When the lockdown was announced and working from home became your reality, there was an expectation of more time available to you due to lack of traffic and the commute. Quite quickly it became apparent that this is an illusion and a false expectation. How to stop working around the clock?
Over the last few months, I have trained hundreds of people on stress and productivity and found the same complaint. People are feeling like they are working harder than ever before and they are battling to switch off. They are working from morning to night and on weekends. This isn’t just people with families and kids during lockdown but people who are in quarantine on their own too.
If you are nodding your head in agreement, the good news is you are not alone but the bad news is that this is just not sustainable. There is no real clarity on when you will be returning to the office or even if you will be returning to the office this year.
Initially, it seemed ok to be completely out of balance because the internal dialogue was convincing you ‘it’s OK because it’s new. It’s OK because I have to get my team on track. It’s OK because there is much to deal with in the initial period’. But now over one year have passed and nothing has changed, it has become your new way of being.
Working around the clock has become a pandemic within the pandemic.
Stop Working Around The Clock!
You are not being as productive as you could be because you are sacrificing work for sleep and most likely your much-needed self-care routine is non-existent. Or you have convinced yourself 5 minutes of exercise or meditation is sufficient because ‘I don’t have time for it and I’m just too busy’.
If these endless workdays have left you feeling on the edges of burnout – take a deep breath and know you can change this. You can take your power back and reclaim your days.
Lockdown is an opportunity to really bring a new meaning to lifestyle design and craft your days to ensure you are feeling content, inspired and energised. There is always going to be stress and there are going to be those days where late nights and an urgent crisis appears but keep those as the exceptions rather than the norm.
Here are my top tips to stop working around the clock, to own your days and not feel like they are owning you:
1. Learn the art of saying no
“No is a complete sentence” — Anne Lamott
This tiny word triggers so many emotions, mainly guilt and anxiety. It goes deeper because you immediately think ‘If I say no, they won’t like me or if I say no I’ll feel too guilty or I’ll be letting them down’. The truth is, if you give away your ‘yes’s’ too freely, then you will eventually land up in burnout. You have to give yourself permission to protect your time and create boundaries. Saying no is an art.
My co-author Nadia Bilchik and I published ‘Own Your Space: The Toolkit for the Working Woman’ in 2016 where we spoke about the ‘Yes Sandwich’. This is an approach that allows you to turn down a request in a way that softens the blow and helps the other person not to take your ‘no’ so personally.
It has 3 layers:
Layer 1: Begin by positively acknowledging the other person’s intent.
Layer 2: This is where you graciously say no.
Layer 3: Offer an alternative (this is optional)
In the real world, it would look like this. If you are invited to attend a webinar, online networking or social chat/event after hours, you could say:
- ‘Thank you so much for the invitation and for thinking of me.’
- ‘Unfortunately this is my family time or I have made another commitment already’.
- ‘Please think of me for the next one as I would love to support you.’
In this way, the person doesn’t feel hurt or offended and you have left space for them to approach you again without feeling put out or personally attacked. If you’re still cringing at the thought of saying no, here are some key questions to ask yourself:
- Are you comfortable saying no when appropriate?
- Are you a ‘Yes person and people pleaser’?
- Do you avoid conflict to the extent that you fill your work and life with activities that keep you from things that are more important and result in you working around the clock?
Another way to think about saying no is to separate the decision from the relationship. Peter Bregman spoke about this concept in his book ‘4 Seconds’. He said often we confuse the decision with the relationship with that person. We feel that denying the request is the same as denying the person and it really isn’t. So first make the decision objectively and then communicate your no with compassion and courage.
“Lack of preparation on your behalf does not constitute a sense of urgency on mine” – Unknown
What if my boss asks me to take on another project?
You wouldn’t tell them an outright no! You could communicate in a very polite and factual way ‘Currently, I am working on x, y, z. If I take on this new project, it is going to compromise the quality of these deliverables. Where would you like me to focus first? What is the priority for you?’
