In the American workplace, we tend to accept stress, burnout, sleep deprivation and 24/7 connectivity as facts of life.
So often, we believe that success requires being the last person to leave the office at night, and tethering ourselves to our smartphones so that we can immediately respond to emails from the boss. But after a while, the long hours and constant busyness to leave us stressed, unhappy and overwhelmed.
Do we really have to sacrifice our wellness (and sanity) in order to succeed? Not if Arianna Huffington has anything to say about it.
In her 2014 bestseller Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom and Wonder, the president and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group charts a more sustainable course to success -- one that allows time for health, personal fulfillment, joy and giving back. In fact, she argues that prioritizing well-being and happiness can actually make you better at your job.
“We think, mistakenly, that success is the result of the amount of time we put in at work," she writes, "instead of the quality of time we put in."
Here are five of Huffington's best secrets to maximizing the quality of your time and achieving sustainable success.
1) Use all your vacation days.
American employees use on average only half of their vacation days -- and bear in mind that they're only given an average of 16 days of paid vacation (including holidays) to begin with. Here's another sobering statistic: In a given year, Americans leave 175 million vacation days unused.
It's important that you take a real break from work -- something that we're not very good at as a culture. The majority of Americans (61 percent) confess to working while on vacation. Taking time to rest and recharge is critical for success and well-being. Resist the urge to email your boss from the beach and know that things will work themselves out without you.
"Living a life in which we work all the time and never prioritize recharging simply isn't sustainable -- not for individuals, and not for companies either," Huffington wrote in a blog post last year.
To the extent that you're able, follow the example of Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, who says that he takes six weeks of vacation per year. "I take a lot of vacation and I'm open about it internally to try to set a good example," Hastings said at a conference in New York last month.
Granted, your employer may not give you a full six weeks -- but you can still take advantage of however many days you do have by using every last one.
2) Find a way to give back.
The simplest way to improve your work life may be to find a way to improve the lives of others. There's no question that giving is good for your body, mind and spirit -- and, Huffington insists, it can even boost productivity and fulfillment at work.
It may sound counterintuitive, but giving your time to others -- even when you feel stretched thin -- can improve your mood and well-being, which in turn can help you make more effective use of your time. One study even found weekly volunteering could improve well-being as much as a major salary boost.
"Empathy, compassion, and giving -- which is simply empathy and compassion in action -- are the building blocks of our being," Huffington wrote in a 2013 blog post. "With them we flourish; without them we perish."
Volunteering has been found to reduce depression and stress levels, improve mood and give people a greater sense of purpose in life -- all things that can translate into renewed energy and creativity at work. Giving to others can also keep you healthy, curbing your risk for developing a chronic disease by reducing levels of inflammation.
3) Sleep eight hours every night.
Skimping on sleep is a fast track to stress, burnout and job dissatisfaction -- a reality that Huffington herself knows all too well.
After collapsing from exhaustion and being hospitalized for a broken cheekbone in 2007, Huffington now calls herself a "sleep evangelist." Getting eight hours of quality shut-eye each night without fail is one of her best secrets to success.
Sleep deprivation can impair focus, learning, memory and decision-making, and over time can contribute to a whole host of physical and mental health problems. On the flip side, adequate rest can improve health outcomes, productivity and mood.
"The science is in on what most people already intuitively know -- we perform better, we think better, and we make better decisions when we're refreshed and well-rested," Huffington wrote in a blog post last year. "To cite just one example, a study published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that the cognitive effects of sleep deprivation are directly comparable to being drunk."
4) Slow down.
"My mother was a towering example of the joys of slowing down," Huffington wrote in a LinkedIn blog with advice to her 22-year-old self. "She believed that rushing through life was a sure way to miss the gifts that come only when you give 100 percent of yourself to a task, a conversation, a dinner, a relationship, a moment."
Huffington argues that many of us are suffering from a personal time deficit crisis -- or as writer James Gleick calls it, "hurry sickness."
For high achievers in particular, it's easy for life to start feeling like a never-ending cycle of work, family and other obligations. But to create a life of success and well-being, it's imperative that we find a way to balance work with everything else that matters to us -- family, friends, health and time for rest and reflection. Pruning down your schedule to the most essential activities and saying "no" to the rest is one place to start, while disengaging from digital distractions can also help you to better enjoy unoccupied time.
5) Build mindfulness into your day.
You don't have to be an advanced yogi or a Buddhist to enjoy the benefits of a meditation practice -- as little as 10 minutes a day of sitting still and cultivating a focus on the present moment can make a real difference.
"Every element of well-being is enhanced by the practice of meditation," Huffington wrote in Thrive. "Through mindfulness, I found a practice that helped bring me fully present and in the moment, even in the most hectic of circumstances."
Starting the day with a little mindfulness can also seriously boost your well-being and your brain power. Meditation has been linked with improved memory and focus, better emotional well-being, reduced stress and anxiety, and improved mental clarity -- all of which can contribute to a more dynamic work day.
More stories like this: