3 Ways to Increase Productivity without Compromising Health

In this blog post, I share my struggle with juggling productivity and wellness and offer a few tips that help me regain and maintain equilibrium.

Successfully balancing the responsibilities, demands, and challenges that our personal and professional worlds present on a weekly basis requires productivity, efficiency, and focus. Navigating this complex juggling act can be easy for some and a nightmare for others. Personally, I get a real rush from checking-the-box and accomplishing goals, from the most trivial tasks and errands to my biggest aspirations. For many years, I was proud of my machine-like ability to churn out projects and deliverables without conceding quality. However, as I matured, I began to realize that my daily quest to execute, achieve, and defeat the to-do-list was compromising my overall health and wellness. Why? Well, it’s simple – I didn’t prioritize mental and physical rest. Subconsciously, I lived as if listening to my body’s natural cry for a recharge was equivalent to losing ground on what I need to do from day to day. Side effects of my hyper-productivity included extreme daytime fatigue, “brain-fog”, stress, aching and more. I found my body being forced to work harder because I had to overcome physical obstacles on top of whatever tasks were at hand. My “machine” approach was backfiring!

In these moments, I realized the importance of prioritizing a few simple, but enriching actions. Our daily expectations and responsibilities may never fully subside, but what I am about to share has drastically transformed my ability to produce without cashing in my health and wellness.

1. Use self-awareness to optimize your effort.

A human’s daily energy allotment isn’t linear. Our ability to invest undivided attention and focus into a project is sinusoidal. According to data generated by project management software Podio, the human brain can only focus for 90-120 minutes and needs a brief respite before locking back in for another 90-120 minute stretch. This is called ultradian rhythm. Furthermore, everyone possesses unique productivity peaks. For example, I am most engaged and “zoned-in” to my work between the hours of 6am and 11am, I am most social and communicative between the hours of 12pm and 3:30pm, and I am most creative, entrepreneurial-minded, and pensive between the hours of 9pm and 3am. As a result of this self-awareness, I try to schedule writing and research projects for the morning and save conference calls, meetings, and presentations for the afternoon. Then, I produce my drone videos, edit my photography, and strategize on future goals in the late evening. Learning how your brain functions and when you work most efficiently can help you avoid expending too much mental energy on the wrong things at off-peak times.

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2. Incorporate nature into your daily regimen.

Have you ever heard of the concept of Biophilia? It implies that humans possess an innate need to connect with nature on physical, mental, and social levels. Humans weren’t designed to work in windowless cubicles, perched in front of some form of technology for 8-10 hours per day. This experience is mundane, leading to presenteeism, stymieing creativity, and causing an array of negative physical responses. Scientific studies have proven that connecting to nature invigorates humans, reducing stress, elevating mood, and increasing learning rates.

So how do you do this?

Well, instead of taking a conference call or eating lunch at your desk, grab your headphones and take a walk around your company’s campus or to a nearby public space. Increase your proximity to windows and daylight during the work day. Bring plants into the workplace – succulents and cacti are easy to keep alive. Additionally, you can encourage your office manager to incorporate natural textures and patterns into workplace design. To learn more about Biophilia and Biophilic Design in the Workplace, click here and here.

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3. Eat to nourish your brain cells.

While deep in the throws of the work day, it’s easy to eat quickly and mindlessly just to feel full, rather than to nourish the millions of cells that work tirelessly to keep your body up and running. What you consume can make or break your energy levels and ability to focus. Brain foods consist of those that are rich in antioxidants (beets, dark chocolate, cranberries, seeds & nuts), healthy fats (avocados, blueberries, salmon, tuna), as well as B complex vitamins (Quinoa, spinach, kale, tomatoes, cauliflower). Substituting fruit-infused water, natural cold-pressed juices, and herbal teas for beverages like coffee, soda, and juices that are rich in processed sugars, caffeine, and artificial colors/flavors is another way to avoid productivity-inhibiting side affects caused by poor nutrition.

Take care of your cells and they’ll work even harder for you. Many believe that eating mindfully is too expensive and inconvenient, but that is a huge misconception. Here are a few links to my favorite bloggers who highlight cheap, easy ways to put your body first and enjoy the positive benefits of holistic health.

