The Post Pro’s Guide to Optimizing Work–Life Balance

(In 4 Simple Steps)

As post-production professionals, we obsess over optimal workflows, batch export queues, minimizing render times, and maximizing productivity. It’s not uncommon to own five different apps and tools to analyze drive speeds, upload times, and render efficiency...our entire lives are about tweaking and optimizing. So why aren’t we taking the same approach with our health and our work–life balance?

Despite what you may think, for the most part you are actually in pretty good shape right now:

  1. Your arms and legs (presumably) work.
  2. Your lungs get oxygen to your body and brain.
  3. You have a pulse.

Yet instead of simply tweaking your current “well-being workflow,” you have most likely started over from scratch and tried to change EVERYTHING at least once (I’ve done so many times, and it’s led to more than one instance of complete and total creative burnout).

  1. You throw out all the “bad” food in your house and replace it with quinoa and kale.
  2. You buy $500 worth of exercise clothes and order a P90X.
  3. You set your alarm for 5am and vow to wake up early every morning to exercise.

Sound familiar? If so, you're no different to me. I used to approach my health this way as well. This is called the “all or nothing” approach and it's why over 90% of diet and exercise programs fail.

The big a-ha! moment for me was realizing I could take my knowledge of workflows and apply it to my health. Instead of changing everything at once, I started making one small change at a time, tweaking one checkbox, fixing one menu setting, and building positive momentum with each step.

The key to achieving work–life balance is knowing which checkboxes to focus on first, knocking over the biggest domino, and then watching the rest of the dominos fall effortlessly.

CHECKBOX #1: MOVEMENT

Allow me to state the obvious: Sitting all day is not so good. Googling “Sitting Is the New Smoking” returns over 19 million search results. And here’s why you should care: Sitting all day long is killing your creativity.

Your creativity is your #1 asset, similar to the RAM in your computer.

Slow RAM = slow processing = less output

You are paid to make thousands of micro decisions all day long – your unique decisions set your creative work apart from others. Yet despite the importance of your ability to consistently generate new ideas, what do you do with your brain?

It sits in a small dark room. All. Day. Long.

From an evolutionary perspective, our genetic code expects us to be moving 10–14 miles per day. Movement is the engine that sparks and drives creativity. Yet most people in office

environments struggle to exceed 3,500 steps per day (which, for someone of average height, is the equivalent of less than 2 miles).

Even worse, if you are sedentary for 6–8 hours per day:

Perhaps the most shocking statistic of all:

  • Upon sitting, your metabolism plummets to burning only 1 calorie per minute
    Slower metabolism = decreased ability to generate creative thoughts = ZERO RAM)

Here’s where it gets downright scary: Even exercise doesn’t undo the negative effects of sitting. (I know…that terrified me too when I heard it)

Instead of attempting to force yourself out of bed at 4:30 in the morning to train for the triathlon you’ll most likely never enter, upgrade your internal RAM by making these three simple workflow tweaks to activities you already do every single day:

  1. The next time you arrive at work, deliberately choose the furthest parking space from the front door (the best part...it will always be available!). If you park in a structure, this simple change can equate to an extra 1,000 steps – plus several flights of stairs if you park on the roof.
  2. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. If your legs and your lungs work, use them.
  3. Commit to walking during all of your phone calls (bonus: take walking meetings). A conference call has yielded as many as 7,500 steps for me in a single hour.

Consistent movement throughout the day can help decrease attention issues, anxiety, depression, and it will improve your ability to learn and retain new information (i.e. sitting all day is not the best strategy for organizing and retaining 50 hours of raw footage).

If you’re interested in getting serious about making daily movement a priority and igniting your energy, creativity, and focus, click here to learn more about my brand-new Move Yourself Program.

CHECKBOX #2: NUTRITION

If movement is the engine that drives your RAM, then proper nutrition is the gateway to optimizing your hard drive function. When your hard drive is 100% full of unnecessary crap, your computer barely functions (spinning beach ball of death anyone?).

Equally, when you are 100% full of unnecessary crap, your brain barely functions. That 4pm handful of Oreos may perk you up for fifteen minutes, but pay close attention to how that afternoon sugary snack affects your creativity come 8pm when that broadcast delivery is looming and you can barely think straight. I assure you the sugar jitters you may be experiencing have nothing to do with being “sugar deficient” (the same goes with caffeine).

Your afternoon nap is not inevitable, and 3pm brain fog is 100% avoidable. But just like with exercise, it’s so tempting to take the “all or nothing approach” and start from scratch by replacing your afternoon Oreos with celery sticks and throwing out all the junk food in your pantry...only to replace it with more junk after you’ve gone certifiably insane five days later.

Instead of jumping into the deep end, focus on the following three big wins that you can make immediately, then as you build momentum you can slowly and systematically transition to a healthier diet.

  1. Stop drinking your calories: This means slowly eliminating any drinks with added sugar (and/or artificial sweeteners). Ditch the soda (diet too), the energy drinks, the sports drinks (no, Gatorade is not a health drink), and anything that isn’t spelled w-a-t-e-r. And if you’re thinking you’re the problem, don’t worry. You’re not the only one in post fighting their addiction to sugar.
  2. Reduce your intake of starchy carbohydrates, white flours, sugars, sweeteners, and food loaded with gluten. Every time you intake a high glycemic load (i.e. you eat lots of carbs and sugars) your insulin spikes, as does your blood sugar. That immediate rush perks you up, but that inevitable afternoon nap is the result of your blood sugar plummeting after your carb-heavy lunch (or breakfast). And guess where the excess sugar in your blood is stored in your body? The scientific term for that substance is “fat.”
  3. Think about your food choices ahead of time. If you often get home at 9pm, open the refrigerator door, stare into space and think to yourself, “There’s nothing to eat and I don’t have the energy,” you’ve already lost the war. Instead consider batch processing your food preparation for the week no different than rendering your files in the background. Or at least prep your snacks for the day so when you’re hit with a case of the munchies your grab-and-go options are not Doritos, Oreos, and Twizzlers.