In this way, you have laid out the facts about what you are currently dealing with so they are aware of your load. You have put the ball in their court – what is the priority for them? You are being responsible in terms of ensuring top quality and delivery. After all, it is your reputation on the line if you don’t deliver to a high standard.
Reframe your no
When someone asks you to do something, do you find yourself saying ‘No problem, I’ll get it to you tomorrow’. You put the phone down with a sense of dread. You know your plate is already full and you just agreed to add something else which will put you under even more pressure.
The reason you say yes so eagerly is because you want to be perceived as a super star and a go giver – we all do! We all want to be seen in this light but if you compromise quality for quantity, you will damage your reputation and quite frankly your entire nervous system. The amount of unnecessary pressure is boosting your adrenaline and cortisol levels and will ultimately start wreaking havoc on your health.
Next time someone requests something of you, say ‘Let me check my calendar and I’ll get back to you’. It gives you some breathing room to pause and actually check your priorities and capacity.
The trick to reframe your no is to manage expectations – ask them ‘What is the absolute latest you need this by because I am swamped until Tuesday morning. Would Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday work for you?
More often than not they will probably say yes. You added the extra pressure and load – first define the deadline date and work it around your priorities. That way you can stop working around the clock. If it is absolutely, screamingly urgent and it must be done tomorrow then so be it but let this be the worst-case scenario.
2. Manage your Meetings
“Sitting is the new smoking” – Unknown
Meetings have been the bane of your existence long before lockdown. How many times have you complained about sitting in meetings most of the day and only really start your ‘real work’ in the afternoon? Not much has changed. Over the last few weeks, clients and colleagues have expressed frustration that they are sitting all day in front of their computers and barely got a 15-minute break to eat.
Meetings are definitely necessary during this time to maintain team morale and strengthen relationships but here are some best practices that author Seth Godin suggests when it comes to meeting effectiveness:
- Understand that all problems are not the same. So why are your meetings? Does every issue deserve an hour? Why is there a default length?
- Require preparation. Give people things to read or do before the meeting, and if they don’t, kick them out. (Or in this case mute them).
- If someone is more than two minutes later than the last person to the meeting, they have to pay a fine to their favourite charity. This is a big one for me. Even in the office days, there was often an attitude of ‘I can be 10 minutes late because everyone is always 10 minutes late’. This creates a culture of apathy and lack of respect for other people’s time. Starting 10 minutes late inevitably means you are running late for future meetings and a huge contributor to working around the clock.
- Everyone invited is someone who needs to be there and no key party is missing
- There’s a default step forward is someone doesn’t come
- The organizer of the meeting is required to send a short email summary, with action items, to every attendee within ten minutes of the end of the meeting.
As a general rule of thumb, if these points are adhered to and implemented, then meetings should be more efficient, shorter, to the point and a key part of moving forward on the goal or task at hand. The end result is more time back in your day to work on your greatest contribution and some much-needed self-care. Try this you and you can stop working around the clock.
Do I really need to be there?
David Grady did a brilliant TED talk called ‘How to save the world (or at least yourself) from bad meetings’. He introduced a concept called MAS – Mindless Acceptance Syndrome which is the solution to an epidemic of bad, inefficient, overcrowded meetings. He says the solution is ‘NO MAS’. This is an excerpt from David’s talk:
“Here’s how ‘No MAS’ works. It’s very simple. First of all, the next time you get a meeting invitation that doesn’t have a lot of information in it at all, click the tentative button! It’s okay, you’re allowed, and that’s why it’s there. Its right next to the accept button. Or the maybe button, or whatever button is there for you not to accept immediately.
Then, get in touch with the person who asked you to the meeting. Tell them you’re very excited to support their work, ask them what the goal of the meeting is, and tell them you’re interested in learning how you can help them achieve their goal.
And if we do this often enough, and we do it respectfully, people might start to be a little bit more thoughtful about the way they put together meeting invitations. And you can make more thoughtful decisions about accepting it. People might actually start sending out agendas. Imagine! Or they might not have a conference call with 12 people to talk about a status when they could just do a quick email and get it done with. People just might start to change their behaviour because you changed yours.”
