When you’re lost in the moment, absorbed by the task at hand you lose sense of time passing, you are in flow.
It feels great, you’re pumped and looking forward to experiencing more of the same in your next task or project.
While wonderful, flow doesn’t occur that often.
What I see are too many people in overdrive. Is this you? Constantly pushing, hustling, focusing on what’s next in order to achieve success, receive a good salary and enjoy the fruits of all your labours
Does this leave you struggling with that bone aching fatigue, your energy sapped and your enthusiasm for your work and sense of humour gone AWOL?
Sure, you’re a committed professional with the best of intentions, a high achiever, a perfectionist and with a personal reputation to uphold. Naturally, you work hard, you put in long hours and the extra, because that’s just par for the course, it’s expected. You don’t tolerate anything less than 110% commitment to anything you do.
There’s just one problem.
Not only does this make your work less enjoyable over time (no matter how much you’re passionate about it), the paradox is, it leads to lower productivity, effectiveness and efficacy, and I’m sorry to say this, it makes you a proverbial pain in the backside for your colleagues who are fed up with your irritability, mood swings, worsening negativity and constant litany of complaints about your colleagues, your clients, the economy, the government, parking fines and anything else you’ve turned your attention to.
The issue here is less that you’ve turned into a miserable Scrooge, but that your poor work practices of overwork are pushing you to extreme levels of exhaustion and the risk of both physical and mental poor health and burnout.
As a recovering workaholic, I GET how hard it is to break those years of pushing yourself even harder, the deeply embedded habits of ignoring the tell-tale signs that your body and mind is under too much pressure.
Even if you’ve been wearing that super-hero cape that you ordered online and are deeply fond of, this does not disguise the fact you are human not machine. And though it sounds rather glamourous to be the epitome of society’s expectations of being able to proudly wear your badges of honour, for sleep deprivation, for lacking any meaningful personal relationships (because you don’t have the time or the energy and you only ever talk about your work, which makes you an excruciating bore) and in perpetual state of busyness. It’s time to get over ourselves and choose differently. Because you can have an exciting and challenging career and have a happy and fulfilling life.
The truth is overwork is killing us, through premature death from heart attack, stroke or suicide.
Sorry, but there isn’t a prize for deliberately shortening your life as a sacrifice to your work. Epitaphs that speak of unwavering duty and commitment rather than of love and family say it all.
Severe, chronic stress has been cited as the biggest challenge many people face on a daily basis. Too much stress is not only exhausting and demoralising it’s impacting your performance and not in a positive way.
We talk about our multiple intelligences that enable us to be at our best. But have you ever thought about your PQ your physiological quotient which reflects your capability to recover from a stressful event?
Recently I was introduced to Andrew MacDonald the CEO of PQ (lboro) and what he shared I found absolutely fascinating and highly relevant to the modern workplace. Coming from a background working with elite athletes in the UK Andrew and his team have devised a method of tracking three elements of PQ: Capacity, Performance and Recovery. What I’m excited about is finding out more about how measuring heart rate variability can be used to provide real-time data on how we are actually managing our stress rather than what we think we’re achieving.
I’ll be writing more about this as I discover more.
If you’ve recognised something needs to change but you’re not sure where to start, try this.
Give yourself a break.
Breaks come conveniently packaged in three different forms. Take your pick, but my suggestion would be to start with the micro-break and work your way up to the major break.
For daily consumption, The Micro-break.
This is the 3-5 minutes you take to press pause in your day. Research has shown how taking frequent short breaks improves performance and restores attention. Have you noticed how after your third zoom meeting you’re finding it harder to stay focused on what is being discussed? You’re not alone. Spending more time online drains your mental energy more quickly. Zoom fatigue is real and sets in after 30-30 minutes.
Got 30 seconds? Take a look out of the window onto a green space, a picture of nature or look at that dusty specimen of a pot plant on your desk. That’s long enough to lower your stress and mental fatigue and restore your attention.
Take 5 to get lost in your thoughts. A mini daydream helps to make sense of what’s happening and fire up your imagination and creativity.
Stop being a camel. Take five, to rehydrate – you’ll think better and emptying your bladder before it’s excessively full allows you to stay focused on your task without risk of inadvertent leakage. Health professionals especially are known to defer going to the loo or having a drink of water when too busy. That couple of minutes will not only make you feel more comfortable, but your rehydrated brain will think better too.
Just breathe. If you’re having a “moment” and sense you’re about to take out your frustration with a verbal barrage, cool it by slowing down your breath to activate your parasympathetic nervous system. Trust me, no one will notice you breathing, they are far too busy caught up in their own thoughts. Square breathing is nice and simple. Here you breathe in slowly to the count of 4, hold for four, breathe out slowly for four, hold again for four and repeat as necessary.
The deluxe daily package, The Midi-break.
An extension of the mini-break, this is the 10-15-20 minutes (longer if desired) you take to uncouple from your focused work to chill and be still.
This could be a time to tune into some of your favourite music or to take a technology and people recess to be on your own in peace and quiet.
A short meditation is helpful for some or getting outside for a short walk around the block, preferably in a green space, but any fresh air will do.
Take a lunch break. Over 50% of Australians regularly fail to stop for lunch denying their body and brain the fuel it needs for the energy and reset needed to work well across your afternoon.
Refuelling healthily will keep you energised and in a better mood for longer.
The Major Rest. Advance bookings now being made.
Have you may have noticed how after coming back from leave you feel more energised, enthused about getting back into your work and you enjoy it more.
So, when was your last holiday? Did that two-week vacation happen at all last year?
Many people I spoke with found themselves working harder and for longer than ever before during 2020 and didn’t take any time off at all.
No-one, not even you are completely indispensable. Will the organisation stop functioning because you’re not there? Will chaos and mayhem descend on the Australian economy if you take two weeks vacation? While you may like to think you’re important and of course you are, you’re much more valuable (and nicer to be around) when you’re in good shape, more resilient, flexible to the everchanging workplace environment and happier too.
In addition to your Major Rest, why not consider a long weekend once a quarter and while you’re at it, let’s revisit those boundary fences that got broken in 2020. You know, the boundaries around start and finish times, when to unplug from your technology, the scheduling of non-work activities you enjoy and would love to spend more time doing.
Less can be so much more.
It’s time to give yourself a break and enjoy.
Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life (Wiley) is now available for purchase.
If psychological safety, resilience and mental wellbeing is something you’d like to find out more about, please contact me to set up a time for a chat.