The Truth About Work Life Balance
Fifteen Months of Chronic Overwork, and One More to Go
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. But the trick is figuring out how to have growth happen at a capacity we can manage.
At ThirdPath we very purposefully build in slower periods of work in order to give us time to make the necessary changes to better manage when things are extra busy. Overwork is never easy, but there can be 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.
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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 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
- 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, 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. For example, 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. 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.
Did you make a 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.