What if I am required to do meetings after 6pm when it is my family time and my personal down time?
“Stress management is boundary management” – Lori Milner
This depends on the nature of the meeting. If it is an EXCO meeting where it happens monthly and it is the best time for the group as a whole, then I would accept it and make plans in advance to prepare supper and manage the kids.
However, if it happens more frequently then I would use what I call ‘The Rule of 3’. If it happens once, notice it. If it happens again, become acutely aware this is becoming a pattern. If it happens a third time, then I would approach your boss and ask to discuss the meeting in question. ‘I’ve noticed you are scheduling our weekly status update for 6pm and this really is becoming a challenge for me. Can we look at another slot that would work better for both of us?’
I know it’s not an easy conversation but silence is often perceived as permission. If you aren’t sharing your views, they may have no idea how this is affecting you and will most likely accommodate your request.
3. Imagine your future-self 3 years from now
“12 years from now, your future self is going to thank you for something you did today, for an asset you began to build, a habit you formed, a seed you planted. Even if you’re not sure of where it will lead, today’s the day to begin” – Seth Godin
Author, Benjamin Hardy, invites us to think about our future self and current self as two different people. The reason for this is when you imagine this person 3 years from today, who do you imagine them to be? What kind of work are they doing, how do they appear physically, what does their day look like, how are they emotionally? When you can craft this person in your mind – I would suggest this as a journal exercise – it opens up the possibility that you can become someone different from today. The truth is you are not the same person you were five years ago, so why would be the same another 5 years out?
Take a moment to pause and reflect on your current days of all meetings and little else in between – is this really serving future you (never mind current you)?
You have to imagine this person and then take daily steps of action now in order to translate the vison into a reality. Often it involves doing things that seem irrelevant to today, Peter Bregman spoke about this in his book ‘Emotional Courage’:
Here’s the key: you need to spend time on the future even when there are more important things to do in the present and even when there is no immediately and apparent return to your efforts. In other words – and this is the hard part – if you want to be productive, you need to spend time doing things that feel ridiculously unproductive’.
This resonated hugely for me when I received an online course as a gift for pre-ordering a book. Initially, the self-talk was ‘you can’t possibly spend time on this because it isn’t that important compared to your other real work’.
It made sense in my head – I have workshops and writing deadlines scheduled into my calendar, naturally, all my time must be dedicated to this because I have an accountability to my clients.
I can’t tell you the impact this quote had on me because it was the permission I needed to allow myself time to do something that is just for me and will have huge benefit to future me even though it feels irrelevant today. I have carved out space in my calendar for the upcoming weeks dedicated to completing this course, even if its 30 minutes. The time I spend on this course completely energises me and recharges me and that’s reason enough.
The big leap is giving yourself permission to do something you enjoy that doesn’t necessarily give you an immediate result.
For example, reading books on the subject of your work feels validated because you can justify the reason for doing it. But what if you decided you wanted to spend more time outdoors riding your bike or painting or doing something completely unrelated and doesn’t give you a box to tick. What about instead of business books, you picked up a fiction book that is just completely escapism?
If you want to emerge from lockdown as a rider, you need to invest time in building the skills. It is the mind-set shift that it is important and will matter. The flipside is that you only focus on work and have no new skills to show for it.
Think about your work or personal life – what are the projects or goals you are putting off because it doesn’t feel like it’s validated to work on it? Or perhaps you want to study something or start an online program. Give yourself permission to make time for future you today.
4. What am I still believing?
“What if we stopped celebrating being busy as a measurement of importance? – Greg McKeon
Often we link self-worth to something external such as money, title, material possessions, etc. This is referred to as an external locus of control and we do it all the time. Think about it…
How often do you link your self-worth to numbers?
The number on the scale, the number in your bank account, the number of friends on the socials, the number of likes, the number of sales you made…This is not sustainable because you cannot control any of this and it becomes an internal narrative of ‘When I make X amount or reach this target, then I’ll be successful or even worse – then I’ll be happy’.
