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You’ve been at the office for 14 hours now, counting the lunch break you spent at your desk. You’ve begged off from another get-together with friends, so you can get more work done tonight. You know you’ll still need the next evening to finish everything, which means breaking another date. You make a mental note that somehow, you’ll make it up to him—again.
Sounds routine to you? Something is amiss. You may be on the verge of serious burnout. “Burnout comes from many sources: working too many hours, doing too many different tasks, taking on too many projects, and setting unrealistically high standards,” says The New York Post columnist Erika Welz Prafder in her book Keep Your Paycheck, Live Your Passion. With the prospect of many others coveting your job, today’s work environment is so competitive that we feel the need to always go a mile further—even when we’re almost running on empty.
While doing all that extra work can earn you Brownie points and hasten your ascent up the corporate ladder, take a moment to consider the drawbacks: exhaustion, the deterioration of relationships with family or a significant other, and neglecting yourself. And while you may rationalize that you can stop working so hard once you get promoted, the way you’re working now could create a vicious cycle in which your boss comes to expect all the extra effort you’ve been exerting.
Another drawback: Having too much on your plate can, in fact, make you more inefficient, especially as fatigue sets in—so all that hard work might end up backfiring. “The farther up the ladder you want to climb, the more you’ll need to be a visionary, not a crazed, overworked lunatic,” writes life coach Laura Fortgang Berman in Take Yourself to the Top.
Stop merely making a living, and start living your life. If you’re ready to make a change, consider the following moves:
MANAGE YOUR TIME.
“Re-examine the behavior patterns that govern how you budget your time,” advises Prafder. Similar to keeping a food diary, keep a journal for a few days to record how you spend every hour. Afterwards, determine which tasks have been eating up time, and find ways to address these time-wasters. Perhaps you check your email too often, which disrupts your work flow. If that’s the case, then schedule two specific time periods during the day to check and send out mail.
LUMP MEETINGS TOGETHER.
If you’ll be meeting with the same group of people over the course of the week for various matters, map out everything that needs to be discussed and deal with it in one go. This will free up your schedule, say respondents in a national research project on work-life balance conducted by the Ohio State University.
Learn to trust your colleagues. When you’ve got a long list of things to do, ask yourself: “Am I really the only one who can accomplish this?” Chances are, there are tasks you can hand over to others. Just ask for their help in a gentle way.
Don’t bring work home. It may seem impossible in the age of the mobile phone and wireless PC connection. Turn off your cell while you’re out on a date or having dinner with the family; have your voice mail pick up calls over the weekend and set a fixed time to check it.
LEARN TO SAY “NO.”
The next time you’re tempted to take something on when you know you really can’t, don’t be forced into agreeing just to placate a colleague. Say “no.” Be polite about it and give sufficient reason, suggests the Mayo Clinic (whose website offers useful tips and tools for healthy living): “Complimenting the person or group’s effort while saying that you’re unable to commit at this time helps to soften the blow and keeps you in good graces.”
FIX SCHEDULES WITH FAMILY.
It may be a matter of adjusting your family’s schedule so that you can all spend more time together. Eating meals at a later time or doing chores together are a couple of ways to increase quality time with each other.
(First published in Marie Claire, July 2007; photo source: sxc.hu)