In our ever-connected world, we are being drained by our work. Access to email means your boss can find you wherever, whenever. Customers and colleagues are using social media for business at alarming rates. Throw in collaboration and communication tools like Slack, workflow managers, chat, text, *gasp* the phone… and the idea of unplugging becomes downright laughable.
On top of all this communicating, you have to get actual work done and live a life.
It’s enough to drive people absolutely mad. And I’ve seen it happen.
I’ve been there.
Years ago, I was working myself to insanity because I felt an overpowering sensation of indebtedness to my job and an unwavering commitment to an unscalable definition of good customer service. I was always on-call, responding to emails within moments of receiving them and handling tasks quickly because I didn’t want to be a bottleneck in productivity. People would politely chastise me, “It’s so late! This isn’t urgent!” But for me, it was. Good customer service meant dealing with every single task with a sense of accessibility and urgency.
But the burnout hit me hard.
Like many people, I didn’t feel the stress until I was so far down the rabbit hole that the only way out was to reach the bottom. There were stints of tears and frustration followed by moments of righteous indignation, “How dare they send me this email so late? Don’t they know I have a life?!”
I crashed, was sick for a few days, and after a few too many bottles of wine, decided that this was not sustainable.
Sustainable. That’s an interesting term we throw around these days. Along
Life is constantly changing. Priorities are always in flux. There is no such thing as a sustainable system or finding balance in life. Somedays are blessed with more vigor and determination. Others are filled with distraction and laziness. Even the most ambitious of people have days where they choose a Netflix binge over finishing a project.
It’s called being human and living in the real world.
Older generations had the luxury of leaving work at work. How glorious it must have been to walk out of the building and focus on what was right in front of you?! Our challenge today is finding
The techniques I suggest below may not work for everyone but I urge you to carefully consider each one. Don’t scoff at it because it feels hard or unrealistic in your current state. Your current state will change soon enough.
Here’s how you protect your time and energy.
Change Your Mindset. Along with health, time and energy are our most valuable resources. And they are precious. Time and energy are precious, finite resources that should be protected at all costs. Once you start giving your time and energy the respect it deserves, you will see an instant shift in the way you use them.
Evaluate Your Time and Energy. When during the day are you most productive? When are you most creative? When do you start to feel antsy? When does your brain start to feel foggy? When do your brain and body start to shut down? What activities require your sharpest brain? What tasks can you do on autopilot? What activities are the most physically tasking? What activities invigorate you? What tasks require quiet time? Take a truly honest look at your day – start to finish – and simply evaluate how you feel, physically and mentally.
List Your Priorities. Life is a mix of things we have to do and what we want to do (sometimes those overlap, which is awesome!) Jot down a list of all the activities you have and want to do on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Don’t forget about the ones that always seem to fall to the wayside – like working out or reading more! Maybe you need to balance your budget once a week and would like to have dinner with friends at least twice a month. Or you’d really like to make time for an adult recreational sports league in between shuttling your kids to all of their activities. This is your list. Be honest and dream big!
Create Your Ideal Day and Week. With the knowledge from your evaluation and priorities, map out what your ideal day and week would look like. For example, I am most productive and on my best mental game between 7:00 am and 11:00 am, so during that time, I would ideally handle projects that require my utmost attention. I’m much less productive in the afternoons so I prefer to have meetings between 12:00 pm and 3:00 pm. After 3:00 pm, I’m absolutely useless mentally but start to get physically antsy, so a walk or exercise is perfect at this time to jumpstart my energy before picking up my son from daycare. Then the evenings are reserved for family time – making dinner, playtime, and bedtime routine. Tuesday night is Movie Night. Friday is Family Game Night. Sunday is Fancy Sit Down Dinner Night. Household chores and projects all find their way in between.
Transition Your Schedule. This isn’t going to change overnight but you can subtly move into your ideal schedule week by week. Start intentionally scheduling activities during your designated times (remember, you should be scheduling your to-dos!) and you can even use color coding in your calendar to indicate task types. If your ideal day requires a conversation with your manager or boss, start tracking productivity during these times and make them a pitch to adjust your schedule. And before you say, “That will never work!” – try. The worst they can say is, “No.”
Start Saying No. You don’t have to say yes to everything. If you hate baby showers, send a thoughtful gift and be done with it. You hate company happy hours? Don’t go. Someone claims 6:00 pm on a Wednesday is absolutely the only time they can meet? Schedule in a few days (within reason, of course.) You don’t have to say yes to everything. You are in charge of your time and energy resource bank, and your number one job is to protect it.
Make Necessary Changes. This tip is the hardest. If you pitch a schedule change and your boss tells under no terms would that ever be considered, you need to evaluate if that job is the right one for you. If you have a friendship that only drains you, you need to evaluate if it’s worth carrying forward. If you belong to an organization that takes more of your time and energy (and sometimes money) than the fulfillment you receive in return, you need to sever your membership.
Shoot for progress – not perfection. It took me weeks to find a healthy harmony in my schedule, months to protect it consistently, and years to assert my right to dictate what my life looks and feels like. You will not change overnight. Your priorities will shift. Your life will change. But by consistently using an ideal schedule as guardrails, you’ll be on the right path.
At the risk of getting a little too rah-rah on you, I would like to remind you that this is your life. While there are real-world limitations on your control over your circumstances, there is always always always something you can grab the reins on. Remember, you alone are responsible for protecting your precious time and energy.