In Case Of Emergency: How To Survive When You’ve Overdone It

Overworked? Here's the eight-point creed that can help.

stocksy_txp61015654z3a100_small_641784Words by Tess Robinson, Smack Bang Designs

Ever read a post on ‘How to achieve a work/life balance in three easy steps’ and felt bitterly disappointed? Yep, me too. Three easy steps and then, all of a sudden, the key to happiness, balance and a sweet apple pie is somehow in your hands? Sure, and I’m a five-time world pole-vaulting champion.

So it came as no surprise when the last blog post I read on this subject didn’t deliver me that much-coveted Holy Grail and open up a world of enlightenment. It did however, make me think about the never-ending tug-of-war between ambition and mental clarity and what affect being overworked has on our wellbeing.

Of course, building a business requires hard work, blood, sweat and a little too often, tears. Of course you have to commit to the cause, put in the work and make it happen. Of course you have to stay back, learn HTML via Youtube clips and live on pot noodles for a few years. But often the result of slogging it out day after day, week after week, and not prioritising your wellbeing, is a big rude shock that slaps us in the face one morning when we just can’t actually get out of bed. No-one, and I do mean no one, can go full throttle forever.

As a business owner juggling three businesses, I’ve spent a chunk of time in the hellish pits of burn¬out. Not the most charming place I’ve visited, but I’m grateful to have been there, done that and bought the t-shirt. Those moments of complete and utter burn-out make me grateful for the (rare) weekday swims in the ocean and the sometimes late starts with chai in hand, dog at feet. They have taught me to be grateful for the ebbs and flows of being busy and to be patient with myself and my life. Now that I know what serious stress looks like (as I’m sure you probably do too) I can flag the warnings signs with myself much sooner these days.

So, how the hell do you survive when even your coffee needs a coffee?

Here’s what I’ve found helps to get some healthy perspective back into my life (hello, tropical holiday. And hello to you, too, Argentinian Malbec).

1. Cut your hours back.
I’d really love to meet the person who decided that the majority of us have to work five days a week with only two days left for adventure and fun. I’d high five them. In the face, with scalding hot iron. As business owners, we often forget that we actually do control our own time, and it’s within our power to apportion it best. Don’t forget to take a load off and hell, maybe even take the day. Productivity depends on you being in the right headspace to fulfill tasks to the best of your ability (which is a lot more achievable after a good solid day or even a few hours off).

2. Learn to leave it at work.
This is a particularly hard task to master, but when you close your laptop, simultaneously close the tabs in your brain. A good way of practically doing this is writing down all the things (to-do’s, ideas for upcoming projects that are buzzing around in your mind, things you don’t want to forget) in a quick physical list and then leaving it on your desk at work. After all, that’s where all of those thoughts belong.

3. Don’t try to do everything.
You only have 24 hours in each day. Don’t try to fit in 100 tasks. Just focus on your rule of three. Slash every non-urgent to-do off your list and just do the bare minimum for a week. Even if you technically have more time in the day, and you feel like you can keep working into the night, eventually your brain bites back and does that thing where it just says “piss off, Tess” and throws in the towel. You’re much more likely to be compelled to take on more tasks when you’re not overwhelmed by them so try the less is more rule.

4. Focus on the bright spots.
It can’t all be doom and gloom, right? Maybe you have a really epic team. Or a really supportive business partner. Or the loveliest, most reassuring partner at home. Or just a dog who can listen to all your problems and not talk back. As much as you can, try to focus on the bright spots in your day.

5. Take a holiday.
Walk away from your life. Even if it’s just for a few days, or a few hours! Escape is good for the soul. We put ourselves under so much pressure and sometimes the best way to vent that pressure is to pop the lid, let the steam out, and go someplace else for a little while. It’s also the key to being able to get through the next busy period so don’t deny yourself the space to regroup. It will make that next uphill that much flatter.

6. Take an email hiatus.
Set an auto-response and drop offline. We’ll miss you, but we won’t die if you don’t write back to our email. It takes a bucket load of self control, but taking a day (or even a simple morning) off your emails might just give you the time and space you need to re-calibrate.

7. Bring some silence into your life.
Take five minutes to sit quietly, calmly and peacefully. Breathe deeply and mindfully. Maybe you meditate. Maybe you listen to the sounds. Maybe you sip a coffee. Maybe you just stare at the wall and wish you were someplace else. Either way, sit still, and learn the art of being, not doing.

8. Ditch the ‘shoulds’.
Rid your vocab of the word ‘should’: it is toxic. We place expectations of ourselves that we “should do this, should do that”. Worse still when you’re your own boss and the expectations you set for yourself are intense and often a bit OTT. Drop ‘should’ like you used to drop your Nokia 3310 when Mum would check in on you in bed on a school night.

Julie Davidson

I love this article and while I’m not currently a business owner, I thankfully listened to others (and frankly myself) and learned in the first stint of my career in marketing that I will never look back on those three extra hours of work with fondness, but I would always look back relish the warm fall evening I went mountain biking after work (even when the sandy climbs kicked my ass!) or for that swim in the bay at lunch on a perfect Michigan summer day with the love of my life.

At my first job out of college, the manager hammered in the importance of being in the office and in our seats before 8 am and after 6 pm. He’d brag how he’d never taken a sick day in his professional career and the award ceremony for the employee of the month would always make mention of how this exemplary human was always the first in the office and the last to leave. After running myself into the ground – often out of guilt and fear of not being good enough or working hard enough, which would surely ruin my life and career – I was laid off along with the whole marketing team. It was a blessing that was hardly in disguise and I walked out of that office with a giant smile under all of my tears. Nobody, even if it’s really needed, likes showing up for work and then leaving at 3 pm with no job, no income with a life you can now no longer afford, and no idea what to do next. It was hard, but I avoided knee jerk reactions and many well-meaning offers to help (including job offers) and I took a chance and did something for myself and moved to Antarctica for almost six months before returning to Northern Michigan and finding my dream job. While I have become exponentially better about closing my laptop at a reasonable hour and making a point of not waiting for weekends to take advantage of adventures, I still have to deal with that first manager’s voice in my head. I dread asking for time off or for putting myself first and often fear that I am just not working hard enough or doing enough. My stomach knots just looking at the list of days off I want to request before they run out at the end of the year. There’s no reason for this, I’ve never been denied a request and my company is awesome. I work in the sailing industry and it’s almost expected that I leave early in the summer to race in the local evening races…but yet, every Wednesday at 4:15 pm when I change into my sailing gear I swallow hard!

Anyway, the moral of my rambling story is that I am beyond thankful that when I turn 30 next month I do so with life balance and while I have dreams of bigger adventures to the ends of the earth, I am thankful I to relish living and not working. Articles like this make me feel stronger and make it easier to kick that manager in the proverbial balls and start the evening’s adventure.

Thank you Collective for all you do!


Excellent article and reminder that as a business owner, I have to stop this frenetic pace.


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