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Making Work-Life Balance a Habit — While Managing an Illness, Multiple Projects and Being a Caregiver

September 19, 2019

For most of us, specializing ourselves in one field of work seems like a safe choice. After graduation, we start as a junior in one company, then work our way up to the senior position in the same one, or in another company. 

But Ana chose to be the odd one out. Though always moving forward, she tries to widen her horizons in as many areas as she can. From an industrial engineer to a multimedia designer, to a digital marketer to working with several Diversity and Inclusion organizations, Ana never allows herself to stay stagnant in her career path. Now, learning UX and Product Design, Ana is preparing for new challenges ahead.

What impressed me most about Ana is how she learns to stay independent and rational throughout those years. She was once diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue, but didn’t accept that she couldn’t perform 100% as other humans. She studies biochemistry and biology by herself, digging deeper into the root of her illness and ways to get better.

I interrupted her sacred morning with her two 15-year-old cats to pick her brain about the habits she has been forming to defy her health problem and become a successful woman.


Alan

Hello Ana, I’m sure that our Habitify members are curious about your daily routine. Could you share with us?

Ana

Sure thing Alan. A little background first. I’ve always been fond of self-help and self-development books, so I have been doing a lot of research and experiences with my routine. 

Juggling a regular life with health issues, taking care of my senior pets while at the same time I work with several projects and volunteering isn’t easy. It made me feel scattered and I am one of those people who says yes to everything — meetings at midnight or delivering projects within very tight deadlines. I was feeling overworked and burning out, so a couple of years ago I decided to put myself first because I still want to do a lot of things with my life but in order to do that, I had to stop sprinting and focus on running the marathon.


Ana with her 15-year-old cat


Back to my daily routine: As I work remotely as a freelancer, I have a lot of freedom, ad with a lot of freedom, I need more discipline. Usually people define their routines around their work hours, but because I have more flexibility with my work schedule and some restraints due to my health and being a carer of my pets who have regular treatments and health emergencies, I decided to create a group of flexible habits — let’s call them routines from now on. These routines allow me to take care of myself and create healthy boundaries so that I don’t forget simple things such as having breakfast because something came up.

I have a morning routine, a work kick-off routine, a lunch routine, a work check-in routine, a work wrap-up routine, a dinner routine and an unwind routine. The morning routine includes things such as meditating, feeding the cats and having a smoothie. Work routines are moments where I specifically check and reply to messages, review my tasks of the day, write on my work log journal or plan my calendar for the following day. Lunch and dinner have habits like taking supplements and eating a proper healthy meal. My routines are also on my calendar so that I don’t have anything scheduled at those times.

That’s why I thought of using a habit tracker. Habitify makes these routines operational, just like if I had a personal assistant accompanying me during the day. 

Alan

That was a long page of history Ana. Did you notice any impact on your life after forming those habits?

Ana

Of course Alan. 

(Without hesitation) First, it’s the peace of mind. It’s good to feel like the thing I’m doing at the moment is exactly the thing that I want to do. 

As I told you before, I work in a myriad of projects so I am often caught up in small things that steer me away from my personal habits. Now with the habits clearly listed out (in Habitify) I only need to look at it and follow it without missing anything.

Healthwise I have more energy, and I’m more productive as my ability to focus improves significantly. I stopped thinking that “I have to remember to drink water” or “I have to do X”. This freed a lot of mental space and when I am working on different projects, I can just focus on what I am doing and then move to the next thing. This helps me improve my self-confidence. At the same time, since I’m well aware of what I’m doing, it’s easier to track how much time I need to do certain things and afterwards adjust my projects’ schedule accordingly.

Alan

How about your health? You told me you were diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue, right? Did proper eating and drinking smoothies help?

Ana

They did, indeed! Ever since I was sick, I started to be more aware of what I eat and added some supplements to help with my nutritional deficiencies. So I formed these habits and they have stuck with me for 3 years.

Some years ago a doctor prescribed me a medication that incapacitated me. I wasn’t able to do simple things such as combing my hair or going to the supermarket. I also started to react to a lot of foods, and after going to so many doctors and having no solutions, I began doing research — mostly scientific papers and books by doctors such a Dr Lonsdale who specializes in Thiamine, B1, a nutrient that I found I was lacking. Fortunately the changes I made to my diet and supplements helped me recover a lot, but I still have some way to go.