I listened to a podcast by author, meditation expert and psychologist Tara Brach where she encourages you to ask the question ‘What am I still believing?’ I sat down with this question and it’s a heavy one if you are going to be honest with yourself and I realised I was linking self-worth to achievement.
Is your belief that your self-worth is dependent on how busy you are?
The reason it is so important to make the shift in this belief is this is what may be contributing to keeping you in front of your computer all day. ‘If I’m working hard and ‘being productive’, then I am a worthy person’. The reality is by 2pm when you haven’t taken a break to eat lunch properly or even stretched or done something for yourself – that is not being productive, it is being destructive.
5. Stop checking your messages
“The reason you are stressed is because you don’t keep your awareness on one thing at a time.” – Dandapani
Does your day start with every great intention to focus on the tasks at hand but by 10am you felt like you haven’t achieved much even though you haven’t left the chair? Then it’s 3pm and not much has changed, you are working hard and haven’t done what you set out to do?
One of the main culprits is our phones, specifically a few enticing apps.
Social media, Messenger and WhatsApp are the sneaky ones. It’s not that your intention isn’t pure to get stuff done, it’s when you start something and within 30 minutes, you have checked your phone more than 10 times – and that’s being polite.
\When you constantly respond to pings and alerts, you are putting yourself into a reactive mode. And you are reacting to other people’s urgencies, not your own.
There are endless WhatsApp groups – work ones, family ones, friends, school classes, etc. In order to minimise distraction and unnecessary interruptions, I suggest that you mute your chats that are not related to work or in fact, mute them all. Once you have finished your task and made progress on the work that’s going to move you forward to your goals – then check in.
I know you are thinking but ‘What if it’s urgent?’?? Then they will call you if they can see you haven’t responded within your usual 5 minute window. Nothing can be that urgent that it can’t wait an hour.
In an excerpt from ‘Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World’ by Cal Newport, he shares a fascinating study on how our phones can hamper our work.
‘Sophie Leroy, a business professor at the University of Minnesota wrote a paper called “Why Is It So Hard to Do My Work?” She speaks about a concept called ‘attention residue’. The common habit of working in a state of semi-distraction is potentially devastating to your performance.
Every time a message comes in, it is a new target for your attention. Leroy says ‘that even worse, by seeing messages that you cannot deal with at the moment (which is almost always the case), you’ll be forced to turn back to the primary task with a secondary task left unfinished. The attention residue left by such unresolved switches dampens your performance’.
Also responding to useless mails and messages are a false sense of progress. It makes you feel like you have ticked something off the to-do list but you solved other people’s urgencies and not your own.
Another reason to mute the chats is because you need to set boundaries on when you officially log off for the day and set a quitting time. If you are still checking messages past 8pm, then no wonder you feel like you are working around the clock. I also like to get to sleep early and most people don’t mind messaging past 10pm if not later.
Every morning I wake up to sometimes 25 and above messages on a particular chat and mostly its spectator messages. You know when everyone has to chime in with ‘Thanks, Well done, Great, Ha-ha, etc.”. I have made peace with the fact I may miss out on a joke or a rant but I choose sleep and peace of mind any day. And that’s the best thing to stop working around the clock.
6. Protect your weekends and downtime
“Success in a competitive world requires hitting Monday refreshed and ready to go. The only way to do that is to create weekends that rejuvenate you rather than exhaust or disappoint you” – Laura Vanderkam
How are you framing your weekends?
Is it an opportunity for rest and rejuvenation or do you view it as two more days to get work done with less interruptions?
Make your weekends a distinction from the work week and plan things so you actually look forward to them. We make Saturday a movie day for the family and my kids love the fact they get turns choosing the movie for us. We also have games such as Monopoly only on weekends so we can look forward to it.
If you are in quarantine on your own, then think about how you can plan special courses, classes, games nights with your friends so you have something to look forward to. Ditch any guilt of ‘I should be working’ and take the time to recover.
Laura Vanderkam, TED speaker and author, says “you should give at least a passing thought to your weekend by Wednesday.