CHECKBOX #3: PRODUCTIVITY

We’ve now upgraded your RAM by using movement as the engine to drive your creativity, and we’ve started cleaning up the garbage mucking up your hard drive by making better food choices. The next step in optimizing your health workflow is examining the number of apps you have running at once and giving your processor a break! Trying to spin 15 plates at once may help you feel “busy,” but you are far from “productive.” Trying to do too much at once is no different than running 15 apps simultaneously and wondering why everything is running so slowly.

I know you probably think you’re good at multitasking...but you’re not good at multitasking. I know this because fewer than 4% of human beings have the cognitive capability to multitask at all. Instead of multitasking, your brain very quickly transitions from one single task to another single task...but at a tremendous cost. Every single time you transition from one task to another, your productivity drops by as much as 40% [1].

Rather than trying to simultaneously balance Facebook, Twitter, email, text messages, your co-workers down the hall, and…well…your job, instead try to batch process your daily tasks as you would your neverending list of exports.

Here are three quick wins to help you infinitely increase your daily productivity.

  1. Get out of your inbox. Email is the #1 killer of productivity, and recent research has uncovered the average office worker spends over 6 hours per day in their inbox [2]. Where in the world is there any time left to get anything done? Here are some quick suggestions to help you escape your email so you can get back to focusing on the creative work you were designed to do.
  2. Eliminate distractions. Every single ding, chime, and bell is giving you a quick dopamine hit and creating a neural groove in your brain. This essentially means your notifications and your technology have turned you into Pavlov’s dog. Yes, it’s possible to be addicted to technology. Make a concerted effort when you are trying to “get in the zone” to turn off all notifications, chimes, and close all browser tabs that are distracting you from the task at hand.
  3. Once those annoying notifications are out of your way, start working in time blocks. Instead of multitasking, do the exact opposite and only focus on one specific task for a focused block of time. Once that task is complete, smoothly transition to the next. This can be done with intense creative tasks, redundant tasks, and even things like social media, talking to co-workers, and taking breaks. (Bonus: To get to the next level of productivity and laser-sharp focus, try working in contexts)

CHECKBOX #4: BALANCE

No matter how much RAM or empty hard drive space your computer contains, and no matter how few apps you’re running at once, if you don’t do periodic maintenance and make sure you are shutting down and restarting your computer regularly, a computer meltdown is inevitable. Not managing stress and getting too little sleep is simply setting yourself for an impending world of pain...only far more is at stake than your computer simply crashing.

I know many in our industry love to wear a “sleep deprivation badge of honor” on their sleeve every day with pride, but showing up to work sleep deprived is actually worse than showing up every day drunk, at least as far as your cognitive abilities are concerned. Would you ever shower praise on someone showing up to the office with liquor on their breath who could barely string two coherent sentences together? You shouldn’t celebrate those who work for 20 hours a day either, they are equally as incapable of functioning (and in some cases more so).

Furthermore, if you’re barrelling through crazy deadlines, stressful meetings, and intense creative sessions with clients without building margins into your day and strategies to reset your nervous system, you are headed towards creative burnout.

Here are three strategies I use every day to maintain balance despite my hectic work schedule:

  1. Prioritize sleep and make it a point to get a minimum of seven hours per night. If you manage your entire calendar around this one absolute, you start making very different decisions about how you manage your day. The key to consistently getting seven hours or more every night is developing an evening routine (Bonus: Developing a morning routine will increase your chances of success as well).
  2. Start focusing on the quality of your sleep in addition to the quantity. I would rather get six amazingly restful hours of sleep than nine hours of tossing, turning, and never allowing my brain to get into the deepest stages of REM sleep. One of the easiest ways to destroy the quality of your sleep is using sedatives, food, or alcohol to put yourself to sleep. And one of the simplest ways to increase the quality of your sleep (aside from avoiding all of those things) is to reduce exposure to blue lights after the sun goes down. This includes televisions, computer screens, and yes...your phone. The best tool to filter out these harmful blue spectrums of light on your computer is F.lux.
  3. Start a meditation and/or yoga practice. I’m not asking you to accept the Sun as your God or start chanting in Hindi. The scientific and neurological benefits of meditation and yoga are proven and undeniable at this point. The next time chaos hits your office, would you rather be the Tazmanian Devil or the duck effortlessly gliding across the pond? Be the duck. My favorite tools to maintain a consistent meditation and yoga practice are Headspace and Yogis Anonymous.

START WITH JUST ONE CHECKBOX

If you were in the middle of a busy project, would you upgrade your software, change all of your hard drives, upgrade your RAM, and switch out your CPU? No...that would be insanity. Don’t take the same approach with your health.

Embarking upon a complete life overhaul is overwhelming and most likely will only lead to failure. Approaching this list of changes and trying to implement them all at once will yield the same result. Choose the biggest win in the list above and give it a try. Then once you’ve successfully implemented that change, check off the next most impactful box. Rinse. Lather. Repeat.

If you’d like to join a community of like-minded post-production professionals committed to better health at their workstations, come join the Fitness In Post community!