As we push through career challenges and look after our families, many of us neglect to take care of ourselves. I know how it is. You’re not eating so healthy since you are often on the run. Getting exercise is a happy ideal that you never have the time for. You’re catching up on work after hours. You’re not sleeping enough.
It’s hard to find time to spend on ourselves, especially when we have challenging jobs and children. But it is essential, not only professionally but for your family, that you take care of yourself. The alternative is the inevitable result of burning the candle at both ends, and it’s not pretty, trust me.
Recognize your limits
Start by recognizing your limits. Time outs, recharging of batteries, simple acknowledgement of the stress you are under all go a long way towards avoiding burnout. Make sure you aren’t trying to recharge your batteries by simply switching from work to family obligations. Yes, being with family is a “break” from work, but it brings its own obligations and stressors that can contribute to burn out if we’re not careful.
Keep your emotional gas tank filled
Become aware of how empty or full your emotional gas tank is. If your work environment throws one stressor after another at you, it is depleting your gas tank. You fill the gas tank back up by doing things which make you feel good. The possibilities are endless, I assure you, and many of them can and should involve your family.
With our smartphones in our hands, we can take connectedness with work to extreme levels. It’s critical to establish some rules about when you do and don’t work. For example, at the dinner table – will you answer a phone call, text, or email? If the answer is yes, chances are high you are fooling yourself about the criticality of your role. Is doing it in that precise moment critical to success? If not, you should be able to turn your phone to airplane mode during dinner.
Despite wanting to stay connected and on top of fast-moving projects and demands, I also decided that each week, one weekend day was a “no work” at all day. No peeking, no cheating. Being able to unplug completely, even for one day a week, is a fantastic way to recharge your batteries and be all the more effective when you are connected.
These ideas may sound pretty draconian. These rules on their own would not have been enough to enable me to succeed and evolve in my career. Recognizing exceptional situations which warrant shifting priorities is key. I got the work done that needed to get done, and usually more. During certain periods, I made exceptions and burned my share of midnight oil and weekend hours. No one ever complained about the limits although I refused many evening and even lunchtime meetings. They didn’t complain because I came up with alternatives, my absence was tolerable, or I made an exception.
Start saying no
So – set yourself some defined working limits and start saying no. Learn when to make exceptions and don’t let the exception become the rule. Define your professional boundaries and fight for them. You’ll have to. I always use the word “militant” when I talk about how I defend those boundaries. Sometimes you have to say no again and again. Prioritize your time and consistently weigh what is necessary from what is desirable. That doesn’t mean you only ever give your minimum. It means you are discerning about how you spend your time.
Focus on your health
It’s up to you how you spend the time you have freed up by sticking to those limits. One of the life priorities that we tend to neglect most in pursuit of our careers is our health. Between work and family, there never seems to be any time left for anything else. You know the trifecta. Get enough sleep, eat healthy, get some exercise. You know it, but knowing it isn’t enough. You must consciously decide to change your habits. Consider however the consequences of neglecting your health. A serious illness could compromise your career and your family. So, use some of that time you take back by setting work limits to take better care of your health.
Cultivate your career
Finally, taking care of yourself also includes taking care of your career. That is different from the day to day work grind. Taking care of your career means having a vision for the future and goals for getting there. It involves continuous learning to keep your skills honed to a sharp edge. It involves cultivating a professional network to include mentors and sponsors. In the busy shuffle to put out fires and get urgent tasks done in our jobs, we don’t always take the time to cultivate our careers.
Taking care of yourself is a big job, and it’s not one to be taken lightly. Prioritize taking care of your health, your family, your passions and your career. No matter how much you love your job, if you only focus on it, chances are good you are headed for burnout.