If you do what you love for a living, you’ll never work a day in your life. ~anonymous
An appealing thought, if it means living an integrated life.
However…there’s a big difference between living an integrated life and being consumed by work.
No one has yet said they want their epitaph to be, “I spent most of my time working.” But in fact, many of us are unaware that this is exactly the track we are on.
You might be a “work addict” and not know it.
I was facilitating a retreat for a YPO Forum, a support group of fifteen men in their late 30’s and 40’s, all high level executives and high achieving entrepreneurs. One of the men brought up the topic that his wife was complaining that he was always at work, even when he was home. He wanted help in getting his wife to understand that she being unreasonable because the reason he was always working was to provide for his family.
Fortunately a couple of the men in the group understood the real issue and challenged him. They pointed out that his family needed more from him than to take care of them – that when he was with them, he needed to BE with them. They told him frankly that his marriage was in trouble, and it wasn’t up to his wife to change.
That was 20 years ago.
Technology has made this an even bigger challenge today.
With the advances in technology, you can always be connected to work, anytime, anywhere – and because you can be available, you are expected to be. Many people are uncomfortable turning off their mobile device even at a social gathering. And how many of us take a vacation without checking email?
This issue is not just confined to over-achievers. For those who are struggling in this economy, working a lot of hours to make ends meet, or to find a job, or to build a new business, the pressure to focus on work can be intense and preoccupy much waking time.
Nor is it an issue just for men. In fact, it can be an even bigger issue for women who juggle multiple jobs both in and out of the house.
What are the consequences?
Being “always on” keeps your work in the front of your mind and prevents you from being fully engaged in the present moment. There’s a lot you’re missing out on because your attention is focused elsewhere. You might discover you have lost connection with those you care about most or never develop real connections in the first place.
“Always “on” is not healthy for organizations either. Among other things, it stifles creativity and problem-solving. In a recent HBR article, Tony Schwartz described the four stages of creative problems solving. Taking a break is essential for two of the four stages.
What you can do?
It’s not enough to just take vacations. You must change your habits. Here are some suggestions:
- Change your mindset. Identify what you consider “work” and consider everything else “off.” “Off” can be when you’re with your family, at dinner with friends, or even taking a walk by yourself.
During “off” time, don’t even think about work. Put your full attention on who you’re with and what you’re doing.
- Set up a backup strategy. Sometimes, things will just pop up even when you’re not thinking about work. So what do you do with the important ideas that pop up while you’re “off”? Do NOT pull out your mobile device and make a quick call or send a quick text. It’s guaranteed to pull you away from who you are with. Try to trust that if it’s important enough, the thought will reoccur.
As a backup, keep a piece of paper or card in your wallet. If you get a brilliant idea that you can’t afford to forget, jot down a few key words… and then put it away.
- Schedule “off” time. Set and honor specific times that are dedicated to being with family or friends and, also being alone doing things you enjoy. Structure come more easily for some than others. If you’re one of the people who doesn’t like structure, it’s even more important for you to do this, so you can be intentional about creating the life you really want.
- Just say, “no.” Let people know that you are changing your habits and are not going to respond to text and email or answer your phone for work related matters during personal time unless there is a true emergency. If they understand this ahead of time, most people will respect your boundaries. They will begin to schedule meetings during times you’re available, and you will discover that many so-called emergencies are not as urgent as they seem at first.
- Pay attention to your breathing. Focusing on your breathing brings your attention away from your thoughts and back to what is immediately present. During “off time,” occasionally notice how you’re breathing. If your breath is rapid and located high in your chest, take a deep breath and exhale slowly. Spend a moment focused on your breathing until you are breathing slowly and from a deeper place, which is how we breathe when we are relaxed.
- Hang your work on a tree. Here’s a way to mentally separate from work: on your way home from work, as you near your home, locate a tree or something you could hang a bag on. Imagine putting your work in a bag and hanging it in the tree. This idea came from one of the men in the YPO Forum retreat who said he did that every night.
- Stop multi-tasking. Many people view it as an admirable skill. They think they get more accomplished. But studies have shown that you actually accomplish less and do it less well. The illusion of productivity comes at the expense of performance effectiveness. The less you multi-task, the less you’ll be tempted to slip a little work in.
- Be clear about your priorities. Create a clear vision for what you truly desire and what’s most important to you that explains where you’re going and what you value most. It’s tempting to say “yes” to every request, but it comes at a cost. It will help you know when to say “yes” and when to say “no” if you know what your priorities are.
The bottom line is: not only is life more enjoyable and rewarding when we are in balance, but we are also healthier. Give it a try – hang up your work in a tree on your way home tonight. Guaranteed it will be there waiting for you in the morning.
Which of these suggestions make sense for you? Are there other ways you’ve found to turn off work?