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Finding Headspace when Work & Life get the Better of You.

The past few months have been rough.  Life’s gotten busier:  my little girl turned two; I had to start thinking about school plans for my son who starts kindergarten in the fall; my husband and I are planning a family vacation to New Zealand in 4 weeks; we’ve been doing a lot of work in our house.  Work’s gotten busier too:  new projects, new opportunities, and increased travel as the start of the year is the right time to kick off relationships and get things rolling to set the trajectory for the rest of the year.

Between everything, I found myself with a grueling weekday schedule of early morning work calls, daycare drop offs, long work days, commute calls, dinner prep, homework help, housework, and then evening calls, email, or playing catchup at work.  Yes, sleep suffered.  The schedule wasn’t sustainable and despite my mind trying to push me through, my body finally caved in and fell sick.  I missed some work, I missed some things at home – but most importantly, I realized how important it is to recognize when things are not sustainable and why it’s important to stop, digest, and reprioritize.

It’s easy to get caught up on the hamster wheel – have you ever worked really hard but found yourself ineffective at everything?  That’s a clear sign it’s time to take a step back and re-evaluate.  When do you know it’s time do that?  Here are a few things I’ve learned over the past few weeks.

If you’re working really hard, but feel like you’re getting nowhere, STOP.  I feel silly that I had to learn this lesson, but I suspect happens to all of us.  We’re on a path, we think we know how to get there and we just mow past roadblock after roadblock –  only to find more roadblocks!  If you’re expending all your energy against something (either for work or for home) but find yourself getting no where despite giving it your all, it’s time to stop and see if your path forward is effective or relevant anymore.

Listen to your body and your mind.  Listen deeper than just fatigue:  signs of stress and overwork reveal themselves through mood changes, the way you carry yourself, and even your ability to concentrate on what’s at hand.  Do your “go-to” relaxation activities seem like too much effort too pursue?  For example, I waited months for season four of HOUSE OF CARDS to post on Netflix and when it finally did – it took me two months to find the mental energy to watch it.  Blogging has been challenging too.  I love this blog, but more than one post a week has been hard to complete, whereas just a few months back I had to remind myself to not post too much so that readers have a chance to read my last post before the next one came along.

Are you not able to think about anything else than getting through the things you need to do?  Singular focus is a good thing, but obsession is another.  If you find yourself unable to put down one thing and focus on the next, or spend your weekends anticipating what’s to come during the week, it’s time to stop.  Recharge time is important.

You’re missing one too many things that matter to you.  If life’s taking over, that may mean you’re missing the chance to do things you want to do at work, or you can’t seem to make time for important family commitments, it’s time to stop and reevaluate.  While work may always be there, there are some moments in life you just can’t get back.

At this point, you know you need headspace (time to think and function without pressure and/ or a chance to recharge your mental batteries), but how do you get it?

Set a time limit.  There are busy times in work and life, but they shouldn’t last indefinitely.  If you know things will be back for two months, get extra help and engage your support system during this time, but if two months comes and goes – STOP.  Don’t fall into the trap of letting the hamster wheel run longer than it has to.  Whatever your time limit is, identify it and stick to it.

Start saying no.  This is a hard one – many of us want to do everything for everyone we care about, but prioritize ruthlessly.  This week I turned down the opportunity to work on something that I was really excited about and my husband and I turned down a double date opportunity with friends we like.  Why?  The new opportunity at work would impact my home life in a way I wasn’t comfortable with, and my husband and I decided we needed some time to recover from the week with just ourselves and prioritized that over spending the evening with friends.  The art of saying no is tricky, but if you don’t learn how to do it, finding headspace will be nearly impossible.

Work smarter and slower – but not in a bad way.  You may be a super star over achiever, and that’s a great trait to have.  But remember, you’re only as good as what you can get done.  Don’t take on more than you can get done and renegotiate timelines that are infeasible.  Learn what you can do with out significant cost to your personal well being, commit only to that, and then deliver on it.  Doing a few things well is always better than doing everything poorly, or not at all.  You need headspace to think about work: if you’re overloaded and jumping from area to area all day long with no time to eat or go to the bathroom, much less think, how effective can you really be?

Reclaim your commute.  I work in technology and I love what technology has enabled us to do from a work flexibility standpoint, but I hate the person that first uthought that it’s a great idea to use commute time to hold meetings.  Start saying no to those early morning phone calls or those evening commute meetings.  This is critical time that represents a transition between two worlds (even if they have to integrate sometimes) – blurring that time makes it harder to transition.

Do the best you can, then let it go.  This goes both ways for both work and home.  We all hear that work and life are now a spectrum, and that we need integration versus balance.  I’m not saying that’s not true, but you do need times when you can completely disconnect from one or the other.  That means that if you’re in the flow and cranking at work, you need to be able to disconnect from home (yes, that means calling your handyman or paying bills online will have to wait).  That also means that when you are home with your family, you have to stop thinking about work:  put away your smartphone, enjoy the act of cooking dinner or talking to your significant other. You deserve the chance to enjoy your life in the moment you’re in.

I’m looking forward to the next few months of reclaiming my headspace, and writing more for all of you.

Have Kids, Will Work

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