This is the final instalment of a three-part series on the workplace. Part 1, “Staying Aligned at Work” is available HERE and part 2, “Integration: Bridging the Separation Between Your Work and Personal Life,” is available HERE.
So your job is wearing you down. The workload, that difficult co-worker, management’s lack of respect for your time and intelligence.
And what’s worse is you’re too exhausted to enjoy your evenings and weekends.
Besides, by the time you finish the grocery shopping, the cooking, the housework; the kids’ homework and shuttling them to their various activities, it’s time to go back to the office.
You sincerely believe that if only you could get a new job, everything would be more manageable.
Here’s the thing. That is probably partly true. Maybe even mostly.
But it’s also you.
I know that sounds harsh, but until we recognize our own part in the equation, we’re going to keep finding ourselves in the same situations over and over again.
Take away your job, replace it with another, and chances are you’ll eventually be back where you started.
But recognizing that our habits and tendencies and patterns are contributing to our current busyness and stress, and we can start to transform our work experience.
Last year, I decided to take a professional gap year from teaching.
When I worked full time at a school, a significant proportion of my day was scheduled for me. I’d be at work from roughly 8-3:30; while there, I was busy either teaching, lesson planning, or grading. There were also duties, extracurriculars, and meetings.
Each afternoon was likewise quickly filled up with taking the kids and the dog out; dinner; bath time; reading stories and bed.
Come 8pm, I was pretty tired, and had just enough energy to read a book or call a friend, before heading to bed myself.
Some days I’d squeeze in a little “me time” between 3:30, when my work day ended, and 5, when our babysitter left. (My youngest hadn’t started preschool yet and was home during the day.)
Often though that “me time” looked like this: a trip to the grocery store; a trip to the kids’ school; a doctor’s appointment.
Always, that me-time involved dashing, hurrying, keeping an eye on the time.
This was Istanbul, after all, and traffic and parking made everything take longer than it should.
And so it was, my life tightly scripted and choreographed, often to the minute.
This was not relaxing.
This was also not conducive to a healthy hobby or “side hustle,” although I use this latter phrase reluctantly.
Still, as a working mom of three young boys, digging deep to find the mental energy for my writing, not to mention physical exercise or a social life, would have come at the expense of sleep.
My gap year and the vast expanses of time it would afford me were supposed to be the end of all that. All three boys would be in school during the day, and except for the obvious household work — groceries, cooking, tidying up — the days would be mine!
I’d do yoga, I’d take long walks, I’d meditate, I’d write, I’d start an online business, I’d take online courses and read, read, read. All the books that had been piling up on my virtual bookshelf, my Goodreads “want to read” list.
To my horror, the days often flew by and I wouldn’t know where the time had gone. I certainly wouldn’t have accomplished any of the things I’d dreamed of doing.
And so I had to begin the uncomfortable work of self-examination. How was it that I removed roughly 40 hours of work from my schedule, and still struggled to get done what I truly wanted to? Clearly the problem lay with me, not the job.
So instead of turning your life upside down only to find yourself in the same situation all over again, try these three mindset shifting strategies. It’s the quickest way to see what your role in your current situation is and to take responsibility for your own experience and reality.
And who knows; maybe you’ll even fall in love with your current job all over again!
1. What “comfort zone” tasks might you be hiding behind?
I had a tendency to tackle all the housework first thing in the morning. Then I’d run errands. I was avoiding the scary task of starting my writing project. I should have been doing that first thing each day, during my most productive time.
Maybe you spend more time than necessary on “comfort zone” tasks. This could be anything from spending an hour answering non-urgent emails to you offering to make the team’s presentation “pretty” using your awesome GoogleSlides knowledge.
First, you’ll have to examine what you’re avoiding. What is too scary, too risky, that you’re putting it off?
Then you’re going to have to get clear on your priorities and schedule your day accordingly. Start with your most important (read: not necessarily urgent) tasks. Block these into your most productive times of day — probably first thing in the morning and mid- to late afternoon.
Allow a minimal amount of time for less important tasks, and schedule these during times when your productivity is at a natural low, such as right before lunch and partway through the afternoon. Set up an auto-responder and only respond to email at these times.
2. Initiate a project & offer to head it up.
Working for yourself is in many ways harder than slogging away at a 9-to-5 job you don’t necessarily love. Inevitably something difficult, uncomfortable or downright unpleasant will arise, and you’ll have to confront yourself; your demons, your fears, your laziness or other bad habits, and push through it — out of your comfort zone and towards what you really want.
Once you’ve identified what you’ve been avoiding, chances are you’ve also realized what lights you up. Find a way to make sure you have some of this kind of work going on.
Taking initiative at your current job will be a great testing ground. Once you realize what else is going on with you beneath the surface, chances are you’ll be able to accept responsibility for your attitude and hopefully be happier at work.
3. Say no
We’re conditioned to do what we’re told — by our parents, our teachers, and ultimately our bosses. But mastering the delicate art of gracefully saying no — without being insolent or making transparent excuses — will actually earn you respect and make you less likely to be the go-to person for everyone else’s needs.
“I’m working on project X right now; do you want me to make Y (the request) a priority instead?” Here, you make it clear that you have boundaries about what proportion of your life you are willing to dedicate to work.
“Thank you for thinking of me, but I’m not going to be able to do that anymore/this month/this year.” Here, resist your urge to be understood and don’t explain yourself.
Commit to doing one thing that scares you every day for 7 days. Whether it’s in your personal life or professional life, your “courage muscle” will get stronger. Want to be held accountable? Head over to Instagram and DM me.
Originally published at cecilepopp.com