money if I work harder than the next guy. So being motivated is really important once you're doing more than 50-60 hours a week.
My measure of whether I'm personally motivated is whether I can wake up in the morning and feel excited about what I'm doing. If I go for more than a week without feeling this excitement, I know that I have to change my routine and my activity line-up. No motivation spells a waste of life - a fate which none of us should consign ourselves to.
Lastly, by the right work environment, I'm simply talking about your physical surrounds, not your boss or colleagues (which is a whole other subject). The right chair and other tools, for example, can really help you get that last 10% out of a 110% effort. For me, I need good music in my work environment when I'm writing late at night. I wait for the kids to go to bed, go to the study, and put on a favorite album and wind up the volume. Nothing quite like a bit of Hawkwind's wall-of-sound tracks from the Hall of the Mountain Grill at 01:00 am to really help you power through a bit of homework. Of course, you may have to wear headphones if the walls are thin and you have neighbors...
Needless to say, there are other environmental factors - such as rubber soled shoes as a salesperson pounding the beat, keyboards with good tactile keys if you're a writer, a comfortable headset if you're a call center person, a lighter laptop if you're a consultant working externally - well you get the idea. The point here is to remember that if you're spending the best part of your waking hours with good tools, you feel like performing better. If your company can't afford the tools you need, why not offer to pay a small amount towards buying what you need, and have the company reward you with a purchase once you hit your targets. I don't know many bosses that could resist this kind of offer and it benefits the company as much as yourself.
If you are considering a career in the recruiting industry, you can drop Terrie Lloyd an email for more advice at email@example.com. You can also see his weekly newsletter, called Terrie's Take, at www.terrie.com.