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I hope you enjoyed these tips. I’m still working daily to master them. I have my moments when I slip back into hyper-productivity and lose my equilibrium. However, I can attest to the fact that when I work smarter, listen to my body, and create enriching environments and rhythms in which I can thrive, I am able to accomplish everything I set out to do in a day and maintain my optimum state of well-being.

Do you have any thoughts or similar experiences? What do you do to maintain balance and invest in your mental and physical health? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

How to Find Peace Amid Career Anxiety

In this blog post, I share how my experiences in 2017 transformed the way I view my career as well as the learnings I captured along the way.

 Photo: Jo'V of  BYBN

Photo: Jo'V of BYBN

2017 was a journey of personal transformation for me. I remember standing in my bedroom on January 1st around 1:00am after my family's annual New Year's festivities had died down and the house fell into a sleepy hush. While my friends and peers seemed poised headed into the year with their resolutions, goals, and ambitions already ironed and ready to wear, I stood somewhat unsure and insecure in my direction. This was the beginning of an uncomfortable season.

Those that know me are well aware that I always have a plan, a strategy, or new destination that I'm striving to reach. My entrepreneurial mind swirled and raced with ideas around how I could use my time outside of my day job more purposefully. I asked myself a myriad of questions: what do I really care about? How and where do I want to leave my mark? Am I really making a difference in people's lives? What am I best at? How will I become a millionaire? What's my BIG idea? I spent countless hours (all after midnight) reading articles and browsing Instagram, observing people around my age fearlessly birthing start-ups, launching movements, and blazing new trails. These quiet nights were fraught with the notion that at age 24, I was behind and should have already had the answers to all of these questions (just like the successful millennials from the articles). As I approach the end of 2017, I recognize that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I'll explain.

In mid-January, I participated in a fast being led by my church in Atlanta. This was my first time ever participating in a long-term fast. Most fellow church-goers fasted from food, some from alcohol and sweets, and the rest from other distracting aspects of life, with intention to focus more of their being on strengthening their relationship with God. I chose hip-hop. I'd say that 75% of my Apple Music playlists consist of hip-hop --- I used to listen all the time (while driving, working out, working, etc.). It gets me pumped up and my juices flowing for just about anything (sports, work, exams, etc.). Now, there's nothing wrong with music, but for me, it was blocking my ability to just exist in my quiet thoughts and actually process on a daily basis. The 30 hip-hop free days stretching from mid-January to mid-February changed the entire trajectory of my year.

I believe that as I grew spiritually (primary goal of the fast), new ideas, thoughts, and perspectives were also placed in my mind. They began to overflow onto paper. I remember rushing home every single day after work to write vigorously. I began capturing my raw feelings and organizing them by drawing mind-maps, sketching out ideas, connecting ideas with arrows, highlighting, and so forth. This may sound elementary, but I for one who processes with lists, spreadsheets, and Google docs, these moments felt like creative explosions. In my head, I felt like Mike Wheeler from Stranger Things in the scene in which he was speedily sketching out the underground map of Hawkins. Here's what this "internal mining" taught me about myself. 

1. I am troubled by the state of the African-American male. I want to educate, equip, and empower the young black male to live out his purpose, pursue his dreams and passions, experience optimum health and wellness, thrive and be gratified in his chosen academic or career path, but most importantly leave a positive handprint on his community to provoke continuous and contagious change.
2. I chose to study and embark on a career in the field of sustainability because I value stewardship. I believe that human life and nature are both precious and deserving of being preserved in their healthiest state. From 9-5, I channel my commitment to stewardship by helping my company advance its initiatives that promote social and environmental responsibility in a way that stimulates bottom line growth.
3. Since embarking on the field of sustainability, I was disappointed in the lack of attention paid to "people problems" like resource availability, income disparity, and access to opportunity that are so intimately interconnected with the environmental challenges that are so prominently broadcasted. Communicating about diversity, inclusion, and equity, unearthing their connections to the mainstream sustainability conversation became an immediate priority.
4. I enjoy public speaking (especially to students), writing, strategizing, creating, and attempting to make people's lives better.

I was bubbling with energy and passion because I felt much clearer about my current career purpose.

GREAT! Now what?

