Hello everyone, welcome to the Balanced Business Leaders Podcast hosted by yours truly, Claire Jones, owner of Liminal Clarity. We are a business development agency that helps small business leaders scale and grow without burning out.
This is the next podcast in a series where we will be discussing the various trials and tribulations that lead me to creating my Three Pillars of Business Success, a framework that represents the foundational systems that contribute to sustainable business growth.
If you’re interested in learning more, please join us in our free Balanced Business Leaders Facebook Group at facebook.com/groups/balancedbusinessleaders.
Ready? Alright, let’s dive in.
So I started this podcast as a way to tell my story, particularly when it comes to the many, many different lessons that I have learned over the years when it comes to founding, developing, running, and growing small businesses.
This particular episode is about the Healthy Mind Platter, a research-backed framework that represents the first step in creating a Sustainable Schedule as a busy small business leader.
You know those days when you say, “I just can’t handle it anymore, my plate is full”? Or, “I just want to break for once”?
That was me five years ago, I was in the midst of running my first business – a general store devoted to local goods. And I was working 60 hours a week in a white box surrounded by inventory I couldn’t sell.
I was completely burnt out because my brain had hit a wall, you know, I wasn’t working at my optimal brain capacity. I wasn’t able to show up as my best self on a day-to-day basis and one thing that really helped me get out of that funk was this awesome tool that I learned from The NeuroLeadership Institute.
It really helped me realize that I needed to prioritize these things in my life and actually commit myself to optimal brain productivity and I come back to this framework every time that I feel that sense of heaviness, burn out, desperation, and frustration.
Whenever I’m watching myself spinning my wheels and not really getting to where I want to go, I use this tool to create space in my brain and when I do that I get more done by doing less honestly.
I can take on bigger challenges and I’m more willing to go outside of my comfort zone because I have a bigger reservoir of energy and there’s more resources available for my executive functioning – you know this space in your prefrontal cortex that’s right behind your forehead. It’s an area of the brain that is really important to your working memory, to memory retention, to emotion regulation, to working with others – all kinds of stuff.
Through years and years of analyzing fMRIs and brain studies and other psychological studies, the NeuroLeadership Institute has created the Healthy Mind Platter that represents seven areas of your life that should be prioritized for optimal brain functioning.
These are the seven items to prioritize in your schedule if you want to increase your creativity, innovation, efficiency, productivity, and your overall health. These are all essential for holistic, optimal brain health.
So as we go over these, there are three different categories: one is Social Needs (meaning Connecting Time and Play Time), then there are Physical Needs (meaning Physical Time and Sleep Time), and then there are Cognitive Needs (meaning Focus Time, Down Time, and Time In).
Starting with Social Needs, the first is Connecting Time and this satisfies our Social Need for connection. And while it’s often more valued than Play Time, both are equally important.
Connection is vital to us humans because of our evolutionary wiring that predisposes us to seek out social connections in an attempt to increase our chances of survival. It’s literally wired into our brain and it’s a basic need akin to the need for food, water, and shelter.
So not only does social support have beneficial effects on the cardiovascular, endocrine, and immune systems but satisfying social relationships are also associated with more positive outlooks on life, more secure attachments and interactions with others, more flexibility when confronting psychological challenges, and more efficient restorative behaviors.
An easy action step would be to commit to spending time with close and reliable others twice a week for at least an hour and an easy tool to accomplish this is to maximize your time by doing group activities that satisfy both your need for Connecting Time and Physical Time.
This could be a game of pickup volleyball, pick up soccer, as long as you focus on the social interactions instead of the more competitive interactions of the activity because then again you can hit two birds with one stone.
Moving on to Play Time, on the other hand – it’s often seen as an unimportant behavior regulated to the young and immature but play directly contributes to the release of dopamine which allows all animals in the animal kingdom to cope with the unexpected demands of a potentially threatening and stressful environment.
So for us, it’s a natural reward system that helps enhance our creativity and our capacity to adapt when faced with changing and challenging circumstances.
One thing that you could do to prioritize this is to devote at least 2 hours per week to unstructured play – just do something that makes you happy. You know, enjoy it and really lean into the joyful activities that you can participate in on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis.
An easy tool would be to use board games as a way to combine Play Time and Connecting Time. Again, there’s a way to combine these so that you’re not trying to schedule seven new blocks of time into your week. You can combine these two and really streamline your time, make it more efficient, and still reap the benefits of these different areas.
For example, I love to schedule monthly board game nights or crafting nights with my friends because both board games and crafting represent Play Time for me. They give me a chance to explore and play around with my imagination in a low-risk environment. I’ve even gotten into Dungeons & Dragons a lot in the last few years and that’s a great way to indulge in improv and imagination. Dancing, acting, painting, singing, playing instruments, playing with your kids or your pets – all of those can apply as long as you’re focused on the playful, explorative aspects.
Alright, so moving on to Physical Needs.
First off, Sleep Time is perhaps the most overlooked and undervalued but the most important area to focus on when the mind and body are exhausted and mental capacities start fading. Sleep deprivation is considered to be even more dangerous than a lack of food and sleep has been found to be essential for homeostatic restoration, temperature regulation, tissue repair, immunity, memory processing, and even emotion regulation.
