Blog Short #43: How to Stop Overworking
Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday, I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you. My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!
Let’s start with a question today:
Do you feel guilty or anxious when you’re not busy doing something?
Many of us do. I remember as a teen trying to nap on the couch on Saturday afternoon and my mother saying something like, “If you don’t have anything better to do than that, I’ll give you something to do!”
The message was, “Get up and do something of value – it’s not okay to just lie around. That’s just wasting time and being lazy.”
My mom wasn’t trying to be difficult – she was just channeling how she was raised. More than that, she was instilling in me the American “work ethic,” which most parents did back then and still do to a large extent today.
If you were raised that way, you likely have those messages ingrained in your psyche just like I have, and feel either guilty or anxious or both when you’re not doing something that either needs to be done or feels worthwhile.
The problem is that in today’s culture, our activity level has escalated way beyond what our parents had in mind. We’ve adopted an all-or-nothing credo of manic activity and super busyness. We’re overworked, tired, and don’t know how to relax.
We don’t take the necessary time to recharge, and as a result, feel chronically overwhelmed, burned out, and are more likely to become ill.
So how do we turn that around and still maintain our work ethic?
There are two things we can do:
- Challenge our erroneous beliefs about work.
- Take the right steps to schedule downtime.
Myths About Work
These three myths influence our attitudes about work and rest alike.
Myth #1 – The longer and harder you work, the more progress you make.
Have you ever heard of the law of diminishing returns? It originated in the field of economics, but for our purposes, it means this:
If we work hard and steadily, there is a point at which the effort we put in no longer produces optimal results. We work harder and get less done.
For example, if I write for hours and hours, at some point, what I’m writing will begin to deteriorate and look more like gibberish. The expenditure of both mental and emotional energy will leave me enervated and unable to think anymore.
Where we get ourselves into real trouble is going for “the push.” It means:
Even though you’re tired and feel spent, you have to push through and get it done.
How often is this idea perpetrated on us?
All the time! We get it on the job, we get it in school, athletes get it from their coaches, and we get it from ourselves.
Myth #2 – Taking downtime leads to laziness.
Not everyone buys into this one, but those who do are tortured by it.
If you’re not busy, not productive, don’t check everything off the list, then your self-worth is in jeopardy.
Part of this myth is a perversion of the original definition of “work ethic.” The notion of “work ethic” comes from the Puritans who equated “working hard” with good character. They saw upholding a work ethic as a means of salvation.
Engaging in conscientious work and striving for excellence is character-building, but taking downtime does not lead to laziness or co-opt one’s desire for work. Rather, it enhances and creates the circumstances for working at an optimal level.
Myth #3 – Human beings will do nothing if given a chance.
This isn’t just a myth; it’s a fear – the idea being that we naturally prefer to do nothing if given a chance. There are modifications to this myth, such as we only want to be entertained, we don’t want to work for anything, we’re hedonists at heart.
Certainly, there is a continuum along which we can place ourselves in terms of the desire for work versus entertainment. Mostly, however, we choose work. We get bored with too much entertainment or slothful behavior. Human beings are industrious by nature and feel happiest when having purpose and pursuing goals.
How to Establish Recharging Time in Your Schedule
In addition to being aware of inaccurate ideas that influence your attitudes about work, here are five things you can do to balance your work/downtime ratio:
- Prioritize what absolutely needs to be done. That means letting things go that don’t need to be done right away. Get your priority list down to the minimum. You can always add on if you have more time.
- Time-block your work. Schedule beginning and end times for tasks. Take no more time than you’ve allotted. It may take a few tries to find out how much time things take, but when you time-block, you’ll be more focused and reduce multitasking. You also won’t allow interruptions to get you off track.
- Schedule downtime. Literally. On your calendar. Decide ahead what you’ll do during your downtime. If you don’t, you can fritter it away trying to decide how to use it. For example, you might scroll through social media until the time is gone and feel like you wasted it. If you want a nap, schedule it, take it, don’t feel guilty about it, and enjoy it. Approach your downtime that way every time.
- Let everyone else know when you’re taking downtime and inform them not to interrupt you. If you have younger kids, you’ll need to get creative about this. You can get them on board by helping them decide how they will self-entertain when you’re resting, or maybe trade off babysitting with a friend.
- Reduce, delegate, delete. Create some wiggle room in your schedule by deleting activities you don’t actually need to do or could be done by someone else. Delegate when possible, and reduce your workload in any way that’s feasible.
One Final Note
At least once a week, take an objective view of your workload and your feelings of stress, overwhelm, or general tiredness. Evaluate your needs for rest, sleep, and relaxation and schedule accordingly.
Secondly, keep in mind that being busy all the time can be addictive. It can:
- Give you a sense of momentum and purpose.
- Allow you to ignore feelings or issues you don’t want to face or approach.
- Keep feelings of emptiness at bay.
If any of these things apply to you, take some time to evaluate if there’s a better way to tackle them other than staying busy.
I hope you have a great week!
All my best,