Studies say yes…

I love what I do. I love creating content for my business. I love improving processes for my husband’s business. I love moving forward. I’m also aware that I picked up some really bad work habits early on in my career. Ones that I realize I have to break.

My first full-time job, right out of college, was for a company that promoted, encouraged and celebrated those that worked long hours. Each month we were given a PIP, a performance incentive payment, that seemed to reward how hard you worked. The VP of finance worked a lot and often gave out work that was always due right away near the end of the day. The controller managed him the best he could but the work always flowed down. I thought this was what was required to work in an accounting department. Auditors each year did the same thing and so I thought this was how it was done both in the corporate accounting departments and the public accounting firms. I took these work ethics to my next job where I created a very good career and reputation for myself working hard and long. It also found me burning out in my 30’s. I tried to fix it by throwing myself into dance. In some ways, it worked. I forced myself to leave work 4 days a week to meet my husband for the group and private dance lessons. This was good, but it didn’t solve the overall problem. Which is I don’t know how to rest.

Fast forward to today. I show other people how to manage their time. I create my ideal week. I time block. I plan. I work way too much. I tell myself it’s ok because I’m a start-up and this is what is needed for now.

My challenge is this… when I do take a break, often because I just can’t concentrate anymore, I wander aimlessly. I don’t know how to rest. Even in the swimming pool, I swim laps and don’t know how to just float lazily. My downtime is often entertaining friends.

If you look at my time blocking, I schedule time to pursue personal interests and I do have them. I like to read. I like to craft. At some points in my life, I’ve knitted and I used to do papercrafts. Recently, I created crepe paper flowers and loved it. But most of the time, that time I set aside to do something fun, you will find me right in front of the computer, finishing off some things. Or I’m on my phone surfing Facebook or playing a silly game. I am very rarely away from my desk. And I think it is worse now that I work from home. The separation of work and home is lost.

The question I’ve been asking myself lately is … is this the most productive way to work?

If I look back to when I was dancing, I had to work really hard during the day to leave for dance and not worry about what I was leaving behind or so not to have to go back after class. And I did it. My quality of work didn’t suffer, my quantity of work didn’t go down. I was still being promoted and given amazing projects. I just found better ways to get it all done. But can I say the same thing today? Can I say that I’m working smart, working with focus, finding better ways to get things done? With no reason to stop working, with no commitment to myself to sign off at a certain time, my work life has crept easily into my personal time. Yet, I’m not breaking any productivity records.

If I’m honest, my morning routine is taking longer than ever. I doddle when getting ready and by the end of the week, I have a lot of trouble focusing and even sitting still. It was this honestly that got me looking at what I was doing. It got me comparing my work life while dancing and today.

I then did what I do… I researched. I researched the importance of rest on our productivity.

Overwhelming, I confirmed, what I already knew but needed to be reminded. Efficiency is dramatically effected by rest. Having a good personal organizing system is a must but you also need the capacity to focus on the tasks and have the energy to face them. If you can’t focus and you don’t have the energy, your productivity is reduced. significantly reduced.

To correct this, you need to rest. Rest properly. This doesn’t just mean sleeping well. It also means taking short breaks very often throughout the day. These breaks allow us to renew our energy and reactivate our brain to face new tasks with more motivation. I was reminded about the Pomodoro technique (work cycles of 25 minutes with 5-minute breaks, and longer (break15-30 minutes), every four iterations). Something I used to do but haven’t done for a while. I also learned that these short breaks do not mean checking Facebook, surfing the internet or reading a blog (like this one). These activities activate the same mental processes that you use when working. Thus, resting means you have to completely disconnect. Go for a coffee, have an informal chat, simply relax or go for a quick walk.

Relaxing and doing things that have nothing to do with your job helps you do your job better. This is why dancing was so effective. Even though it wasn’t “rest” it did allow my mind to focus on things other than work.

So what am I going to do with this learning? With this reminder? Well, I’m ordering supplies to build more of those flowers I enjoyed making and I’m going to hold myself to take the personal time I set aside in my calendar. I’m going to go back to the Pomodoro technique and eat lunch away from my desk.

Check-in with me in a couple of weeks and let’s see how it is going. I don’t expect to be perfect from the start but hopefully, I’m improving.

What about you? Do you set boundaries around your work hours? Do you rest?

“By taking care of myself I have so much more to offer the world than I do when I am running on empty”

Ali Washington