I recently had the immense joy of a two week long vacation in Hawaii. As I logged out of work the day before I left and shifted my energy to preparing for my trip, I was so tired that I couldn’t even think about what to pack. That is when I realized how burnt out I was.
The 3 months prior had been an intense go-go-go at my day job with multiple launches. Meanwhile, I had been doing double duty … working on finishing an official first draft of my play One Woman Show and then going through a complete rewrite process.
Oh, and with a new Manager, I was excited and determined to keep working on my craft so I’d be ready when those juicy new auditions came through.
What that looked like was working all day at my day job, logging out around 6pm to make dinner and then right after dinner sitting down to write. I inevitably would get in the flow around 11pm and end up writing until 12pm or so and then I’d get up the next morning to repeat the whole thing.
I knew the whole time this was going on that burn out was bound to happen, so why did I do it?
First of all, I felt like I had to complete all the tasks on my plate at work and that everything was urgent.
I’m effectively the project manager, so because I had said yes to the elements of the project, I felt like it was my responsibility to deliver 100%.
Secondly, I was not willing to sacrifice my art, the thing that was most important to me.
I decided that since I couldn’t cut out anything on the “work responsibilities” list, that I would have to suck it up and just overwork for a while.
Maybe I’ll have more energy than I think?
Oh, workaholism is a tricky bastard.
It made me think that I had two choices: I could either overwork or I had to give up my creative desires.
When you are stuck in the middle of workaholism, this either-or binary feels really true.
But it’s not true.
It is simply a habitual way of being and while it is hard to make the shift, it is indeed possible.
Since I’ve been back from vacation, I’ve been really committed to changing my habits around overwork.
Here’s what’s been working:
1.When a new task gets requested of me at work, I don’t immediately add it to my urgent, must-do-now list.
I determine whether the task is urgent or not and whether someone else on the team can do it. If it isn’t urgent and doesn’t fit in the timeline based on what is already on my plate, I’m upfront about the fact that it isn’t going to get done right away. It goes on a later list.
2. I’ve stopped trying to squeeze everything in at the end of the day.
Requests definitely add up throughout the day and it can be so tempting to try to finish everything before I log off. However, that can easily extend my work day by an hour or more. And that makes me grumpy because I’ve been neglecting my own business and career.
So now, when I’m coming to the end of my day and it feels like I have to do so much more before I can sign off, I ask myself … What really has to get done before I sign off?
A lot of times, the answer is nothing. In the instances where there is something, I do that one thing and then I log off. And it feels so much better!!
3. I create more space between the switches.
I often work at my day job for a couple hours and then have a meeting or coaching session or something related to my business. In the past, I would work right up to the moment when the next thing would start and then race to the next thing.
This meant that not only did I never fully land in anything I was doing, I wasn’t really ever taking breaks away from my computer.
Now, I stop the thing I’m doing about 10-15 minutes before the next thing. I get up and stretch my legs, I get a snack, I do a dance. It feels so very civilized!!
4. I check in more with myself during the day.
If you are just go, go, go with your work, you will never be able to fully recognize your feelings. I would often feel myself feeling stress and anxious at the end of the day … so it took me awhile to recognize that I had actually been holding onto those feelings for the whole damn day.
Once I started checking in with myself, I would notice when I was feeling anxious a lot earlier. Then I could ask myself why and make an adjustment so that I could feel more relaxed and in the flow. Not only did I start feeling better at the end of the day, I also started to enjoy my work more.
5. I calm my nervous system and look for the Sacred Third.
Remember how I mentioned “either-or” thinking? That pattern where you think you have to decide between the thing you love and the thing that will help you ‘survive’.
That is pure binary thinking and when we make decisions from this place, no one wins.
I recently heard about the Sacred Third from Kate Northrup during Replenish and the jist of it is this. When we are stuck in binary thinking, our nervous system is living in a space of “I’m not safe.” While in this state, all our thinking comes from a place of protection – fight, flight or freeze and any solution we come up with will keep us caught in that binary.
So when I notice myself thinking in a binary way, I pause and practice some form of calming my nervous system. This can be as simple and quick as taking some deep breaths or might involve doing a meditation or actually listening to a nervous system healing.
Once I’ve soothed my nervous system, I’m able to come up with solutions that would never have occurred to me before, because they don’t exist on that binary.
Now it’s your turn.
Which of these tools (or perhaps one of your own design) could you implement in your daily life to become more aware of your own patterns around overwork?
I’d love to hear about what you are committing to in the comments below. Even better, come back and tell me how it went.
Look forward to hearing from you.
PS: If you’ve been wondering how life coaching can help you find balance, build your capacity to do more of what you love, and expand your creativity, I’d love to talk to you.
I have a few spots available for private coaching clients and am now forming my first small group coaching experience. Click here to schedule your complimentary 1-1 Clarity Call.