I have been a workaholic for nearly 20 years. It is very easy for me to spend countless hours lost in a project or answering emails or refining that last bit of a presentation. Even as a kid with my first jobs I would hurriedly rush around looking for something fill, wipe, straighten, etc. If someone else started working on something while I was idle I would feel so much guilt around it and obviously the only way to fix that is to work harder. Once during a shift in the drive-in the owner was hanging around in the evening which happened from time to time but wasn’t particularly normal. It was toward the end of an 8 hour shift for me (which was proceeded by a 6 hour shift at my other job) and I had never once stopped working, in an business that encouraged frequent ice cream testing or French fry breaks. I was just doing what I typically did and finally the owner said, “Kelly would you stop already.” I was taken off guard, and she pulled me to the side, “I have been waiting for you to stop for hours so I could give you a raise and you never did.” Getting a raise at that moment really just further engrained this habit.
Fast forward a couple of years (ok fine, it was more than a couple) and I was essentially doing the same thing. I was working a lot of hours, pouring myself into each assignment, living and breathing office politics, and accomplishing a lot. I was accepted into a formal mentorship program where selected participants were paired up with senior level leaders within the company. During the application process I got the chance to choose a few different mentors I would like to learn more from. Of course, my top pick was the single most intimidating man in the company. I didn’t know him at all but I had heard wonderful things about his career and the way he worked with people. He would be able to teach me so much if only I could get past my fears. Which, if you’ve read prior posts you many know, consist of small talk and one on one conversations. So that combined with the most intimidating man in the company should go swimmingly right? Oh and by the way, he only wants to meet while we have lunch, so there’s the added pressure of getting food in stuck in your teeth while you talk. Well, it started off slow, then I built up the courage to get a little more open, then the flood gates opened, and finally the meetings were productive. After what I’ll call our “break through” meeting he asked me how I “turn it off.” I gave the very honest answer that now causes me to roll my eyes every time I think of it. “Turn it off? What do you mean? I love working. Working is my hobby.” (I can just hear me, all perky, working IS my hobby! puke) He said, “You’ll be better when you’re on if you know how to turn it off.“I can say without a doubt, that the statement fell on deaf ears. My self-centered brain thought maybe for you but I don’t need to turn it off. (Because clearly I know more than a person who has built an extremely successful career over the prior 30+ years.) I guess it only fell on mostly deaf ears though. As with most nuggets of wisdom, I allowed it to roll around in my head for a while, even while I thought he was wrong.
Over the years since that conversation I’ve come back to that thought regularly. “You’ll be better when you’re on if you know how to turn it off.” At first it came down to actually taking a lunch break a few days a week. On the days where I didn’t just stand at my desk, answering emails while I ate (as I normally would have) I would go and workout, run, or walk. I kid you not, I saw a difference in my productivity immediately. Walking away from my desk and my laptop for a while helped me to be so much more productive when I got back. The trick is you have to do something, or be disciplined enough, to truly turn work off. If you go for a light walk and hold your phone that is getting the email notifications the whole time, that is not turning it off. If you workout with people you work with and you spend the 30 minutes complaining about work while you lazily do squats, that is not turning it off. If you go for a run and allow your brain to spiral about how irritated you are with this, that, or the other thing, that is not turning it off. You will be incredibly drained by the end of the time away that you wont even want to go back (trust me, I’ve done each of them).
Moving your body in the middle of the day is a thing that I’ve adopted, as much as I’m able, because it acts as a reset for me. I do other things as well to try and keep my workaholicism in check like, keep regular work hours, practicing breath work to slow my mind down, starring as lead singer in concerts in my truck while I go to pick-up my small men, and doing my best not to work in front of them. These are things that have fit and helped me. They are all small, mostly because I have yet to master the ability to effectively take a vacation, but they have a big impact. However, this isn’t meant to be prescriptive. Maybe your thing is gardening, or a podcast, or cutting wood, or ventriloquism, I don’t know and it doesn’t matter. Find something that turns it off for you so that you’re better when you’re on.
Things I’m reminding myself of
Every decision has consequences. If you follow me you may notice this was a reminder previously as well. It is almost the mirror image this time though. The way we develop a destructive habit is not on purpose, it is because there is a more immediate positive consequence and we don’t weigh in the negative consequence down the road. In my case this was crossing one more thing off the list and that small sense of accomplishment when your email is down to a manageable number and not realizing how burnt out I was getting. It is a good thing that I strive to achieve however I have to continuously remind myself of what I’m losing as a part of making that choice so that I don’t cross over the line.
Work with the end in mind, and by end I mean, the golden years of life. When I am 80 I want my friends, kids, and husband to look back at life with me and think that woman poured her heart into everything she did. She didn’t settle for mediocre in faith, relationships, work, or hobbies; she did the work for them all to be phenomenal. That’s a pretty tall order. I know it feels like a stretch to attach something as small as car dancing on the way to pick up kids from daycare to creating a phenomenal life but those little things add up. To deliver on that promise I need to be at my best and that means developing and keeping the habits that will ground me, and one of those is turning it off.
If you’re reading this at the time it comes out, Spring of 2020, you might be thinking that none of my examples work for you because you’re working from home, with kids, and your spouse. Maybe you’re working strange hours. Maybe you’re going to work as an essential worker and your spouse is home all day either isolated or with kids. I will say this louder than ever, you need to find a way to turn it off. That could look like prayer or meditation, stretches, a nap (yeah I said it, you can take a nap), or any host of things. Heck, when I really need a break from making, following, and enforcing rules both for work and home I turn on some crazy loud music and the boys and I have a dance party. It doesn’t matter what your example is, do something to shut out the world and get yourself out of your own head.