ThirdPath

The Truth About Work Life Balance

January 5, 2017jdegrootBlog

After Fifteen Months of Chronic Overwork, I Still Have One More Month to Go

broken pencil

The last 15 months have been challenging, not just because of some unexpected life events (learn more), but also because our organization is growing. Growth is a good thing. We want to reach more people with our exciting and important mission. But the trick is figuring out how to have growth happen at approximately the same rate as our capacity to manage this growth.

Luckily, at ThirdPath we very purposefully build in slower periods of work over the summers so we can make changes to address these types of issues. In fact, this past summer we put a great plan in place to manage this growth. However, hiring and training people takes time, so my chronic overwork continued through the end of the year, but I’m hoping it will be behind me by the end of the summer (if note before).

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There is a silver lining. I now have a better understanding of what it feels like – and how I start behaving – when I’m chronically overworked. I also know that too many professionals in today’s 24/7 business environment are chronically overworked. So this past year has given me greater insights into what their lives must feel like.

I like to tell people to think of their capacity for work as a glass of water.
Is your glass filled to the brim? Overflowing? Or do you have a little wiggle room at the top of the glass?

When managing my capacity for work, I’ve learned to very intentionally plan around busier and less busy periods of work – or continuing with the glass analogy – to plan for the times when my glass is filled to the brim and spilling over versus when I have a little extra room at the top. If I’ve done a good job preparing for a busy period, I have created extra support and good personal habits to handle this peak period more effectively.

During slower periods, I use the “extra room” in my glass to make changes that will improve how I work going forward. I systematize processes, re-prioritize tasks, and decide what to delegate so that I have more time for what I am uniquely qualified to do.

It turns out working this way isn’t just good for you, it’s also good for your organization. It means you are better able to manage the unexpected – both at work and outside of work. It also means I come to work more refreshed, and better able to keep my perspective about what’s really an emergency and what’s really most important. However, this Fall, I could tell living with this on-going level of stress wasn’t good for me.

When constantly in a state of overwork I began to notice how smaller things pushed me off balance very easily.
I was quick to lose my perspective. I even caught myself working less efficiently, and even making some mistakes.

In October, my husband and I planned a long weekend away to celebrate my birthday. I pride myself in my ability to turn off work while on vacation, and I was able to do this during this trip as well. But even with this break, when I got back to work, I was shocked to see how quickly I returned to the same stressed perspective I had before vacation.

Once again there was a task that needed to get done that was going to require more time than I had available. And just like before vacation, it pushed me immediately into a stressed response, instead of being able to step back and imagine a more creative solution.

The truth is with so many months of stress behind me and a few more to go, I shouldn’t be surprised that I’m still behaving this way.
I didn’t do anything wrong. Growth is good. Life happens.
ThirdPath has also developed and begun to implement a plan that will end this period of overwork. But I also have to admit that during the last 15 months, sometimes I have traveled to a bit of a dark place. A place where I start losing hope, and believing things will never change.

Luckily I have developed and maintained a number of good habits to regain my normally optimistic outlook. I exercise regularly. My husband cooks amazing healthy dinners for our family. I carve out routine times during my work week without calls or meetings so I can get focused work done. And all year long I relied on my staff to help me keep focused on my top priority work.

When I get overloaded, I also try to remember to stop and take a walk, or to call a friend, or to do both. This helps remind me that it is probably the chronic overwork that is causing me to see things worse than they are. But I’m also really tired of it, and I’m looking forward to a much more balanced 2017!

Did you make a New Year’s resolution to push back at overwork and create more time for life? Let us help you.

Check out our free resources, including our “Key Integration Practices” handout.

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Assist individuals, families and organizations in finding new ways to redesign work to create time for family, community and other life priorities. Develop a growing community of individuals, leaders and organizations to influence wider change - both within organizations and at the public policy level. Support a new mind-set where everyone can follow a "third path" - an integrated approach to work and life.

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Email: time4life (at) thirdpath.org