So one thing you can do to prioritize Sleep Time throughout the week is to restrict your work time to 6 to 8 hours a day, get 6 to 8 hours of sleep per night.
Personally, I’m one who has always prioritized my sleep. I’ve always loved sleep and so I’ve found that 9 hours is actually optimal for me, but everyone is different so you need to find something that works for you. Some people need less time, some people need more time. So experiment and find out what your happy spot is. Just make sure that you’re consistent once you find a routine that works for you.
An easy tool to make sure that Sleep Time goes smoothly and seamlessly is to keep the bedroom dark and cool between 65 to 75 degrees and to keep all lights at a minimum.
So moving on to Physical Time: it refers to time spent working on your body or exercise or other means. And moving your body is critical in improving brain plasticity, in improving your immune system, and even in improving your overall mood.
Exercise also has the capacity to enhance learning and memory, counteract mental decline associated with aging, aid recovery from brain injury or disease, reduce stress and anxiety, alleviate depression, and improve executive functions such as response speed, working memory, inhibition of inappropriate behavior, and focus. They’ve actually found in various studies that exercise can be more effective in treating depression than prescription drugs.
So what happens in the brain when you are engaging in physical activities?
Your brain produces this awesome chemical called BDNF and it’s basically Miracle-Gro for your brain. It enhances your brain’s ability to create neural connections and so when you exercise before learning something you are much more primed to then learn the material that you’re trying to absorb because your brain is a lot more primed to make the required neural connections that you need to make in order to learn the material.
They’ve done tons of studies over the years with elementary, middle school, and high school students. And they’ve found that if they put PE (physical education) at the beginning of the day, learning improves, test scores improve, there’s less aggression in the classroom, people are in better moods, and they just experience better school conditions overall.
So it’s super important to get that Physical Time into your weekly schedule. One thing you can do is to set aside around 2 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, or an equivalent mix of the two each week.
And an easy tool to make this a priority is to make it fun. You know, you can go dancing with friends or pick up a game of soccer with friends. There’s a way to combine multiple areas on this Healthy Mind Platter in a way where you’re not scheduling a separate slot for each activity on its own. You can combine them and try to hit two birds with one stone.
So moving on to the Cognitive Needs: Down Time is pretty much doing absolutely nothing. This used to be a hard one for me so it’s something that I’ve really had to be conscious of incorporating into my day-to-day schedules and week-to-week routines.
It’s intentionally having no intention. It allows our minds to freely wander in no particular direction – setting the stage for insight and permitting a process called integration, which is the linkage of differentiated parts, and this is especially important when solving complex problems or making complex decisions.
Down Time can occur between scheduled activities or it can be an activity within itself as long as the individual disconnects from their linear, intentional focus on their environment. This is basically daydreaming, you know, how much time do you spend throughout the day just taking a moment and daydreaming or taking a moment and letting your mind wander with no particular intention?
And Time In, on the other hand, involves intentional relaxation, reflection, or mindfulness. It is a type of focused training for the mind that uses self-inquiry and self-awareness to achieve self-regulation.
It is a process that aims to decrease sympathetic activation, heart rate, and muscle tension. By creating a space between physical, mental, and emotional reactions, it allows us to adopt and maintain a self-observing attitude.
Self-observation, when done in a non-judgmental and accepting manner, increases our ability to choose our responses instead of succumbing to automatic and potentially problematic physical, mental, and emotional responses.
This could be meditation or prayer, but it’s basically focusing on your internal states. Notice what is going on inside of you. Take a minute or two to check in with your internal sensations, your internal feelings, your internal thoughts, your internal processes. Notice them in a non-judgmental and accepting manner.
So an easy action step would be to set aside 15 minutes a day to be in silence with your eyes closed and an easy tool would be to set an alarm to remind you.
Finally, Focus Time is what we, in our Western Society, tend to focus on and value the most at the expense of all the other areas and it’s usually the most well-known out of these recommendations.
Focus Time is a unique activity that involves the mindset of being in a flow state. A flow state is the perfect combination of challenge and competency. It means that the task you are doing is not too challenging but you are also not too competent at completing it.
Focus Time is very encouraged in today’s work environments and an easy action item that you can do is to take note of when you lose track of time – that means you are in a Flow State. These are the activities where you hit that perfect balance between competence and challenge.
An easy tool is to jot down these activities and consciously make them part of your weekly schedule so that you can lose yourself in the activity in a way that benefits your mind in an awesome and optimally functional way.
I encourage you to take a look at how you assign your time throughout the day to determine which areas you are currently under-prioritizing or neglecting and, by doing this, you can intentionally design a life that holistically benefits your brain.
So next time, we’ll be going over Flexible Time Blocking, the second step in creating a Sustainable Schedule for yourself. I hope to interweave my personal experiences with the business lessons I learned along the way so that I can paint a full picture for you guys.
And please let me know what you think! I am always open to feedback and love connecting with my audiences.
If you want to learn more, I personally invite you to join us in the Balanced Business Leaders VIP Group Program. In as little as one hour per week, you will walk away with a clear action plan to grow and scale your business sustainably.
Please visit linktr.ee/liminalclarity for more information.
You can find the episode outline, video recording, transcript downloads, related links, etc. below.
And, until next time, love you all, take care, and I hope you have a good day wherever you are.