I saw this in Offscreen Magazine and wanted to hold onto and remember this advice. It’s from Matt Steel, and it’s about burn out.
“In the US, we’re trained to think that successful people are busy. We’ve all heard about the inevitable burnout that occurs when people work too much. But we quickly forget these cautionary tales and rationalise our habits, because we’re afraid of what our lives will look like if we slow down and pay attention. Deep down, many of us wonder if we’re wasting our time on things of little consequence. So we keep skittering along the surface at a feverish pace, avoiding the mirror of introspection.”
Slow down. If you’re busier than you’d like to be, don’t try to curate your life. First, slow down. Focus on the here and now. Get present. Pay attention to where your energy is drawn, the good and the bad. Healthy priorities will naturally reveal themselves. Your life will start to curate itself.
Stop trying to be a hero. Commit to a schedule you can sustain and tasks you can complete without killing yourself. No one will go into cardiac arrest if you turn down a project.
Go home. Leave the office by 6pm. Have dinner with family or friends, relax and get a good night’s sleep. You’ll feel refreshed and focused when you arrive at work in the morning.
Minimise meetings. Meetings can be necessary, but quite often they are straight-up time wasters. Ask if there might be a more efficient way to make decisions. Offer suggestions. Get creative.
Go dark. Switch your mobile phone to airplane mode. Let’s face it: our communication addictions aren’t making us happy or productive. Stay offline unless you need to do some research. Do your important work first, and answer emails later. Be proactive, not reactive. And for crying out loud, stay away from social media unless you’re taking an intentional break. Use it as a reward for work done.
Leave your desk for lunch. Read a book, take a walk, visit a museum — anything to change your environment and unplug for a bit. The change of scenery will be refreshing, and you’ll be ready to tackle the afternoon’s work upon returning to your desk.
Give up on multitasking. Multitasking is just plain inefficient. Period, You can go broad, but you can’t go deep. Instead, set aside large chunks of time to focus on one task at a time. Let people know you’re unavailable.
Last week I was stuck, miserable in bed, having been hit by some kind of 24-hour bug. It got me thinking about health and what that means in a world of busy days, insurance plans, and living in a city that’s filled with every kind of delicious greasy food item you could dream of.
For most of my life, I never had to make a decision about whether or not to go to the gym. As a student-athlete, I had chunks of time out of my day that were purely devoted to practice, weight-lifting, and conditioning. But outside of being an athlete, if you spend time on any university campus you are constantly in motion. One minute, you’re off to class. The next, you’re running nearly a mile across the quad to make a group meeting. Looking back, I seriously wish I had been counting my steps (quick kudos to my new Jawbone Up) to prove how much college-Kait would destroy current-Kait in terms of sheer activity. Plus – and perhaps most importantly – all this meant I could order Domino’s and cinnasticks to my heart’s content.
Which brings me to today. In the real world, you work at a desk, sitting down, for a majority of the day. To say I felt the effects of being sedentary immediately would be a bit of an understatement. Since then I’ve migrated to a standing desk, but there’s been this question eating at me for the last six months…
What does the word “healthy” mean for me now, and if it involves exercise, when am I going to actually do it?
After a couple months of swearing to go to yoga every night, to then trying to work out around lunch at the gym next-door, to swearing off exercise entirely…I think I’ve found the answer. Perhaps you’ll find this helpful as well.
What I’ve found is that the only time I personally will ever go and perform some kind of deliberate physical activity is right before I hop in the shower. It has to be quick – twenty to thirty minutes at max – or else it eats up more time than I can commit to. So if I’m showering in the morning, I run around the neighborhood as soon as I wake up. If I’m showering at night, same thing. Weekends are reserved for yoga, since that’s when I can devote a full hour and a half to it.
Now, this took me six months to figure out. People put health and fitness up on a pedestal sometimes, but when you break it down, it’s simple. If exercise makes you feel good, you only need to fit in 20 minutes where you can. A fancy yoga mat isn’t necessary, nor are those Nike iDs you’ve been eyeing. Just put on the shoes you have, and hit the pavement.