Stress management is also important for one’s health. For that, meditation is also a big one. I had been doing it for 3-4 months straight without a break, until I found it slowly becoming a chore. Then I stopped but I am starting to do it again.

Last year, I have been trying to stick with some habits related to work like worklog journaling, limiting the times where I read and reply to messages and planning the following day the night before. They also help a lot in terms of work organization, and stress management.

Alan

That was truly inspiring Ana. I never thought one could learn to treat her own illness without the doctor. Well, brave you were, too!

Ana

You see, the problem nowadays is that most medical schools only teach people to give a certain kind of pills to a certain kind of disease, without fully and deeply understanding the root cause of the problem. That’s why I wanted to learn more about biochemistry, microbiome and molecular biology (DNA). 

Let’s say you have a headache, you meet with your doctor and they ask you to take this pill. The side effect of it could mean that your liver will suffer. After a year of taking this medication, you start to have other symptoms and you go to the doctor again and guess what, they will tell you to take a pill for the liver. Unfortunately that pill could affect other organs and this is how you enter in a vicious loop.

Alan

I see. Seems like we’re only given temporary solutions. 

So back to our main topic. I am very curious how you managed to stick to your habits for all these years? Can you give some advice to the starter who wants to be like you?

Ana

Ah, don’t get me wrong, I didn’t have very long streaks like most habit gurus out there. I found the way that works best for me, but I’m not sure if it works for other people.

My first advice is to have compassion towards ourselves. I mean, don’t be too harsh on yourself. You are creating a new habit, you don’t have to be perfect. It’s a learning process. If you miss one day, that’s fine. If you miss 3 days, go back and do it again. It’s better to do it once or twice a week than not doing anything at all. If you’re unable to do a habit today, skip it and do it tomorrow. 

The second advice is that, although it’s good to be compassionate about yourself, you should be realistic and practical. Don’t cheat. If you couldn’t wake up because you put your phone in your bedside table and you snoozed it, instead put it in the kitchen or in the bathroom. Sometimes it’s hard to look at ourselves from a distance and see where we are boycotting ourselves. Personally, journaling has been very helpful in seeing how I am boycotting myself, like in situations where the “lazy me” was slacking a bit. Knowing this allows me to do something about it.

Another thing, you should make it easy to create the habit. I am reading “Willpower doesn’t work” by Benjamin Hardy and his book emphasizes this. The easier it is to keep up the habit, the more likely you’re going to stick to it. For example, if you want to drink water, you set up a reminder but when it comes up, you don’t have the bottle near you. You postpone it and eventually you forget to drink. For me, I want to drink water first thing in the morning. So the night before, — within my unwind routine — I have a habit to put a bottle on my bedside table. You see, setting yourself for success is so important that I even have habits listed on Habitify to prepare the habits I want to do the next day!

Last, but not least: each person is different. What makes you do things? Are you one of those people who just sets their minds into doing something and just does it? Or do you do things when you have an accountability system like going to a gym class because you had already scheduled with a friend? Find what makes you do the habits and it will help you be consistent — by the way, reading “The Four Tendencies” by Gretchen Rubin might help with this.

Alan

Hahaha, I should record this motivational speech for every one! Final question, with 54 habits, how did you use Habitify to best manage them?

Ana

Again, my goal is not to be perfect. Contrary to most people, I have only 5 reminders for the routines and other random reminders to drink water.

As my habits are grouped into batches, aka the routines, when the “Routine” reminder comes up, I open the app and check what I need to do. The best thing is that I start to associate the routine to a set of things that I need to do, instead of “X” habit separately and the more I do them, the more automatic my routine becomes.

Before I go to bed, I check everything off at once: if I did this - done, if I didn’t - failed, if I chose not to do - skipped. I feel very satisfied on days I check everything done! But still, the goal here is to build up a healthy routine, so if a day was more hectic than normal and I missed the habits that’s totally ok!

The heatmap is what I really like about Habitify. It shows me my performance in general so I know if I do better on certain days. Also, I find it best to complete my routine in combination with my Watch as I like to work without my cell phone next to me. 

Lately I have also tried to measure how much time I take on my routines, however, Alan, there is a bug that doesn’t let me stop the timer. I’m still trying to learn to use that app tough, but if you could check that out...

Alan

Oh really! My apology for that. Let me take this to the dev team.

Any way, thanks Ana for the sharing.. It was very motivating to talk to you!


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