Nurturing a Long, Productive Career in Tech

Nurturing a Long, Productive Career in Tech

Nurturing a Long, Productive Career in Tech

Maximizing energy levels, maintaining mental health, increasing productivity, and living a life of balance

Philip Lester

Jul 8, 2024

16 min read

Nurturing a Long, Productive Career in Tech
Nurturing a Long, Productive Career in Tech
Nurturing a Long, Productive Career in Tech
Nurturing a Long, Productive Career in Tech
Nurturing a Long, Productive Career in Tech
Nurturing a Long, Productive Career in Tech

Working in tech generally has a ton of perks. The pay is good and it's relatively easy on your physical body.

However, the effects of working on a screen for hours upon hours cause mental stress that requires ongoing work to mitigate.

As an agency owner, I juggle multiple clients, projects, and demands at a given time. It's crucial for me to "show up." Not just to appear on Zoom calls but to provide clear, actionable feedback and insights with a positive attitude and mindset so I can best serve my clients and team.

Burnout is a common phenomenon these days, especially in the tech space. It's also something I've personally struggled with a few times throughout my 20+ year career.  It's taken me almost a decade of learning, along with trial and error, to figure out how to consistently mitigate this stress and keep my energy levels and productivity high and my mental health in check.

Chronic Stress—i.e. Allostatic Load

Chronic Stress—i.e. Allostatic Load

Back-to-back Zoom meetings…
Slack messages…
Social notifications…
Nonstop emails…

It can feel overwhelming at times.

The stress that builds up from this day-to-day frenzy of screen-related activity is a term coined in a research study by Bruce McEwen and Elliot Stellar in 1993 called "Allostatic Load."

Allostatic load is the cumulative effect that chronic stress has on physical and mental health. It represents the ongoing adjustments our bodies make to life's pressures, which, if not properly managed, can accumulate and significantly impact our performance and health.

Excess allostatic load can have a number of adverse effects on the body and mind, including cardiovascular problems, immune system disruption, mental health issues (such as anxiety and depression), sleep disturbances, digestive problems, and more.

Studies have shown a link between high levels of allostatic load and burnout, especially work-related burnout. The Regensburg Burnout Project found that people with burnout had significantly higher allostatic load scores than a healthy comparison group. The study also found that burnout symptoms, emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and chronic work stress were all associated with higher allostatic load scores.

While work stress contributes to allostatic load, other lifestyle factors also play a major role, including poor sleep, smoking, alcohol consumption, and poor diet.

Relaxation ≠ Recovery

Relaxation ≠ Recovery

I used to be exhausted after work. I'd come home, hang out with my kids, and plop down on the couch to catch up on the latest series on Netflix.

While activities like watching TV, scrolling social media, or having a drink may feel relaxing, they don't actively promote the healing and rejuvenation necessary to clear allostatic load.

Active recovery involves practices that stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, counteracting stress and promoting true recovery.

Recovery Protocols to Reduce Allostatic Load

Reducing allostatic load happens through recovery activities that rejuvenate the mind and body and relieve mental stress. The Rockefeller research study recommends several active recovery protocols, many of which I've incorporated into my routine.

I've ordered these based on what I believe are the most to least effective (from personal experience).

1. Quality Sleep: Despite seeming passive, sleep is a highly active state that promotes physical and mental restoration, regulates stress hormones, and supports immune function.

2. Exercise: Promotes mental well-being and facilitates the body's stress recovery processes through the regulation of stress hormones and improved cardiovascular health.

3. Heat Therapy: Regular sauna sessions or hot baths promote muscle recovery and relaxation while reducing anxiety.

4. Meditation: Meditation can be a powerful form of active recovery, demonstrating significant benefits for attention, working memory, and mood.

5. Cold Therapy: Exposure to cold, such as ice baths, stimulates norepinephrine production, improving mood and focus while enhancing circulation and recovery.

6. Massage & Myofascial Release: Massage and using tools like foam rollers can alleviate physical tension, improve circulation, and lower stress.

7. Nature Exposure: Spending time in nature can have a calming effect that improves mood and enhances cognitive functions.

Quality Sleep

Quality Sleep

After a bad night of sleep, everything is more stressful and challenging. Quality sleep is arguably the most important factor in reducing allostatic load.

