How far do you go to do a good job? I used to proudly answer that question with early starts, late finishes, non-existent lunch breaks and living for my work. What I didn’t share were the tight-chests, shallow breathing, sickness, disrupted sleep, lack of appetite and anxiety that I felt over consistently striving to reach this impossibly high bar that I’d set myself.
You’d think I’d have learnt after being signed off work sick by the doctor that something needed to change. The thing was, while the management team at work were great at reducing the things on my plate, inevitably the workload crept back up. And, because I’d never addressed the reasons I’d let things get to that point in the first place, I found myself in exactly the same position as before: petrified of letting people down, worried that asking for help meant I was a failure and afraid that people would question my competence and mental stability.
I mistakenly thought that doing my best meant burning myself out to prove I’d given my all and it greatly upsets me to know just how many other people the same way. In fact, I uncovered some pretty shocking facts in a recent Workplace Insight report, which states: ‘More than three quarters of UK workers admit to forcing themselves to go into work despite feeling ill’, ‘more than two thirds said they feel guilty for taking time off work due to illness, or health-related issues’ and ‘nearly a third admitted they are too scared to talk to their boss about needing time off for a health-related issue’.
So, I’d like us all to come together in 2019 with a pledge to work smarter, not harder.
Now, I’m not saying kick your feet up at midday, take 4-hour lunch breaks or rest on your laurels. Anything worth having takes hard work, but it’s finding that balance and asking yourself one of these five questions.
- Can anyone else help me?
- What am I good at & what do I enjoy versus what sucks the life out of me or takes me 10 times as long to complete as someone experienced?
- Am I doing something that will get me closer to my goal or am I prioritising something fun that isn’t essential?
- When am I most productive?
- Does this align with my core values?
We all only have a maximum of 100% to give. When you take a closer look at how you’re spending your energy each week, you’ll see where you need to pull back or invest more. This is the first step to working smarter, not harder.
Once you’ve identified which areas of your life need some tweaking, ask yourself how you can achieve this, whether that’s setting boundaries, outsourcing help or going back to the drawing board and designing how your ideal week would look and consider a career change to facilitate your new dream.
Whatever this looks like for you, know that it will feel a little uncomfortable at first as you’re going against your usual, default behaviour. But also know that it’s so worth it and it’s not only an investment in your mental health but in a more prosperous and balanced future.