Throughout my entire existence – and my mother can attest to this – I’ve had a tendency to say, “I know.” When someone gives me instructions, I get frustrated. “I know, I know,” I say, “I know.” I believe the fear of seeming ignorant or slow is at the root of this. Yet when my sole response to advice is, “I know,” I only come off as uncoachable.
What I’m slowly realizing is – I’m trying to get to the punch line quickly – no one is expecting me to know everything.
Regardless of whether I think I know or not, I am twenty-two years old. I have a lot of learning ahead of me. And as an insatiably curious person, it’s learning that I desperately want. Lucky for me, for the majority of the day, I am in a position that requires constant growth and learning from experience. What is expected of me, as opposed to knowing everything, is to have ideas and opinions. There are no concrete facts, no index cards to memorize, just the simple desire to add something to the conversation.
This paralyzation of being incorrect, or of feeling inexperienced, is counteractive to everything else I do and feel towards my life right now. As a young person, in a new city, doing work that I love…the doors for novel adventures are wide open and the roads leading out from them are endless.
And why try to pretend I know so much? It seems that would take the fun out of everything.
I’m a big fan of The Great Discontent. It reminds me that no one ever really knows where they’ll end up, and that the paths we take are, well, namely based on just figuring out what feels right.
This month, The Great Discontent features Elle Luna. She makes a great statement about feeling uplifted by the presence of ambiguity.
“I think back to the different phases of a project at IDEO—it’s not so different from life, really—I’m in the exploratory, divergent phase. The part where you brainstorm a lot and encourage wild ideas and defer judgement. I believe that the longer you can hang with that ambiguity or unknown, the greater the results will be at the end. This was true for IDEO projects, it was true for Mailbox, and now it is becoming true for my life. I didn’t know what I was going to do with all the art I was creating, but I kept making it anyway.”
Met up with an old friend for dinner last night. She graduated in 2012 and thus has a full 365 days of wisdom and advice to offer me as I conclude my first few months as a post-grad professional. She was asking me about my new job and I said that after seven weeks, I’m finally happy. The onboarding process was difficult, and I will not lie, I was beginning to explore other positons. My head was (and continues to be) filled with questions. What am I passionate about? How do I channel this into my work? Do I feel like my job is pushing me to grow into the individual I aspire to be? Am I finding enough time outside of work to cultivate outside interests while also developing my personal relationships with friends and family?
In the last 10 days or so, I’ve found respite from these questions…a quiet peace of sorts. I’m truly enjoying the time I spend at work and realize that this concept of work-life balance is somewhat…imaginary. What’s a life that so harshly distinguishes between “work” and “real” life?
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I spent last night at Makeshift Society listening to the women behind Rice Paper Scissors share their experiences in what it takes to build a food business. The following question was asked:
So it’s clear you’re doing what you love, but how much of your time do you spend doing the unlovable tasks that are necessary in making it actually happen? The number-crunching, food prep, the stress not knowing if a pop-up will actually come through, etc.
And their answer was around forty percent. Forty percent of their time is spent doing all the shit tasks that are needed to pull this dream of theirs off. I love that. Because it’s true…work is rewarding, but sometimes, work is work. And you just have to grit your teeth and realize that you’re going to be in the thick of it for the next day or week or month or so, but that the end product is going to give you so much back in return.
So my friend and I are talking about this, right? And she’s bringing up how many young people she knows who have meandered from job to job and city to city in their first year post-college. I think there is certainly some truth to this wandering. If you’re in a dead-end job or in an industry you get zero energy from, it’s smart to leave. But what is the line between finding your passion and asking too much from life? At what point do we need to buckle down as a generation and get to work?
I’d like to end with beautiful quote I stumbled upon:
“I think that we are like stars. Something happens to burst us open; but when we burst open and think we are dying; we’re actually turning into a supernova. And then when we look at ourselves again, we see that we’re suddenly more beautiful than we ever were before.”
- C. Joybell C.
This is how I want my work to feel, right now, for me. I want to be broken open by it and emerge as something greater than I was before.