Maximize Restorative Sleep with Consistent Sleep/Wake Times

There are 3 main phases of our sleep cycles, including light, deep and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.  Deep sleep and REM sleep are crucial stages of the sleep cycle, each serving essential restorative functions for both the body and mind.

Deep sleep, also known as slow-wave sleep, is the most restorative phase. During this phase, the body repairs tissues, builds muscle and bone, and strengthens the immune system. This stage is vital for physical recovery and overall health.

REM sleep, characterized by rapid eye movements and vivid dreaming, is essential for cognitive functions such as memory consolidation, learning, and emotional regulation. During REM sleep, the brain processes and integrates information from the day, helping to form long-term memories and stabilize moods. Together, deep and REM sleep ensure comprehensive physical recovery and mental rejuvenation, enhancing overall well-being and performance.

Will Ahmed, CEO of Whoop, has consistent sleep data on over 15,000+ owners of the Whoop fitness wearable. Their data shows that having a consistent sleep/wake time is the most important factor in maximizing your deep and REM sleep.

The 3-2-1 Method

I've adopted a simple formula called the 3-2-1 method to ensure my sleep quality is high.

3 Hours Before Bed - No Eating. Eating right before bed disturbs your circadian rhythm and signals the mind and body to awake. Eating late at night disrupts sleep quality and reduces deep and REM sleep.

2 Hours Before Bed - No Drinking. Avoid consuming liquids to prevent you from needing to use the bathroom in the middle of the night, which disrupts sleep cycles and overall sleep quality.

1 Hour Before Bed—no Screens. Blue light from screens disturbs the body's natural circadian rhythm and signals your brain to be awake. Working on screens at night is sometimes unavoidable, so I recommend buying a pair of blue-light-blocking glasses.

Exercise—Nature's Antidepressant

Exercise—Nature's Antidepressant

Exercise reduces allostatic load by enhancing the body's ability to manage and recover from stress. Regular physical activity improves cardiovascular health, which helps regulate blood pressure and reduces the strain on the heart. It also promotes the release of endorphins, the body's natural mood elevators, which can counteract the adverse effects of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Additionally, exercise improves sleep quality, further aiding in the recovery process.

By engaging in regular physical activity, individuals can enhance mental well-being and foster a more resilient stress response system. This can mitigate the cumulative effects of chronic stress, lower allostatic load, and lead to higher levels of energy and productivity throughout the day.

In his book Outlive, Dr. Peter Attia cites studies showing a strong link between VO2 max (cardiorespiratory fitness) and strength to reduce all-cause mortality risk. Dr Attia's regimen for strength training and cardio includes:

Strength Training

  • 3-4 times a week

  • Alternating between upper and lower body workouts

  • Focus on compound lifts like squats, deadlifts, and hip-hinging movements

  • Includes upper body pulls, and grip exercises like pull-ups, rows, and farmers carries

  • Emphasizes 4-8 repetitions with heavier weights and 3-4 sets per exercise, with 2-4 minutes rest between sets


Zone 2 (Steady-state cardio)

  • 60-70% of your max heart rate

  • 3-4 times per week

  • Sessions typically last 45-90 minutes

  • This may include walking or slow jogging

  • Focuses on low-intensity, steady aerobic exercise to promote mitochondrial growth and improve stamina

High-Intensity (VO2 max) Training

  • 70-90% of max heart rate

  • Once a week

  • Includes activities like sprints, stair climbing, or rucking (carrying a weighted backpack)

  • Aims to improve peak oxygen utilization during exercise

Heat Therapy

Heat Therapy

Heat therapy, encompassing practices such as sauna sessions and hot baths, is effective for relaxation and physiological recovery.

Heat induces vasodilation, which improves blood circulation and helps to deliver more oxygen and nutrients to tissues, aiding in the repair and recovery processes. It also stimulates the release of endorphins and other stress-relieving hormones, enhancing mood, reducing anxiety, and reducing the levels of stress hormones like cortisol.