Ask yourself what 3 things you could do between Friday and Sunday that would add to your energy levels. They need not be elaborate. In lockdown, things like setting up a catch up call with your friends, going for a longish bike ride, and attending worship services (remotely) would work just fine as a plan. People with more moving parts in their lives (e.g. 3 kids in 6 sports — that sort of thing) will need a more finely drawn map for their days “off.”
Ask yourself – Does it expand or contract you?
“Your job is to figure out which behaviours feed your soul and which you leave you running on empty” – Chase Jarvis
The anticipation of an activity can be a huge booster to your energy levels so make sure you do something that you actually enjoy.
When it comes to down time, you need to ensure the activities you select are energising you and not contracting you. This is my benchmark of where and with who I want to spend my precious resting hours. Another great question you can ask yourself is ‘Am I saying yes out of guilt or fear?’ If so, then you know the answer.
7. Practice an unconditional friendliness towards yourself
“Often, it’s not about becoming a new person, but becoming the person you were meant to be, and already are, but don’t know how to be.” ― Heath L. Buckmaster
Imagine you were sitting at your work table and your colleague was sitting next to you. Every time they wanted to get up to take a break or go and get a snack – you snapped and told her to sit down.
Does this sound familiar?
Are you working around the clock because you absolutely have to or because you are slave driving yourself?
There is an incredibly powerful video where Will Smith defines self-discipline as self-love. It is about making decisions in your own best interest. Self-discipline has a negative stigma to it but he makes a point that self-discipline isn’t so much about getting control of your eating or your body but getting control of your mind.
When I approach this concept in my training work, I have to tackle it with great sensitivity because self-love is a huge concept and one that makes people feel quite uncomfortable. It feels rather unjustified and selfish – how can possibly I love myself unconditionally?
Instead, I share the Buddhist concept of Maitri.
This is about cultivating an unconditional friendliness towards yourself. Think about your best friend or partner or that person in your life who is your absolute rock. What is it about them you love? It’s probably traits such as unconditional love, no judgement, kindness, empathy, compassion. So the question I pose to you is can you flip that? Can you cultivate these qualities towards yourself?
It is not enough to have positive affirmations about self-friendliness and unconditional self-love. We know in external relationships, words are not enough, it is actions that truly demonstrate intention.
It is the same for yourself, it has to be demonstrated by daily acts of kindness. It can be as small as taking 20 minutes for a nice relaxing bath or downloading that fiction book you have been meaning to read and actually giving yourself time to read it – guilt free!
Give yourself permission to take breaks and to recharge. This is about having a hard conversation with yourself and confronting how you are treating yourself. Then make a decision to shift and decide what you are going to commit to.
It is in the simple things like giving yourself space for self-care and committing to that time. It is treating your appointments with yourself with the same honour and respect you would anybody else. Not an attitude of ‘oh it’s just time for me’ so I’ll cancel it and do it another time’.
What is the self-talk that comes up when you do take some time for yourself?
If you need some external support to give you permission to make progress on your own goals, reach out to an accountability buddy and tell them – I am committing to meditation, journaling, and exercise – whatever! Maybe it’s that online course you want to do but haven’t allowed yourself the space. When you make the declaration to someone else, you create accountability not only to them but more importantly to you.
If you can get this right, everything else will fall into place and you can stop working around the clock. The guilt of taking a break will dissipate, you will realise that by making more space for yourself, and you achieve more not less. By taking some more time for yourself, you begin to fill your cup and recharge yourself. Then you become more fully charged and can start to approach your work with more energy, excitement and creativity.
The reason you complain about a lack of balance in your life is because you are not showing up in the calendar enough. It’s not enough to schedule a slot in your diary and then when the alarm goes off you hit snooze and figure you’ll get to it later. The trick lies in showing up to yourself. Get up and work on your activity for as little as 10 minutes to make progress – create that micro win and celebrate it.
It is in keeping the promises you make to yourself that you build your self-esteem, self-confidence and ultimately self-love.
