I used to wear my workaholism like a badge of honor.
In previous work-lives I was proud of the fact that I was "on call" at all hours. It made me feel valued and it made me feel good that I was hustling. My previous boss (and many before that) set the tone by starting at the crack of dawn and going til he couldn't anymore, and dragged his employees along for the ride. I thought it was normal, so I made it a point to be available at all times and I did That. For. Seven. Years. Looking back, I was miserable, sick all the time, and I had given 100% of myself away.
Working more doesn't mean that you care more or get more done. It just means that you work more. It's not sustainable and that hard crash is inevitable. Here's an excerpt from the book, Rework, which I mostly hated but it did have some solid takeaways.
"If all you do is work, you're unlikely to have sound judgements. Your values and decision making wind up skewed. You stop being able to decide what's worth extra effort and what's not. You wind up just plain tired. No one makes sharp decisions when tired...
Workaholics aren't heroes. They don't save the day, they just use it up."
So why have we been programmed this way? Here are some active steps that I personally take (and still don't take them all the time) to help me stay on track, be my very best, and fight the burnout.
1. I Took Emails off My Phone (and didn't die)
The funny part is that I actually put them back on recently BUT I disabled the push notification feature on my iPhone (that pesky little red number). I found that because I don't see that horrible number anymore, I just don't check them unless I absolutely have to. Work emails can wait until business hours. That Sephora tracking number... maybe not. But when I took them off completely I definitely didn't die! Any normal person is going to understand that you cannot be in correspondence at all times. And if they expect that please send them the link to this blog.
2. Leave the Laptop at the Office
Something a crazy person would say, right? You probably rolled your eyes just then. We already work 8+ hour days (and I actually think we all should implement a 6 hour work day but... baby steps), why extend that? Why drag work out way too long? Because we know that we can. We have these little portable devices that go with us everywhere! So what happens if you change your mindset? Give yourself 6-8 hours to do what you need to do, and then be done. I certainly don't always do this, but I try to make it a point at least 2 days a week to leave the laptop. This allows me to focus on reading a book, cooking myself a good meal (ordering takeout), or finally changing the lightbulb in the bathroom. And most importantly, rest!
3. Weekends are Sacred
Tower Press is closed on the weekends and we will not apologize for it. We need to rest. I need to rest. We need time with our families, friends, and pets. These are the days when we can be out in the world and have a little fun (something we all deserve) and reset our minds and bodies. For the most part, I take weekends off. I don't look at emails or even open my laptop (unless it's to watch Fleabag because I can't figure out how to stream Amazon Video on my television). Of course, there are times when I just have to. And that's okay! I try not to put too much pressure on myself about it and I still feel the pangs of guilt if I sat around in my soft pants all day and didn't do a single thing work related. How sad is that? That we've been made to believe we have to be working at all times in order to have any value in the world and that time to ourselves is shameful. Take that full day off!
You're probably telling yourself, "I can't. What if so and so emails me? What if an order comes in? What if a potential client needs a quote on something? I have orders piling up I have to get to them right this second." I understand the panic in feeling the need to respond or get to it right away, it's ingrained in us. I still think about all these things, all of the time but the value of our mental health should take precedence over the other noise for just one or two days out of the seven that we have. Really think about what's the worst that could happen.
4. Realize that you DO have the time
Tower Press gets anywhere from 60-150 emails per day, on top of the online orders to process, deliveries, production, and shipments to coordinate. It's a lot for 2-3 people to handle! There's also time needed for marketing, managing our social channels, bookkeeping, client meetings, the list goes on. Can you believe I used to handle it all by myself up until recently? Two things helped me with managing my time.
- Stopped telling myself that I didn't have any time and instead told myself that I have plenty. I won't get into the whole "time is a manmade construct" thing, but by operating with the mentality that the time is there I found that I don't bolt out of bed in the mornings feeling panicked. I don't burst into the office out of breath feeling frazzled that I've not completed 500 things by 9am. Do I actually have all the time in the world? No. Our client's have deadlines and we do have to keep it moving. But for the *other* stuff, I'll get to it when I get to it and I am doing my best.