I had no clue. So in April, I began talking with family, close friends, mentors, and colleagues about ideas that I had brainstormed that would allow me to mesh and act on what I discovered within myself. Everyone I spoke to reciprocated my enthusiasm, shared sage advice, and encouraged the direction in which I was headed. I continued to develop, validate, and activate ideas, but things didn't feel quite right. I hit a wall. Things quieted down inside of me and began to grow frustrated with my sudden, eerie lack of productivity and movement. My mind started to creep back to the unsure state it was in early New Year's morning. Why was this happening? I eventually realized that it was because I expected my conversations with my inner circle to absolutely verify that my BIG ideas and ultimate life purpose had indeed been revealed. I wanted so bad to have my BIG idea right then and there. I wanted to hear, "Yes, Jarami.... here it is.... without a shadow of a doubt, you should do "THIS!" I took the feelings brought upon by my steady momentum and hopeful suspense and convinced myself that I found the final answer to what I'd be doing for the rest of my life. This moment taught me to view my recent breakthroughs as a few of the many puzzle pieces that will eventually take clear shape and make sense, but only with patience, growth, and self-awareness

Then, in June, GreenBiz 30 Under 30 happened, and that accelerated everything!

All of a sudden, I had a new platform beyond what my academic and professional experiences to date had given me. This new platform enabled me to meet, cross-pollinate, and engage in meaningful dialogues with incredible individuals across the world within and outside of my field. This led to new opportunities to address audiences of industry professionals and students across the country, sharing my own content and perspectives on the future of sustainable business and insights on finding purposeful careers upon graduation, respectively. From the 30 Under 30 recognition also emerged the opportunity to expand my writing beyond my personal blog to GreenBiz.com, one of the meccas of thought-sharing within my industry. I was also able to make my debut in the world of podcasting on "GreenBiz 350." 

The privilege to write, podcast, and speak publicly about the power of diversity and inclusion within the context of sustainable business was one of the most gratifying moments of my young career. I was able to extract my thoughts, emotions, and perspectives (discovered and articulated earlier in the year) and share them with the masses within my field with the goal of telling truth, evoking hope, and catalyzing change. The response to my content was overwhelming, encouraging, and humbling. I believe that my field has the potential to create positive change in the world so I trust that my words fell on the right ears.

Toward the end of Fall 2017, I delivered my final speaking engagements of the year to environmental science students at North Carolina State University (my alma mater) and UNC Charlotte. Between the final engagement in October and the end of the year, I decided to take a break to ensure that I finish my work year with diligence, reinvest in relationships with family and friends, rest, heal, and recharge physically, begin planning for next year, and oh yeah - move across the country to San Francisco, CA.  

It is now November (wow, time flies!) and Christmas is right around the corner. As I write this blog post, I must confess that I don't have it all figured out. Despite the success I was blessed to experience in 2017, I still face moments of hesitancy, uncertainty and doubt where I question it all and wonder if I'm headed in the right direction. I look back at the output of my "internal mining" process that begun during my January fast and contemplate how I will use my strengths to make a difference. In these moments, I have begun to show myself more grace and reflect on the lessons that 2017 taught me.

Here's are a few things that I remind myself that may be helpful for you too.

1. Don't allow the comparison of where you are today against where you want to be in the future rob you of the opportunity to celebrate present-day successes. Enjoy the ride!
2. Allow your journey to success to happen at the pace it needs to happen in. Some enjoy overnight lightbulb moments that catapult them toward success. But, others (like me and most) will reach this moment through a slow-bake process, one that will yields valuable experiences and learnings. Enjoy the ride!
3. Avoid elevating your career or the pursuit of success to unhealthy levels. This could prevent you from experiencing the fullness that life has to offer. Your value and identity aren't determined by how many people follow you on social media, whether or not you get that raise/promotion, or how great of a company you work for. Prioritize and invest in relationships with family and friends, your physical, mental, and spiritual health, and interests and hobbies outside of work that bring you joy. Career and success have its place on the hierarchy of importance, but they are not everything.
4. Give yourself the mental freedom and physical space to think outside the box about your career and allow your interests to evolve. I used to believe that I couldn't navigate away from what I earned a degree in. My degree was in environmental science. At one point, I only envisioned myself working closely with engineers, research and development teams, and laboratory technicians, but since graduating I've primarily been hanging out with sales reps and marketing specialists (and I love it!). If you feel a tug, follow it. If you fight it, you probably won't be enjoying the ride as you could potentially be blocking yourself from stepping into your sweet spot.
5. Did you catch onto the main point I'm getting at here? ENJOY THE RIDE! Contrary to how you may feel, you are exactly where you're supposed to be. One day, you'll be able to step back, see the finished puzzle, and understand how each moment, idea, and experience culminated into your definition of success for your chosen career.

