Jed was ‘not in a good place’ as he put it. Insomnia, concentration problems, he said he felt numb to the world. In spite of having a good job which he said he loved, a nice ‘ático’ in a nice part of Barcelona and a steady relationship with Rebecca, from Sant Cugat, he was impressively miserable.
Jed was out of control. He reasoned that as his symptoms were affecting his work then he needed to work more. This was causing him to put in more time. He’d even work during the night when he couldn’t sleep.
Jed had been a keen runner and about 20 kg ago he had done a few marathons both in the US and Barcelona. When we talked about this he animatedly explained the importance of pacing and having a clear idea of how far it is to the finishing line.
Jed’s problem was that at work he didn’t have a finishing line. He was in his own ‘race’ with no end.
So in order to rectify this problem, Jed eventually established a routine: every night he drew up a list of objectives for the following day. Mostly work oriented although he could include whatever he wanted. He would then go to work and do all of those things on his list. The deal however was this: once he had completed all those objectives for the day he was to stop working. Past his finishing line for the day he was to stop running and do something else.
Within a month Jed had got himself on track again. He was feeling much more positive. Slept better and felt better. I’d like to say that it had a Hollywood ending but it turned out that his girlfriend left him for her yoga teacher – oh, well, you can’t have everything.
Nobody is surprised about the fundamental importance of having clear, measurable and time-framed objectives when talking about corporate strategic planning but when it comes to ourselves, it seems that things go rather pear-shaped. As soon as you’ve achieved one task then immediately you’re onto the next. You never stop. The urge to ‘progress’ is never ending.
If you want to be a bit more balanced in your life you have to know when to draw the line and say “I’ve just completed a good day’s work and tomorrow I’ll do another. But for now I’m going to rest my work brain and do something different.”
And ‘do something different’ means just that: anything but work. Go home. Call a friend. Tidy your room. Go and meditate in the park. Plan a nice evening. But make it a different activity to your day job. If you work at your computer then don’t spend your free time on it, too. If you work mostly on the phone then mostly stay off it. Do something therapeutic that uses another part of your brain. Listen to some music. Treat yourself to a really nice ‘tapa’ and savour it. Have a 15 min foot massage. Go swimming. Anything that’s different!
I’m not advocating being lazy. I’m not advocating slacking, shirking or anything similar. There may well be days when you don’t manage to complete your list. You may very well have to work late. But this should be the exception not the norm.
When Jed spoke to his boss about what he was proposing to do he feared she would blow a gasket but she was actually surprisingly supportive.
Maybe she too understood that extending your working hours does not equate to increasing your productivity. In fact ironically productivity might even fall as tiredness and stress start to affect your accuracy, judgment and reduces your mental capacity to that of an eight year old (this really happens).
Happiness is about balance and the idea that working longer is working better is not only an example of total imbalance, it is a dangerous cognitive error that can have serious consequences for your physical and mental health and for the relationships you have with those who are most important to you.
So draw yourself a finishing line for each day, cross it and celebrate each successful professional day by successfully not being professional any more. You’re no use to your company or anyone else for that matter if you’re a burned-out gibbering desk-zombie. Wake up and smell the coffee, do the maths and become a believer: one good day’s work per day is good enough.
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