- Utilizing the pomodoro technique for most of my tasks. This was a really simple method that my business coach told me about that I literally laughed at because it sounded so ridiculous. So naturally, it worked (for me). Timing my tasks to 25 minutes at a time keeps me focused and on track (pro-tip: if using your phone as a timer make sure to keep it out of reach).
5. Take a walk!
Our current studio has no windows. For creatives this is... terrible. I always encourage employees and myself to get up, move around, and take a walk whenever you need to. Stand up every hour and move your body. Are you slouching right now? Your physiology is also attached to your mindset. When I catch myself feeling really ragged I noticed that my body is slumped over while I'm typing at my desk. The minute I straighten up that posture, I start to feel better. Our bodies are incredible and we should respect them enough to give them a little TLC by keeping them moving.
This is one I still really struggle with. I have ADD and it's hard for my thoughts not to race at all times. I am constantly being pulled in different directions and centering myself during a few quiet moments is rare. I'm making the effort again to put meditation back into my daily habits because it's an incredible tool to check in with my mind and body and let both know to slow down and be quiet. You don't have to be religious (I'm not) or even spiritual to feel the benefits. You also don't have to sit cross-legged on the floor with your eyes closed if that doesn't work for you. Everybody has 10 - 20 minutes they can dedicate to themselves for a peaceful moment.
I hope this helps some of you who are feeling overwhelmed and like you can never catch your breath. You can! Everything is a process, and every day is going to be different. Sometimes we just have to put in 12 hour days, but make sure you reward yourself with a little RnR.
It's fitting that I would write this on the last possible day of Mental Health Awareness month. I have struggled with depression and anxiety for most of my life, probably even before I became aware of it.
When I first started experiencing those "elephant on the chest" symptoms, shortness of breath, chest pains, all-over-the-body-pains, felt like I was gonna die at any given moment, wanted to die at any given moment, I was in 9th grade. I explained my symptoms to a doctor, who prescribed me with painkillers. The question of depression or anxiety didn't even come up (I didn't know to ask about it, either). I became hooked on them. This mis-diagnosis plagued me for years and sent me on a downward spiral of drug use, failing classes, and giving up on myself. I locked myself up, and lived inside of that dark cave for a very, very long time. I still visit it occasionally. It wasn't until college that a therapist suggested to me that I most likely suffered from depression and anxiety. The word Depression hit me so hard. Much like its symptoms that have haunted me every single day, it seemed so heavy. Like I'd never be able to come out on the other side.
You don't need the entire backstory, but there is an "other side". Sometimes. Sometimes I see it, and sometimes I'm right back where I started. There are days I physically can't get out of bed and days I spring out at 7 a.m. excited for whatever the world has in store for me. There are days that I can't breathe at my desk, can't pay attention, and I break down, and then there are stretches of days where I feel like I can tackle anything. But I've learned to keep pushing through. Because what makes me really happy, is doing what I love (this lil' business), and what makes me truly fulfilled is finding new passions, cultivating new relationships, and not letting the stigma of a disease keep me from accomplishing my goals.
Of course, it's never that easy is it? Everything takes enough work as it is, but it seems like when you have a mental illness, everything takes three times the work. I certainly can't be the spokeswoman for patience, but sometimes you have to slow down. Breathe in. Breathe out. We got this. It's okay to admit and ask for help. I guarantee that you know someone else who's going through something similar (and you can always reach out to me!).
Years and years of psychotherapy, a change in diet (vegan y'all), and building a strong foundation of friends, good friends, friends who don't tear you down with their constant drama and who encourage you to rise above the self you were yesterday, made a world of difference to me. Creating art helps. Even if it's terrible and you never show anyone. Creating anything at all, any form of expression, helps. It doesn't have to be art. Driving with the windows down. Screaming Distillers lyrics into your pillow. Petting dogs. Seeing the work you do make a difference in someone's life. Volunteering. Writing. Cooking. Petting more dogs. All these seemingly small things, help. I still struggle with having the energy to exercise and meditate daily. I still have anger rooted deep inside of me. I still have a hard time connecting with people and wanting to leave my house. I still have fear. But, I'm still doing my best.
I'm not here to tell you how to overcome your fears or feelings, I am still figuring that out too. Everyone's different. What has worked for me, may not work for you. The point is just to let you know that I struggle too. And while the world is working on breaking the stigma, there's a lot of work left to do. But none of us are alone in doing it.