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Core Conversations on Start Finishing: How to Enhance Your Best Work with Aromatherapy
Editor’s Note: This is a continuation of our core conversations on Charlie’s book Start Finishing. In our last conversation, Larry Robertson talked about how to see your edge, come to your edge, and use your edge to define your adjacent possible. In today’s conversation, Jane Hoffman talks about enhancing your best work with aromatherapy blends for each kind of time block.
When I was invited to join the Start Finishing Do Crew (support team for the book launch), I thought it was a great project, and I was excited to participate. However, when we had our first meeting, I felt like everyone in the group had such different business experiences and creative ideas than I did. I wondered how I might contribute.
Charlie and I ended up having the same vibe (or maybe I caught his): we both thought creating an aromatherapy blend to go with the Start Finishing book would be an interesting and useful addition to the other things the group was planning.
This is one of the things I do: creating essential oil blends and products. (I’ve been doing it for more than twenty years.) I enjoy helping people feel better, in whatever way or on whatever level they need. For this project, I picked essential oils I believe best embody what Start Finishing stands for: helping people accomplish their intentions and do their best work.
What Is Aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy is derived from the ancient practice of using natural plant essences to promote health and well being. These natural plant extracts are known as essential oils, and are extracted from various parts of the plant: root, seed, trunk, leaf, fruit, or flower.
They are the concentrated essence of the plant and play a key role in the plant's immune system. The two most common methods for extracting these essential oils for use in aromatherapy are steam distillation or cold press.
As its name indicates, “aroma”-therapy’s conduit to the brain is smell. Smell is 10,000 times more sensitive than any of the other human senses. Smell creates a direct link from the outside world to the brain, through the limbic system, the 'smell brain' for our subconscious.
Because of its sensitivity and direct pathway to the brain, our sense of smell evokes immediate and vivid emotional reactions, memories, and associations — both positive or negative — like no other sense. Smell has the longest and deepest recall: it’s the best and quickest way to draw forth the deep past from the recesses of the mind.
Based on their particular chemical composition, each essential oil has one or more distinct functions for humans. These combined effects on body and mind together make aromatherapy unique, which has led to a resurgence in aromatherapy practice in recent years, as a complement to modern treatments and many other alternative medicines.
How Does Aromatherapy Relate to Productivity, Exactly?
Because of the smell-brain connection, essential oils can have a powerful effect, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually — often several (or even all of them) simultaneously. Depending on the essential oils selected, we choose what feelings we wish to accentuate for a period of time.
An example of how an essential oil (EO) blend might support work on a project: In general, we’ll get more and better work done when we’re calm and relaxed than when we are tense and anxious. As anxiety lifts and calm descends, we’re better able to focus, and our work flows freely.
While there are other ways to bring about this sort of calm and relaxed state, use of relaxing or anti-anxiety EOs work well here. Blending these EOs, with additional ones that help create and maintain focus, and still others that uplift one’s spirit and energy, can create a potent blend that moves us quickly and deeply into the desired state for accomplishing our best work. (Tweet this.)
In Chapter 5 of Start Finishing, Charlie goes through the four types of time blocks on which we build our weeks, which in turn help us accomplish our projects: focus blocks, social blocks, admin blocks, and recovery blocks. As I was thinking about EO blends and the Start Finishing approach to project work, I could readily see that each of these particular blocks would benefit from their own blend.
So I set out to create them.
Each of the sections that follows details the blend associated with a particular time block. It explains the components of each blend and the effects these bring when used.
Focus blocks are the high-level, best-work times of our day. These blocks are best tackled when we have mental energy, presence, strength of purpose, clarity, and awareness. I created this focus blend to boost these characteristics:
I chose sweet basil and rosemary essential oils because they boost clarity and awareness. Rosemary is also an excellent brain stimulant and assists in improving memory.
Lemon and peppermint help to lift one’s spirit and boost energy. Lemon also improves one’s ability to concentrate and peppermint aids in clearing the head.
Lastly, I wanted to include an essential oil to help ground oneself to the earth. I chose one of my favorites: vetiver. Grounding essential oils such as vetiver help us to get out of our head and into our body; they help us be present. (Charlie’s favorite closing, “Stand Tall,” makes me think of being present, strong, and grounded.)
Other parts of our workday don’t require as much laser focus and energy as a focus block, but we still need to accomplish other tasks. Some focus and energy is still important, so for this blend I picked some fun essential oils that help you get and stay in the admin block mode easily.
Pink grapefruit essential oil has an uplifting and revitalizing effect, making it beneficial when feeling stressed or depressed, or when you are experiencing nervous exhaustion.
Ginger sharpens the senses and assists memory. It is invigorating and grounding at the same time.
Black pepper has a warming and penetrating odor, useful for stimulating the mental faculties and energizing the body. Using black pepper helps us to ‘get a move on’ at times when our lives feel stuck, which is especially useful when we’re tackling those “have to do but don’t want to do” tasks like email or spreadsheets or filing or cleaning...