8. Give yourself permission to do things differently
”Let go of the way it used to be to be open to the way it can be” – Lori Milner
Quarantine has brought with it a natural slowing down of our normal pace. I am not saying things aren’t busy but with the elimination of car time and the commute, it definitely enables the day to unfold in a less frenetic way.
Normally I would arrive at gym at 5am and be back in the car by 7am to get the kids to school on time. Now I am waking up at 5am and using the first hour of my day for self-care like meditation, yoga and journaling which puts me into a peak state to tackle the day at hand. I have literally had to give myself permission to do things differently and not feel like I am slacking without the rush of being out the door by 7am.
My routine has taken a different approach and I am really enjoying it. Be aware of putting false pressures or deadlines on yourself because that’s how it used to be. This time will soon pass and you will regret it if you didn’t take the gap to slow down.
9. Set a quitting time
‘Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you. ‘– Anne Lamott
This is probably the most important tip that will go a long way to assist with managing your stress and break the pattern of working around the clock. Even before lockdown, the narrative in most articles focused on work/life balance. Well it was a myth then and it’s a myth now plus that was when work and life were in two separate geographic locations.
When you came home from work, you were still checking mails after hours and ‘just quickly’ working on that proposal when you should have been with the family or allowing yourself some down time. So it is vital that you set a quitting time at home during this period and make it clear when it is your work time and when it is your down time.
Otherwise, the day becomes a monotonous cycle of work and trying to manage the family. Setting a quitting time is for you as well as them.
It was bad enough you had guilt when you weren’t home all day. You decide what your quitting time is and then give yourself permission to put the laptop and phone down. Do an activity you enjoy, play with the kids, get outside, read a book but give yourself the go-ahead to transition into your recovery time. Maybe you only have 15 minutes because you have to make dinner or get the kids ready for bed but remember to incorporate those daily acts of kindness.
Lockdown is challenging enough as it is but to feel shameful when you are not ‘being productive’ after hours, will drive you insane and make this period unbearable. Another consideration is that you are probably not achieving as much as you would in a typical day because you have to contend with family at home despite not having travel time. Accept it. Don’t start the internal narrative that you don’t deserve to switch off because it felt like you achieved nothing in the day.
Be realistic with your expectations of what can physically be tackled in a day.
The more you can set boundaries and set up your work time for maximum progress, the happier you will feel.
10. Define the output
“Only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.” – Greg McKeon
Working around the clock has become a pandemic within the pandemic. People have adopted a ‘performance anxiety’ mind-set. This need to constantly be online and in front of their machines to ‘prove’ to their colleagues and the powers that be that they are in fact working. There is a massive fear of coming across as slacking off or not being productive because they didn’t respond to an email within 4 minutes or something ridiculous.
If you are nodding in agreement – it’s time to change your ways! I know it’s a very challenging time and there is huge fear about having to show commitment to the job and really prove how you are showing up during this time and that’s great. However it is possible to show your leadership abilities and manage your time in a more constructive way.
Set up a daily meeting with your team to define the priorities for the week and what specific actions need to happen daily and weekly. Once you are clear on your deliverables and outputs, then schedule into your calendar when you will work on those.
Being ‘always on’ and working around the clock does not necessarily mean you are being productive. Taking strategic time to work on what really matters and delivering on your commitments is what is going to get you noticed and recognised.
I would also suggest you reach out to your direct manager and discuss with them how you intend to manage your work. Let them know you are committed and you will ensure that the work happens. At the end of the day, you are responsible for your deliverables but honestly when you do them within the workday should not matter.
We are in new times and require new ways of being and doing. Also bear in mind the new circumstances of family at home including kid’s online lessons and schooling, etc.
So realistically, if you need to do your walk at 9am because it makes the house run smoothly then do that. Figure out what’s going to work for you in your unique structure and not hold yourself hostage to ‘This is how I should be doing it’. At this point, you still cannot have the mind-set that’s it’s the same, you are just working from home.
