Words 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.