This is candid. This is raw. This is a result of months of reflection on my part. This is what I wish someone would have told me years ago as I graduated from graduate school.
For those of you who don't know me--I enjoy working and creating and organizing, and those passions make it quite easy for me to take on too much. I have historically worked over 60 hours a week, I returned from my maternity leave 4 weeks after having a baby and worked with him on my lap, and I'm known for never actually unplugging on vacation. This was not because any company I've worked for asked me to--but a result of my passion for what I was doing. So, I'm not an expert on this yet but I'm growing.
Recently I took a spa day and finally used the gift cards my husband bought me two years ago to try to get me to take a day off. As I was sitting in that sauna, all of this hit me and I realized I had done a serious disservice to myself, my loved ones and the companies I worked for by working too many hours, taking too little vacations and not setting boundaries between my personal and professional time.
This is the blog that I wish I would have read years ago and I'm hoping that someone reading this--feeling me virtually shaking them by the shoulders--will be inspired to set boundaries and maintain a healthy balance between personal and professional time, all while still doing an amazing job for their company.
Increasing Quantity of Work Doesn't Increase Quality
I will spare the "you're working for free" lecture for those of you who are salary, although you are and it's bad, and tell you what I wish I would have known years ago--you are less productive, more likely to make errors and less focused every hour you work over 40. There is a large amount of research to support that our productivity decreases as we work over 40 hours. My favorite article, though the math throws me off a bit, can be found here. I thought that I was helping by going above and beyond, throwing how many hours I worked to the wind, when the reality was that I was decreasing my own performance. In addition...
You're Setting a Dangerous Standard for Your Team
It is significantly difficult for colleagues when one individual works long hours, doesn't take vacation, etc. I always enjoy the reference that it's easier to fall into a crowd than walk against it--applauding the workaholic lifestyle, making it to where someone is praised for working late at night or coming on weekends when they've worked all week--that sets a standard for the entire team to live up to. The focus shifts to the time spent on the job over the work produced and you very quickly have an overworked team which results in burnout which results in turnover. If you are a manager, it starts with you--it starts with you firmly setting working hours, pushing for your employees to take vacations and leading by example. Your colleagues will then attribute your performance to what really is causing you to excel--the fact that you're awesome--not the fact that you work all the time.
Use the PTO Without the Guilt
A company that provides paid time off (PTO) has calculated that into your compensation when they offer you a position. So, we all know that not using PTO is giving away money. However, it's easier said than done when there is no coverage for your position. Yes, what you do is unique and valued. No, it is not your fault if there's a staffing shortage when you're out. In addition, you should be extremely concerned if you're working for a company that will crumble with you being gone for a week. Set a vacation reminder letting everyone know when you'll be back to conquer the world and take.that.time.away!
Set Yourself Up to Love the Job When You Leave
The reality is--there's an end date at this job--whether retirement or leaving for a different position. Right now it may seem like this is where your professional journey ends and every sacrifice of your personal time is worth it. However, life changes, bosses change, company policies change, offers come and where you are now may not be where you are in a few years. You are killing yourself for something that may be completely different six months or six years from now.
If you push yourself too hard and if you give all your time away then you will likely leave exhausted and burnt out with little time to experience the beauty that comes with the closure of leaving something that's been a big chapter in your personal story.
The moral of the story--if you want to be the best for your company and your team then you have to take care of yourself and you have to set boundaries. You will be a more productive employee, you will be proactively fighting the risk of burnout, you will not be working for free and you will be a better team member to your colleagues.
If you need strategies for decreasing workload, increasing prodcutivity and increasing work life balance email firstname.lastname@example.org