Once you have figured out what works for you, then set boundaries and explain to the people you work with – I am committed to the work and will show up and give 100% daily but you won’t get hold of me between 9am and 10am or whatever. You are entitled to have lunch somewhere besides your desk. You are allowed to go and do homework with your kids or speak to a family member as long as you are delivering what’s expected of you within the agreed time frame.
Now remember to act with kindness towards yourself and actually schedule these activities into your calendar. Once you have clarified expectations and can focus on your specific objectives, you can release yourself from the behaviours that are just not truly serving you – or anyone else for that matter.
11. Distinguish real priorities from busy work
“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin
In order to thrive during this time, you need to make time to plan your 3 big priorities for the day. Ditch the to-do list as this has become a guilt and survival list with an unrealistic number of tasks to complete in a day. Instead, create a success list. Prioritise your top 3 actions for the day and then schedule them in to your calendar. My benchmark interrogation to define my priorities is ‘If I don’t get this done today, I know I won’t sleep tonight’.
In this time of uncertainty, I know everything seems urgent but again ask yourself – ‘Are these my priorities or everyone else’s? The reason planning is so important is that it is your compass to keep you on track for the day.
When you sit down to begin your task, do not open your inbox. The reason is one priority just become seven and now you launch yourself into a mode of reaction, overwhelm and stress. First make progress on your goals and then check in to see what the rest of the world wants from you. Don’t convince yourself that you will miss something important if you don’t check in to your inbox first – if it is so urgent, they will call.
Some key questions to ask yourself:
- Am I working around the clock because I am failing to plan?
- Am I starting my day opening my inbox and just following along what’s required of me?
- Am I procrastinating on the tasks at hand?
- Is overwhelm preventing me from taking necessary action?
- Do you often hear yourself saying that you do your best work under pressure?
- What are the consequences in terms of your life and the quality of your results?
If you answered yes to the above, then you are completely human and you can have the peace of mind that we all fall into the trap of procrastination. The solution is to chunk down the task at hand into smaller steps, think Lego bricks. I like to call these chunks micro wins.
If you need to prepare a presentation to your team, don’t get stuck in the thought of ‘THE presentation’ and what it could mean for you. Just start on the first tiny step which is write down the slide headings. Done. That small amount of progress, even if it’s a 20 minute block of time will boost your energy to continue and you realise it really isn’t that bad after all. Then the next working session you can start to write your 3 top ideas for each slide. Done. And so you continue.
The pattern of overwhelm and procrastination is what keeps you working around the clock, often it’s not the task itself if you are being completely honest with yourself.
The truth is that the way our days are unfolding, we don’t have the luxury of hours of interrupted blocks of time, irrespective of whether you have kids or not. Don’t wait for that precious hour to open up into your calendar before you make progress on something. Create pockets of time in between these activities, meetings, homework to just begin.
Think how different you will feel when you utilise these gaps of time for progress rather than cat videos, useless surfing, endless checking into the social channels and news feeds.
12. Take breaks
‘Busy is a decision’ – Debbie Millman
Do you ever feel depleted but still push through into your next activity without a break, even though you know you should take a breather?
Are you feeling more exhausted throughout the day but feel like you should just power through it?
A huge contributing factor to working around the clock is that you are probably not taking enough breaks throughout the day. Research says we should be taking breaks anywhere from 50 to 75 minutes for a duration of about 15 minutes in between.
According to an article from The New York Times, “A growing body of evidence shows that taking regular breaks from mental tasks improves productivity and creativity—and that skipping breaks can lead to stress and exhaustion.”
You need to give your body a break from the posture you’ve been holding while sitting. Get up and move around a bit, and do some basic stretching like rolling your shoulders, stretching your neck from side to side and releasing any tension in your jaw and other areas you can feel tightness or stiffness building up.
Taking breaks regularly not only energises you, but gives you an opportunity to check in to the other areas of your life throughout the day and stop working around the clock.
In his bestselling book, Willpower Doesn’t Work, Benjamin Hardy says that doing the same thing for extended hours in the same environment can become mentally stale. You need novelty to keep the brain active. You need a timeline to keep you on your toes. You need difficulty to keep yourself open, humble, and effortful. If you notice yourself zoning out or purposefully distracting yourself, you need to step into a new environment.
