I used to be constantly in a rush, managing a million things. Not only did I have an overflowing to-do list; I actually had a number of them. Days were too short, and I couldn’t even properly switch off during the night. Weekends or holidays were the same. I had this nagging inner voice reminding me of the outstanding matters that needed to be done. Don’t get me wrong, I loved what I was doing. Part of me enjoyed being involved in exciting stuff, meeting people, travelling. But as the pace was manic, I was exhausted and fragile.
And then, one day during an especially hectic period while I was travelling a lot, my daughter Vivien asked me a question that changed the whole game for me. She seemed happy after a day together and asked me: “Mummy, when are you planning to stop by again?”
What seems like a harmless question was a heartbreaker for me. The impact of my travel schedule and lifestyle on our family was worse than I thought. In combination with my exhaustion, it led to a decision to quit my job. But that is not what you necessarily have to do. You don't have to take such drastic steps. Slowing down and mental hygiene should save you from doing that.
3 reasons why you should take a pause
1. Get a perspective
The best way to understand any situation is to distance yourself from it. By doing that, you will get a fresh perspective and ability to re-think your options. If you are working with other busy fools, you should slow down to understand your own feelings.
2. Do it before it is too late
It is likely that if you are driving at maximum speed for a long time without a pause, you will end up crashing. It is obvious that due to the pandemic, people are more anxious and burned out more than ever before and negative effects are continuing. Some call it “post-traumatic Covid disorder”. Focusing on our wellbeing is one of the ways to deal with that.
3. You need to slow down to be able to speed up
As American writer Anne Lamott said: “Almost everything will work again if you unplug for a few minutes, including you.” If you are exhausted and feel you have too much on your plate, a pause will reenergize you, help you gain resilience and inner peace. You will feel stronger as a result. In case you still feel you don’t need to slow down, do it anyway and take it as an opportunity to become even more effective from a long-term perspective.
How to do it in 3 steps
1. Do the inventory check
Block a day or a ½ day as a minimum. Start the day with having a review of your calendar. Take a closer look at the activities that you are usually doing. Write down all the activities that you are currently avoiding, but you feel you shouldn’t, for example exercise or your development. Categorize all activities into STOP, START or CONTINUE buckets, depending on how you should approach them going forward. The most critical list will be the STOP one. You probably won’t be able to slow down if you don’t let go of some activities or outsource them. So be creative here.
Also, think about:
- Where are your boundaries in terms of the number of working hours every day?
- Do you have some room for unexpected events and if not, how to create such a buffer?
In the second part analyse your thoughts and feelings. Try to look at the sources of your inner feeling of busyness. Try to come up with a solution, what do you need to do to feel calmer and more balanced?
2. Find a calming activity
There are many options, pick anything that would make you feel chilled-out and repeat it regularly. There are many myths about meditation, but I will propose it anyway. People usually think it is too esoteric. Or they tried it and are convinced they cannot do it, as they aren’t able to switch off their thoughts. But that is not the point, you are not supposed to perform DIY lobotomy. The point is to focus on your breath while watching your thoughts. This will inevitably lead to strengthening your “mind muscle”. In any case, you don’t need to sit cross-legged, just switch off your devices, be comfortable and follow your thoughts.
3. Stop saying that you are busy
Busy is the new stupid. If your default position is “I am the busy one”, you have a wrong mindset. The best practice is to have control over your agenda, select the things you will dedicate your attention to and do everything in a calmer, more peaceful manner. Your boss won’t think that you are lazy or don’t work enough if you stop complaining about how busy you are. Quite the opposite, they will appreciate that you have stuff under control, are able to prioritize and mature enough to manage it without the hassle.
And a final tip for those fighting their battles in a corporate world. It is likely that your work is never “done” in a way that there is no new work waiting. The pile is never-ending, like the Tetris cubes falling from the top of the screen. You deal with some; new ones will appear. So, get used to the feeling that some outstanding tasks will always be coming your way. You need to hit the pause button to stop the flow and don’t feel any pressure related to that.