I once considered technology work strictly a mental exercise. The "biggest brain" always got the job done, and I came of age during the era where Mountain Dew, Doritos, excessive caffeine, and a rotund physique were the assumed accoutrements of a successful technologist. While this stereotype has thankfully gone the way of MS-DOS, there's still an over-emphasis on the cerebral aspects of leading a technology organization, and an under-emphasis on how healthy living contributes strongly to our overall effectiveness. Here are six ways to improve mind and body, to increase your performance this year:
It's obvious that we perform best at tasks that we're completely focused on, yet it's extremely rarely executed. An ability to "multitask" is often touted as key to being successful in the modern workplace, yet research and experience show that the human mind's performance deteriorates dramatically when attempting to focus on multiple tasks. If there's one area where practicing focus can have a significant impact it's in our interpersonal relationships at work. Next time you have a conversation, devote 100% of your attention to what the other person is saying, rather than considering what you'll say next, mentally rebutting their proposal, or pondering what you'll do this weekend.
Consider your strengths
Another interesting and self-defeating hangover of common "wisdom" is a need to focus on and improve your weaknesses. Obviously, there are certain skills that are "table stakes" for a career in IT leadership. For example, if you cannot effectively develop staff, you have little business as a leader. However, in other areas, you can improve your abilities more by enhancing your strengths than attempting to build mere competence in areas you don't enjoy and are not particularly good at. Take a moment to consider activities that you're both good at and enjoy doing. These are strengths that can be developed and used to differentiate you as a leader.
Develop your observation abilities
I'm often asked how I develop topics to write on, and my rather unsophisticated process is based primarily on observing the world around me, whether at work or outside the office. Simple activities like a dinner conversation or watching how people board an airplane have produced countless concepts for articles and presentations, and even service offerings for my consulting work. It's tempting to constantly have your nose plastered to a device, or dedicate the majority of your mental energy to considering other topics versus watching what occurs in front of you.
Rekindle your professional relationships
We've all been admonished to develop our personal and professional networks, to the point that many agonize over how many "followers" or "connections" they have on social media and benchmark their efforts by these metrics. Rather than increasing a meaningless number, spend some time reconnecting with old colleagues in a meaningful way, perhaps via a personal email or phone call. My network has helped me in countless ways, from informal mentoring, to opening doors that ultimately landed new opportunities, to creating lifelong friendships. While it sounds trite, quality is far superior to quantity. A half-dozen true relationships will provide a sounding board, or support in times of career peril, while ten thousand "followers" on social media and $5 will do little more than get you an overpriced cup of chain coffee.
We're inundated with diet and fitness advice each January, from the latest fad diets to a variety of workout contraptions, and under all the bloviating lies the simple fact that health is a significant contributor to our mental well-being. Find an activity you enjoy that requires minimal fuss, whether that's taking a simple walk once or twice a day, or taking on a new sport with all manner of elaborate equipment. If you already have a fitness regime, evaluate your progress and perhaps add a new goal or two, or enter a competition of some sort.
Chart your own course
Finally, take a moment to chart your own course for improving mind and body in the New Year, and periodically evaluate your progress. I've intentionally tried to provide general recommendations, as an outsider's prescription for self-improvement rarely works as well as one you create, culling the advice and practices from a variety of sources.
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Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent over a decade providing strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com. All opinions are his and may not represent those of his employer.