Dr Rhonda Patrick discusses the various benefits of sauna usage on her blog, FoundMyFitness. She follows the following sauna protocol:

  • 4 to 7 times per week

  • 20 to 30 minutes per session

  • 175°F to 180°F (80°C to 82°C)



Meditation is a powerful tool for reducing allostatic load by fostering deep relaxation and mental clarity. Through regular practice, meditation helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, often referred to as the "rest and digest" system. Meditation counteracts the body's stress response and lowers cortisol levels. This shift promotes a calming effect on the mind and body, reducing the physical and emotional wear and tear caused by chronic stress.

Meditation also enhances self-awareness and emotional regulation, allowing individuals to manage stressors more effectively and maintain a balanced state of mind.

Dr. Herbert Benson, a cardiologist and founder of the Mind/Body Medical Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital, is known for his research on meditation and its effects on health. His meditation routine, which he calls the "Relaxation Response," consists of the following steps:

  • Find a comfortable position, sitting or lying down, with uncrossed legs and arms/hands at rest.

  • Gently close your eyes or rest your gaze softly on something in front of you.

  • Relax your muscles, starting from your feet and moving up to your face.

  • Breathe slowly through your nose, focusing on breath sensations in the nostrils, throat, or belly.

  • On each exhale, silently repeat a word, sound, prayer, or phrase. Dr. Benson often suggests using "one," but notes that any soothing word or phrase can work.

  • When other thoughts come to mind, which is normal and expected, simply say "oh well" to yourself and return to your repetition.

Dr. Benson recommends practicing this technique for 10-15 minutes daily, preferably before breakfast. He emphasizes that consistency is key to experiencing the full benefits of the Relaxation Response. The goal is to break the train of everyday thinking and elicit a physiological state opposite to the stress response.

Ice Baths & Cold Showers

Ice Baths & Cold Showers

Cold therapy, including ice baths and cold showers, reduces allostatic load by triggering beneficial physiological responses that enhance stress resilience and recovery.

Exposure to cold stimulates the production of norepinephrine, a hormone and neurotransmitter that elevates mood, boosts alertness, and reduces inflammation. This response also promotes vasoconstriction, followed by vasodilation, which improves blood circulation and helps remove metabolic waste from tissues.

Cold therapy can significantly lower stress hormone levels, reduce muscle soreness, and improve overall recovery.

I picked up a Plunge a few years ago and use it several times a week. It's especially rejuvenating after a long day in front of screens. After a 3-5 minute ice bath, it immediately restores energy levels, and you feel amazing afterward.

Massage & Myofascial Release

Massage & Myofascial Release

Massage and myofascial release reduce allostatic load by effectively alleviating physical tension and promoting relaxation, aiding the body's recovery from stress.

These therapies work by manipulating the muscles and connective tissues, improving blood flow and lymphatic circulation, which helps to remove metabolic waste and deliver nutrients to fatigued tissues. This process reduces muscle soreness and tension, enhancing physical comfort and mobility.

Massage also stimulates the release of endorphins and serotonin, natural mood enhancers that counteract the effects of cortisol. The deep relaxation achieved through massage and myofascial release also activates the parasympathetic nervous system, fostering a state of rest and recovery.

Exposure to Nature

Exposure to Nature

Exposure to nature offers a profound sense of calm and well-being that counteracts the effects of chronic stress.

Hiking, walking in parks, or simply observing natural landscapes can significantly lower stress hormone levels and enhance mood. Nature exposure activates the parasympathetic nervous system, promoting relaxation and recovery by reducing blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension.

The sensory experiences in nature, such as the sounds of birds and the rustling of leaves, have been shown to improve cognitive function and emotional regulation, fostering a more balanced and resilient mental state. Regular interaction with natural settings provides a mental reset and improves overall physical health, making it an essential component of a strategy to reduce allostatic load and enhance overall well-being.

But Recovery Sounds Like… More Work?

Yes, the recovery practices above require effort. They may seem even more overwhelming when added to an already ever-growing to-do list. There may be a natural resistance to these practices, especially when you already feel fatigued or overwhelmed.

Frankly, it's taken me over a decade of developing discipline to incorporate recovery activities into my daily routine. I started small and gradually grew my recovery activities over time. Now, I genuinely look forward to them and view them as investments in my long-term health and well-being. They've resulted in a profound increase in my energy levels, mental clarity, and overall productivity.

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