For many of us, the days are gone where our working hours were simply those for which we were paid. Very high workloads, modern technology, unreasonable expectations, cause many of us to sacrifice our health, well-being and relationships for the sake of our work.
There is certainly a time to go the extra mile and work extraordinarily hard when this is required. But it is easy to become stuck in this place. Over-stretching ourselves for too long can come at a significant cost. We feel stressed and exhausted. We become remote or more painful than usual to our family members. Or we struggle through to each holiday and then collapse in a heap.
So, how do we give ourselves down-time so we are more the person we want to be, have the time and emotional reserves for our family, and the energy and creativity for our work?
- Start saying ‘no’ more often: Let me start by stating the obvious – we can’t do it all. So, if we are going to stay sane by giving ourselves some down-time, we need to start becoming more ruthless with how we use our time at work.
Do you really have to go to meetings that have no agenda, are not relevant, or are a complete waste of your time? Do all of the high-priority tasks need to be done at once? Or can some be given a lower priority or ‘filed’ for later attention? (Think waste paper basket or delete button).
- Say ‘yes’ to your personal life: It is often easier to set limits with the demands of your work, when you have made a commitment to yourself, your friends or your loved ones. Should you keep on working on that report or go to your child’s award ceremony at school? Finish clearing your in-box or keep that dinner date with your partner?
Remember that you will always find it easier to commit to your personal life when the commitment is either to someone you deeply care about or is to something you are quite excited about. So, planning a holiday or rediscovering a passion, something you love to do, whether it be gardening, dancing, or road cycling (like me) will make it easier for you to follow through.
- Be realistic with yourself: One of the key ways you can ease the pressure on yourself is to practise more realistic ways of thinking. Does everything you do need to be at a ten out of ten standard? Or is an eight out of ten standard good enough? Does that particular project really need to be finished today? Yes, it takes time to train people to do what you know, but do you have to do it all?
Many of us are guilty of unreasonable expectations of ourselves and need to take it easier. Goodness knows there are enough pressures at work without us adding to them. Remind yourself of how you want to think and deliberately practise such thoughts. Or double-check unrealistic thinking with a friend or colleague who can talk some sense to you.
- Give the technology a rest: Technology certainly does allow us more flexibility. And as a technophile, I love my smart devices. But like any good thing, technology can be harmful if not used in moderation.
Can you ban smartphones from the dinner table? Can you turn some notifications off? Will there be a major catastrophe if you don’t check your emails on the weekend? Can you take your partner to bed instead of your laptop?
Ultimately, turning off your ‘on for work’ switch and giving yourself some down time has significant benefits.
Your workplace benefits because you are bringing the best of you to work.
Your family and colleagues benefit because you are more pleasant to live and work with.
And you benefit because you’re feeling rested, recharged and living a quality life.