I wrote this blog post for myself, to remind me of how my thinking evolved this year, capture the journey, and celebrate what has transpired as I look toward what is to come. I'm normally not this transparent. But, my hope is that through sharing my experience and thoughts, someone simply resonates with my story, another finds hope and encouragement, a third person gleans something that they can immediately apply, and a fourth shares it with someone who'd appreciate it.

I'd love to chat about your story, offer advice, and/or exchange ideas and learnings. Feel free to reach out to me on Instagram and/or Twitter as well as via email at www.jarami.bond.com/contact.

I wonder what I'll be thinking about at 1:00am on New Year's Day of 2018. I'll make sure to tell you at the end of next year.

Business as a Force for Community Impact

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I believe that climate change is real, advocate for increased use of renewable energy, and enjoy brainstorming ways to turn waste streams into unexpected, high-value assets. In college, I studied environmental engineering, environmental science and sustainable materials and technology. Pretty much all aspects of my educational background are highly technical and focused on the environmental sphere of sustainability.  Sustainability is broken into three spheres: people, planet, and profit. I encourage you to read my post, "Sustainability: Deeper than Green," to grasp the basics.

In addition to my technical background, I have always had a burning desire to find ways to empower and improve the lives of the underserved. Yes, healing the planet can catalyze chain reactions that inherently heal people. However, there’s so much more that can be done to intentionally and directly support people in need.

Over the past two years, I have spent extensive time exploring the stomping grounds of lower, middle, and upper class Atlanta. I have witnessed with my own eyes the negative socio-cultural/economic effects of gentrification, the tragedy of human trafficking, the exacerbation of chronic homelessness, the degraded health of citizens who inhabit food deserts, and much more. On the other hand, I have also seen how privilege, opulence, and greed fuel the systemic widening of the gaping social divide between astonishingly adjacent communities.

These experiences combined with a shift in worldview invoked by my time spent working at Interface, Inc. have led me to believe that business can be a force for social good.  Business must have stake in the conversation and a seat at the table.

Business is a part of the solution

The late founder of Interface and sustainability icon Ray C. Anderson, who I dub the “grandfather of corporate sustainability,” inspired the vision that I have for businesses. His famous quote, “Brighten your corner (of the world) where you are…and my god, what if everybody did it?” still possesses a hopeful strength and attainable truth that businesses have an opportunity to embrace.  Anderson’s impact philosophy was based upon the premise that “If business can be a part of the problem, it certainly can be a part of the solution.”  Through his revolutionary worldview, Anderson built a successful global corporation that proved to the industrial world that it could do well by doing good.

A vision of symbiosis

Symbiosis is a biological term defined as a mutually beneficial relationship between different people or organisms, typically living in close physical association. The relationship between goby fish and shrimp is an example of symbiosis in marine ecosystems. Shrimp dig burrows in the sand and both organisms live there. Since shrimp are nearly blind, goby fish touch the shrimp to alert it that a predator is near. 

I desire to see more businesses behaving in symbiosis with local communities in need. As a business anchors its roots deeper into the soil of a community, it should actively seek to increase its understanding of the broader social landscape. Delving into this landscape can help the business identify community challenges and steer it toward becoming an active player in the community's revitalization and resilience.

In order to play its part within a symbiotic relationship with community, a business can create flexible pathways in which employees can live out core company values by becoming catalysts of social change.  This begins with a business building unlikely partnerships with grassroots organizations that exist to solve a social issue and deploying its people and resources to support the cause. 

Creating initiatives on the grassroots level addresses the disconnection between the generous and the vulnerable, allowing both stakeholder groups to build relationships, press in, and generate high-impact solutions together. This relationship-building approach influences a business to shift from isolated philanthropy and volunteerism to continual, generational investment into underserved communities. The world needs more companies that are for the people, but more importantly with the people.

Linking social impact to business growth

Now, I know what you must be thinking. This all sounds and feels good. But, can this shift in approach add value to a business? Yes! Here are a few ways by which investing in community will contribute to bottom line growth and long-term business health. 

