We receive countless messages throughout the day. Our brains are inundated with them. Many of these messages encourage us to do more, work more, achieve more, get more. We carry around devices that aid these messages. They have the capacity to immediately link us to people, limitless information, our work, our responsibilities, pretty much anything. With this much accessibility to stimulation, it’s never been easier to run ourselves into the ground than it is right now. If we’re not careful with it, it can complicate an already tricky challenge of striking the balance between work and responsibility and the rest of our lives. We can be at work, but chat with friends online, online shop, send snapchats, and read blogs. (Maybe you’re even reading this blog at work right now.) We can go on vacation, but attend conference calls with colleagues and clients, answer emails, and work on tasks. Everything can just kind of… merge with everything else. Pretty soon, we’re trying to relax when we’re at work and trying to work when we’re at home. We go to bed at 2 am and struggle to get up for work. We’re caught in an exhausting cycle. With all the distractions, messages to do more, and responsibilities we have to manage it’s hard to feel like creating a balance between work and everything else in life is even a possibility. I’d like to look at some of what stops us from creating the balance we’d like.
- Perfectionism: The need to finish every single note, email, assignment, or task before we leave for the day. The need to return all of the voicemails. A lot of the time it’s unrealistic. If our expectation is to complete every single thing we’re tasked with every single day, we’ll find ourselves leaving work late and taking our work home with us. We have to learn to prioritize and delegate. We can’t go to every meeting someone thinks we should attend. We can’t expect to leave each day with our inboxes empty. We have to skip some meetings or send a colleague. We have to get to the first three or first five most important priorities and proceed from there. We’ll feel stuck, our of control, resigned if we try to hold ourselves to the unrealistic standards of perfectionism.
- Getting distracted during work time: Facebook, Reddit, cat memes, texting or chatting with friends, dealing with household issues- we’ve all been there. If we often give into these distractions, we probably don’t finish all the work we would like to by the end of our work day. It also probably means that we end up taking work home with us to make up for it. If it’s just a matter of sucking it up and getting the work done, that’s one thing. If we’re feeling uninspired by our work and want to escape, then maybe we need to pay more attention to that. It’s possible we need to make an adjustment in the job or even career.
- No delineation between work-time and off-time hours: They’re merged. Between email and list serves that come to our phones, taking work home with us, and all the apps that our jobs use to “keep us connected,” we can (and do) work anywhere, anytime. We see a notification pop up, check it out, and respond. We do this habitually. It feels as though we have to respond immediately. We start to believe that we have no say in the matter, no control over our lives. To reestablish our agency, we need to set and keep distinct work-time and home/off-time hours. Stop checking email, apps, and voicemail at 7p. Don’t check them on the weekends. Find whatever works for you and stick to it otherwise, you’ll always feel that pull to respond and your time won’t feel like your own.
- Not enough exercise or meditation: Both of these activate the parasympathetic nervous system which helps calm us. It’s known as the “rest and digest” mechanism, and it helps slow the heart rate and relax the sphincter muscles. When we strengthen our parasympathetic nervous system, we improve our resources available to help calm our sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response). Start small with 20 minutes of physical activity and 5 minutes of meditation. Build on it until you find what works for you.
- Fixed mindset: Every so often it’s important to reevaluating our schedules and responsibilities. Does it still work for us? If we’ve taken on new responsibilities at work or home, we should try looking at the distribution to see if it feels manageable to us. Most of us can’t keep putting more on our plates without taking something off. Look at changing or reallocating responsibilities at work or home. Ask for what you need. Learn to delegate.
- Not prioritizing time for ourselves: We need time to do what we want to do. Sometimes it’s enough to meditate or go for a swim or even take the car to get the oil changed. But sometimes that just feels like more work. Check in with yourself to see what kind of time for yourself you’re craving. Maybe you need some time with friends or time alone, a day trip, a vacation- something to change your scenery and routine. What do you think might help you to recharge?
These tips can be helpful, but sometimes just reading suggestions like these will make us want to scream or cry or roll our eyes. “Yeah, that sounds great. I’d love to have time for myself. Unfortunately, I have too many responsibilities and by the time I have a second of down time I fall asleep, or someone needs something.” And sometimes we feel like we’re already doing all the suggestions and trying all the tip variations, but still don’t feel like balance is possible. If this feels like you, let me know, and we can try to figure out next steps. I know it’s not always as easy as rearranging a few things.
Love and Be Loved,