On March 17th, I started working from home. It was the first official day of New York City’s “Pause,” and I had one strategy in mind–power through. Surely this thing would last 1-2 months tops and everything would go back to normal. I just needed to hunker down and distract myself until it was over. So I dove into work.
You might have noticed, as my content creation spiked from one blog a week to 3-5 blogs a week. I rebranded my website. I did an Instagram TV series. Podcast season, webinar, group coaching program, manuscript proposal.
‘Twas a lot.
The third time they pushed back Phase 1, I started to move out of denial. And here we are nearly a year later. Things are continuing to slowly reopen. And in that time, I have been forced to dial back my intensity and get honest with myself. I was headed toward burn-out. It was a cycle I knew well. But it wasn’t until I led a webinar called “6 Signs You Need a Creative Refresh” that things changed for me.
As I practiced the webinar, I walked through these six signs. I was aware, even as I wrote out the content, that I was experiencing each of them. Through repetition, they started to sink in.
I’d been operating under stress-based motivation because it was effective for the high-level of output I came to expect from myself. I couldn’t turn my brain off, couldn’t walk away because I kept telling myself, “I’ll stop after I finish this thing.” But there was always one more thing. No matter how much or how little I accomplished, it was never enough. I realized that the deluge of content came from a desire to serve my audience, and a desire to avoid my feelings.
As I read through those six signs over and over, I was faced with everything I was doing that was not working, and also the realization that I was operating as if I didn’t have a choice. Even though I am self-employed.
As you’ve been working from home, particularly if you live alone, our boundaries between work and not-work are more blurred than ever. You might have found yourself experiencing fatigue, irritability, ever-decreasing motivation, and anxiety. So if, like me, you’ve found yourself continually trying to push through instead of listening to what your body is trying to tell you, ask yourself this question:
Who is telling you that you can’t stop?
Sometimes, there are hard deadlines and expectations we have to meet. But sometimes, we are the factor that is keeping us from setting reasonable boundaries. If your boss expects you to work on the weekends regularly and respond to messages instantly, does he or she have that same expectation with everyone? Or have you established that expectation by working on the weekends and answering messages instantly? No judgment! It’s information. If we want to get to where we want to go, we have to start where we are instead of where we think we should be. You can thank my therapist for that particular nugget.
For me, I had to acknowledge that there was always going to be one more thing I could do. But I also had to acknowledge that if I wanted to break the cycle of burn out, I had to think differently about my work. I had to learn to prioritize sustainability over intensity. That meant I had to say no to myself and others more than I was used to. I had to give myself a daily hard-out time so that I could take my daily evening walk. I had to start giving myself permission to have low-energy, low-output days.
If you’re feeling burnt out, take some time this week to consider the question, “Who is telling you that you can’t stop?” Set aside a few minutes to think critically about your work culture and personal expectations, then make a list of what isn’t working.