I think many of us around here are those type-A kind of people that occasionally (or often) suffer from the mentality that if it isn’t perfect, it’s a failure. We keep long hours at the office and work during the evenings and on weekends. We are self-conscious if someone sees us arrive late or leave early (and we feel guilty for doing so). We are constantly connected to the office so we can respond at any time, even when we are on vacation. We sacrifice time with our friends and family, sleep, exercise, and healthy eating in order to maintain this. Maybe there is a boss or coworker that pushes us to work overtime as much as they do. In general we judge our success by how much time we sink into a project and how exhausted we feel at the end of the day. If this sounds like you, read on. If not, I congratulate you and maybe you can leave me some tips in the comments.
Think back on last week at work. How many times did you use the word “busy”? I can’t take a break right now I’m too busy. I can’t eat lunch with my friends, I’m too busy. How was your weekend? Busy! We wear “busy” like it’s a badge of honor. I titled this article “I’m not busy,” and I’m already feeling a little uncomfortable just seeing it on the screen. Be honest, would you be a bit ashamed to admit it if you were not busy? We say how busy we are as if it is a complaint but what we are really saying is, “hey, look how much I am working! I must be doing great things!”
The busy mentality can sneak up on you. I remember thinking in each stage of my education and then career that I was very very “busy”. Then when I moved onto the next thing I thought, “wow, I wasn’t busy at all before, look how busy I am now!” The Paradise Family doesn’t even have kids (yet). I can only imagine how our definition of busy will change once we get to that stage in our lives. All you moms and dads reading this are probably laughing a bit right now…
So, three years ago when I finished graduate school and post graduate training, where I regularly worked 60-80 hours per week and sometimes more than 24 hours at a time, I made a resolution to myself. There’s a limit to how busy I am willing to be with work. And here’s the truth I don’t really want my coworkers and supervisors to know when I’m muttering about how busy I am: I almost never work on the weekends or in the evenings anymore. I don’t even go in that early or stay late most days. I try to be efficient and focused while I am at work so that I can get as much done as possible when I’m there, but I completely (okay, 95%) block out work when I am at home. I don’t want to work at home, and I don’t want to go in on the weekend (I know, cue the tiny violins now), even though I know this means I am working fewer hours than a lot of my coworkers. I say no to extra commitments that I can’t realistically fit within working hours. Is this holding me back in my career? Maybe a little bit. But I’m doing my best to be okay with this because I’ve decided what my top priorities are. I love spending time with my husband and our pets and our friends, playing board games, cooking, going on walks or playing sports. These things are more important to me than work and promotions.
Perfect is the enemy of done
Here’s a somewhat late New Year’s Resolution that you might find beneficial: Give yourself permission to stop being busy, and always striving for perfection. This means:
- It is okay to be number 2 (or 3 or 4)
- Celebrate the successes of your coworkers and friends instead of feeling competitive
- It’s okay to do an activity that is just for yourself (and not feel guilty about it)
- You don’t have to work during the evenings and weekends if you don’t want to
- It’s okay to not have too much to do. It’s okay to not be busy!
I’m still working on this, which is obvious to me given how easy it was to write the first paragraph of this post and how difficult it was to admit some of the other things. And I’m not trying to say that we should all sit around be lazy. After all, we put a car on the moon, and just because I’m not killing myself at work doesn’t mean I’m not doing useful stuff. I’m perfectly happy to shovel snow, clean the kitchen, regrout the shower, etc., when I’m away from work. I just need a brain break from the academic stuff. In fact, here’s a NYTimes article explaining how beneficial taking a break can be. They went so far as to say “the work should break up the break”. You know you work hard, whether it’s at the office or at home with your family. But if things are getting out of hand, let’s practice doing a bit less, and being fine with not being perfect.
There’s someone who had this figured out way before the rest of us caught on:
The really efficient laborer will be found not to crowd his day with work, but will saunter to his task surrounded by a wide halo of ease and leisure. There will be a wide margin for relaxation to his day. He is only earnest to secure the kernels of time, and does not exaggerate the value of the husk. Why should the hen set all day? She can lay but one egg, and besides she will not have picked up materials for a new one. Those who work much do not work hard. – Henry David Thoreau (1842)
Maybe that would make a good mantra: those who work much do not work hard.