  • Create powerful narratives that build brand awareness, brand love, and customer loyalty & form new avenues for customer engagement as consumers are enabled to share in the mission via product/service purchase, campaigns, calls to action, and more. “55% of consumers are willing to pay more for products from socially responsible companies (Double the Donation Research). Patagonia’s reached a record breaking $10M in sales after expecting $2M after announcing that 100% would be donated directly to grassroots nonprofits (Patagonia).”

  • Elevate business reputation to a level of inspiration and leadership capable of boosting media exposure, influencing marketplace trends, and opening up new doors for strategic partnerships.

  • Attract and maintain business investors. “Investors are more likely to pour into companies that demonstrate a commitment not only to employees and customers, but also to causes and organizations that impact the lives of others (Double the Donation Research).”

  • Cultivate a sensitive, educated culture that can breed social intrapreneurship, feeding game-changing ideas down the innovation pipeline into the core business.

  • Engage employees at every level in to their company's sustainability mission, increasing alignment with company values and vision. This gives employees a greater sense of purpose and meaning, creating a more engaged culture “Nearly 60% of employees who are proud of their company’s social responsibility initiatives are engaged on their jobs (Double the Donation Research).”

  • Contribute to increased attraction and retention of talent, reducing recruiting costs and capturing the brightest minds. “More than 50% of millennials say they would take a pay cut to find work that matches their values, while 90% want to use their skills for good (Net Impact).”

Now what?

In the end, I believe that every company has a platform that can be maximized for symbiotic social impact. By bridging the gap between those living in abundance and deficit, a business can create new realities for vulnerable communities and experience the positive benefits associated with engaging its employees, customers, and investors deeply in its mission and vision.

Is your company already investing positively into communities in need? Let me know in the comments. I'd love to hear success stories and best practices. If you enjoyed this post, I’d be very grateful if you’d help it spread by emailing it to a friend, or sharing it on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook. Thank you!

Sustainability: Deeper than "Green"

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A few weeks ago, I found myself in an interesting conversation with a guy that I met at a local outdoor basketball court here in Atlanta. In between pickup games, we realized that we both graduated from North Carolina State University, leading us into a discussion around what we do and where we work. He shared that he worked for a tech firm as an IT Specialist. And, of course, I told him that I work for Interface Americas as a Manager of Sustainability.

His response – “What in the world is sustainability?”

This isn’t the first time that I’ve been in this situation. When I receive that question, my heart normally drops a little. I’m partially frustrated because, sustainability, the focus of my collegiate education and my area of career specialty, is probably one of the only organizational departments that can be completely misunderstood or as in this case, unknown. It’s hard to find anyone who is clueless on the general functions and value added by departments such as sales, marketing, human resources operations, public relations, information technology, and so on.

But, once I quickly put my grievances aside, I’m faced with an even deeper challenge, answering the question at hand before things get awkward. How do I casually, concisely, and confidently articulate the world-changing aspirations of the everyday sustainability professional? I know that I need to keep my explanation under 30 seconds and avoid getting too deep in the technical, scientific weeds.

Unfortunately, I failed.

I found myself headed for a conversational dead end as I explained renewable energy sources, greenhouse gas emissions reduction and closed-loop recycling systems. He was a little glazed over and responded, “Oh, so just all of the green stuff? I got it!”

That's the last way I wanted him to interpret the word sustainability.

Here’s the thing – sustainability is much, much deeper than green! Sustainability is all about ensuring that all colors and shades of skin on the planet have access to the vital, life-giving natural resources that the Earth provides (i.e. clean air, fresh drinking water, nutritious food, etc.) over the span of generations.  Sustainability exists so that our children and grandchildren will have equal or better opportunities to experience the ecological richness, human diversity, and economic health that allow mankind to thrive.

Because the Earth’s vitality has been compromised by waste, pollution, harmful emissions, deforestation, species extinction, and other challenges, the role of the sustainability professional exists. We work to generate solutions to these problems and implement them in a variety of arenas including government, business, academia, non-profit etc. I’m going to stop there. I’m getting the urge to deep-dive.

Hopefully, this elevator pitch is helpful for sustainability professionals who have experienced similar situations and those who also might not have understood what sustainability is all about. Whether or not you work in sustainability, you have the opportunity to adopt small habits that collectively contribute to creating a more sustainable world.