Often, the very act of walking into a different room will facilitate a flood of ideas related to the work you were just doing. Even better is if you take a short mental break and then continue your work in a different environment, whether that means going to a different room, changing your chair, or going somewhere entirely different for a few hours”.
I know during lockdown, you may feel limited in where you can work but even sitting in a different ‘non work’ designated room can be enough.
When you take your break, you should be strategic about what you do during this time. Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, provides some useful tips on the best use of your time during these breaks. He says:
- “Deep breaks should not turn your attention to a target that might generate a professional or social obligation that you cannot completely fulfill during the break (e.g., glancing at an email inbox or social media feed).
- Deep breaks should not turn your attention to a target that your mind associates with time-consuming distraction rituals (e.g., many people have a set “cycle” of distracting web sites they visit when they surf that has become so ingrained that looking at one site sends their mind the message it’s time to look at them all).
- Deep breaks should not turn your attention to a related, but not quite the same, professional task (e.g., if you’re trying to write a report, and you turn your attention to quickly editing an unrelated report).
- Deep breaks should not turn your attention to a topic that is complicated, stressful and/or something that will sometime soon need a lot of your attention.
- Deep breaks should not usually last more than 10 – 15 minutes, with some exceptions, such as for meals.”
Cal’s key message is “that when it comes to deep work, you shouldn’t feel like you’re required to maintain peak concentration for hours on end. (If you try to, you’ll fail.) On the other hand, be mindful about how you take your cognitive breathers as they play a key role in whether the deep work session as a whole will succeed.”
13. Create a To Feel list
“The day you’re having now is determined by a decision you made this morning’ – Dandapani
You know the concept of a to-do list – but have you ever thought about a ‘to-be’ list? Who do I want to be during this period? Ultimately the ‘to –be’ list extends into a ‘to-feel’ list. How do you want to feel at the end of each day?
Stressed, overwhelmed, exhausted? Or content, energised and grateful? If you have chosen the latter, have a look at your current calendar and see if there are activities that correlate to creating these feelings. If you striving to feel less stressed, then where is the exercise or meditation slot? Where are you getting some downtime and recovery?
How you schedule your days is how you spend your life. Be deliberate what you place into the slots available because with kids, family and being in one space – they are far and few between. Every day is made up of micro decisions – Am I going to work on that proposal or watch cat videos? Am I going to take 15 minutes with my kids or reply to unnecessary emails? Am I going to reach for the energy drink or water?
We are not in a new normal. We are only in the new. This demands a new set of behaviours to accompany it in order to step up to the challenge. Equally, it is about letting go of old behaviours and patterns that don’t serve you.
The questions I frequently ask myself to keep on track are:
- How do I want to emerge from lockdown?
- How do I want to remember this time?
- How do I want my kids and family to remember this time?
- How do I want my kids and family to remember me during this time?
14. Be responsible for the energy you generate
“You are responsible for the energy that you create for yourself, and you’re responsible for the energy that you bring to others” – Oprah Winfrey
Working around the clock is a conscious decision and I think it’s really clear by now it is not a sustainable way to live. If you need further convincing, think about how it is affecting people around you in your physical space but also the people you interact with daily.
You are like a diffuser and if you are constantly stressed, in overwhelm and near the edges of burnout, the energy you are sending out is tense, stressed, irritable and anxious. Left unchanged can become toxic to you and those around you so think really carefully about how you are choosing to spend your time.
If you take one thing from this article to make an immediate shift, it is approaching yourself with an unconditional friendliness and daily acts of kindness. Give yourself permission to start making decisions in your own best interest because you deserve it.
Ready to own your days and not feel like they are owning you? I’ve created an ultimate guide to Show Up To Yourself: In Life & Business. If you follow this daily, you can build new habits — and actually sustain them; schedule yourself into your calendar, guilt-free; and manage your inner critic, free of anxiety and fear.
Written by: Lori Milner Originally appeared on Beyondthedress.co.za Republished with permission.