As Charlie mentions in Chapter 5, the energy input of recovery blocks are necessary to refuel from the energy output of focus, social, and admin blocks. Because it’s often more difficult for us to be intentional about recovery blocks than the other types, use of an EO blend here can help us make the most of them. Whether it’s to rest and relax, clear our heads, exercise, or just zone out, the essential oils I chose for this blend will help do that.
I included lavender essential oil because it helps alleviate stress of any kind. Lavender is like chicken soup. It is good for everything! It’s like taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly.
Sweet orange conveys warmth and happiness. It also helps people relax and unwind.
Geranium has a balancing effect on the nervous system. It is ideal for relieving stress, anxiety, depression, and for lifting the spirits.
Finally, I added rose to round out this blend. It is one of the most complex of all the essential oils, consisting of more than 300 chemical compounds. Rose can create deep psychological effects; it is harmonizing and anti-depressive. It opens the heart and soothes feelings of anger, fear, and anxiety. Most aromatherapists agree that rose oil is effective at all levels of life — for the soul, spirit, mind, and body.
The social block may be your favorite if you’re more extroverted, or it might be the hardest of all the blocks, if you are an introvert (like me). Sometimes it’s just hard to muster up the energy to be social when you need to. I picked these EOs for their energy and fragrance.
Scotch Pine is great for alleviating general exhaustion and mental fatigue. Pine EO is also cleansing and invigorating.
Blood Orange, while in the same family as Sweet Orange, has a more intense citrus scent. The properties are similar. Blood Orange is uplifting and stimulating. It helps lessen sadness and moodiness, by easing nervous tension and promote a happy mood.
Marjoram has a calming effect on the nervous system, relieves anxiety and stress.
Cypress also strengthens an overburdened nervous system and restores calm.
How an Essential Oil Blend Is Made
Essential oils are fat-loving (lipophilic). They penetrate into the fat layers of the skin quickly, which is why massage is such an effective treatment. Essential oils are not oils. They are not oily and lack the viscosity of vegetable oils. Pure 100% essential oils do not leave a residue behind.
EOs are blended or diluted in carrier oils or other emulsifiers when applying them to the skin. They are much too concentrated to use right from the bottle. They are 75 to 100 times more concentrated than herbs. Carrier oils/emulsifiers are used because essential oils love to attach to fat and also need a substance that will combine with water.
Carrier oils are vegetable oils that contain vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids. The carrier oil literally carries the essential oil into the body through absorption. Types of carrier oils include: jojoba, sweet almond oil, avocado, hazelnut, sesame, canola, and coconut oil. Generally a 2 - 4% dilution or concentration is used (2% EO, 98% carrier oil/emulsifier). Emulsifiers include liquid soap, shampoo, vinegar, alcohol, and milk.
For each of the Start Finishing blends, we’ve combined the essential oils with golden jojoba.
How to Apply the Blends
I have found a simple roll-on bottle is an easy way to apply a small amount to your skin. Apply a small amount to the back of your hand so it’s easy to smell, or maybe a touch under your nose.
You can also add to one or more of your pulse points. These include: the inside of your wrists; right below the inside of your elbow where it bends; either side of your neck (where you would add perfume or cologne); right below the inside of your knee; right above the inside of your ankle bone.
Enhance Your Best Work with Aromatherapy
Here’s one example of how you can put the aromatherapy blends to use in your day:
You decide to start with your focus block, to do your 90–120 minutes of concentrated work while you’re feeling the energy. Reach for your focus blend, and apply a small amount to the back of your hand so it’s easy to smell, or maybe a touch under your nose. Whenever your mind starts to wander, take a smell of the blend to help you get back on track.
After your focus block, you may be ready for a break. After a good stretch, grab your recovery blend. Take the cap off and breathe in from the bottle. Then feel free to dab on the back of the other hand, or your arm — anywhere you feel like it. Take two or three deep breaths, until you start to feel more relaxed. Go about you recovery time whether it be exercising, meditating, reading, even running errands… whatever recovery time means to you.
When you are ready to get back to work, you see your next block is admin tasks. These won’t require intense concentration like your focus block. They also might not be your favorite thing to do, either. :) Grab your admin blend and add a bit to your hand. Breathe in, inviting some energy to get you going on those tasks.
At some point in your day or week, you may need to run out to a meeting or networking event, or maybe even meet up with someone for a meal or drink. Feel free to use your social block blend. Breathe in from the bottle or add some of the blend to your pulse points to give yourself a boost and get back to center before your walk through the door. Smile!
However you decide to manage your time, these essential oil blends make a nice enhancement to your process. A little goes a long way, and perhaps one roll on the back of your hand or wrist is just what you need to start finishing that project you’ve been working on for long enough!
Want more information? Start Finishing, the book that kicked off all of these Core Conversations, is your deeper dive into all aspects of how to turn your ideas into projects, and how to start finishing your best work.