• If you know you have stressful periods coming up, there are self-care steps you can take to prepare your mind and body

  • Leanne Spencer offers her guidance on managing stress peaks

Many aspects of business can be very predictable. If you’re in the retail sector, it could be specific times of the year such as Black Friday, Summer Sales or Christmas. If you’re an agency, it might be a client contract renewal or a major campaign or product launch. All businesses will have sales targets such as quarter end or fiscal year end. Knowing when these big events are is helpful as you can prepare for them, by making small changes which maximise your energy, mood and motivation. 

Of course this is just as relevant to your personal life too. Welcoming a baby into your family, a house move and preparing for surgery are all big events for you and your family. Wouldn’t it be great if you got ready for these demanding life events in the same way an athlete would ahead a major sporting event? 

This is what I call cadence, and it’s a simple four-step approach for managing energy:

  • Predict – identify the big events coming up in your professional and personal life

  • Prepare – small changes that have a big impact over time

  • Perform – watch out for the red flags of chronic stress / burnout

  • Recover – small steps that keep the nervous system in balance

This article will focus on the prepare phase, and how you can ensure you’re in a ‘ready-state’ for the rigours of daily life. First though, take a moment to think about two to three big predictable events coming up for you. Once you’ve got these noted, read on! 

Prepare for the big events

So you’ve identified a time where you know you’ll need to be energised and ready to be productive. What small changes could you make that might have a big impact on your ability to perform? These small changes could be in the areas of sleep, strength, health, energy, mood or motivation. 

  • Strength – this could be physical or mental, for example prioritising resistance-based exercise twice a week or something that promotes mental strength such as cold showers or meditation.

  • Health – what one thing could you do that promotes good health? This might include sleep, a minimum daily step count, controlling exposure to environmental pollution or ensuring you have healthy foods in the house. 

  • Energy – what people, places or things energise you, and how can you work more of these into your daily life? Energy comes from one place in the body and it’s a finite resource; we need to use it well! 

  • Mood – essential to a happy and productive life. Mood can be enhanced by doing things you enjoy at least some of the time, exposure to natural light (great for serotonin production), exercise or being around certain people.

  • Motivation – what excites you, what motivates you? For some people this is a strong sense of purpose, and for others it’s having goals or an endgame. What might that be for you? 

You might decide to pick one, two or three and make them daily non-negotiables. When we prioritise a few daily actions that keep us well and energised, it also helps to keep us in a ready state for the demanding things that we don’t see coming. Staying ready is easier than continually getting ready.

Making recovery a key priority

The other very important element of preparing for stress peaks is recovery. Micro breaks can be very effective and can take as little as a few minutes but have a big effect on productivity. We call these slivers of recovery. Research by Cornell University showed that taking short breaks boosts concentration, focus and productivity. 

Examples include a brisk ten-minute walk (proven to boost mood and energy), a movement snack, breathwork or meditation or simply daydreaming out the window to let your mind wander. 

Deliberate rest

Alongside slivers of recovery, prioritising longer periods of deliberate rest are just as important. A couple of years ago, I got Covid. After accepting I’d have to cancel everything in my calendar, I settled down for a couple of days of book reading on the sofa, and generally switching off. I can’t tell you how relaxed I felt, or how good it felt to have nothing in the diary. I was able to be completely at ease; to focus only on recovering and to be honest I really enjoyed it. On reflection I think that is rather sad; shouldn’t we have moments like that throughout the month anyway? Why wait until you get sick to give yourself permission to sit on the sofa or get some rest? 

Deliberate rest includes things like taking a bath or clearing out the itinerary for a weekend. It might be spending time sitting on the sofa – phone off – with a book. It could even be a dog walk. But the point is, it’s intentional and it’s scheduled. 

Preparation is the key to high performance

By preparing for the predictable events, you’re not only giving yourself a competitive edge but also optimising your health and wellbeing. At a time where burnout is increasingly prevalent, this is key. Instead of going full tilt all the time, look ahead to the next big event, and have some daily non-negotiables in place to keep you well and in a state of readiness for the next challenge. This is the secret to keeping chronic stress and burnout at bay and ultimately, having more fun in life and work! 

Leanne Spencer is the author of Cadence: The Secret to Beating Burnout and Performing in Life and Work

Further reading

Why do some people get more stressed than others?

Why rest isn't a waste of time, and how to do more of it

A psychologist explains stress and the mind-body connection

The power of doing nothing

Understanding the different types of stress and trauma responses