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Breaking Bad Work Habits

January 9th, 2012 by Emira · 5 Comments

LIke most humans, I’m riddled with habits I’d like to change. And like many folks, who follow the good ol’Gregorian calendar, I’ve been thinking about changing some of them with the turning over of the new year.

I’ve got a bunch of small personal changes I’m trying to make, things like stretching every day, remembering to ensure that I and my daughter take our vitamins, basic life improvement stuff. With work, I’m shooting a little bit higher. My challenge for 2012 is to stop proactively burning myself out.

What do I mean by that? Well, I’ve had a hard time figuring out how to put a finer description on it, but here’s a scenario that should help to illuminate what I mean.

Last week, things at work went completely sideways. Stuff that was out of my or my team’s control, but exactly the kind of “going to hell” that sometimes just happens in a week. As a result I lost a good half a day or more to crisis management. Not necessarily a big deal, but in an already short week, and one that was packed to the rafters with both meetings and deliverables, that half a day was not there to lose. My resolution isn’t about trying to change the way last week unfolded. Some version of last week is always going to happen in the work world, and in the entrepreneurial world in particular. While it would be awesome to be able to schedule weeks with more wiggle room, or less meetings, it’s realistically not going to happen any time soon. No, what my resolution is about is what happened on the weekend that followed.

You see, this week is much the same as far as deliverables, meetings and commitments go. I have about 30 hours of work to accomplish in 32 hours of scheduled work time. Not much room for uncertainty. And so, my normal inclination (read: bad habit), is to then spend the weekend eeking out every spare moment to “get ahead” on my work for the week. For me, that means using nap times (my daughter’s not mine), evenings and potentially very early mornings to try to “get ahead.” (My partner works weekends so I can’t use him for extra childcare to get these things done, so need to find it essentially whenever my daughter is asleep).  I put “get ahead” in quotation marks, because the more I think about it in the abstract the more I suspect that while I believe I’m getting head with this kind of behavior, I’m not totally sure it’s true. Sure crossing things off my to-do list, puts me ahead of the deliverables game for the week, but not having any downtime at all puts me at an energy and problem solving deficit. So, if, as things always do, shit hits the fan at some point in the week, or I end up in a 1 hour meeting that lasts 2 hours, or I get an unexpected sales inquiry, etc. I’ll have very little energy to call on to react appropriately.

This learning falls, for me, into the category of  extremely obvious but not very easy. When written out in plain English like this, it’s very clear to me that taking the weekend to rest, to enjoy my family, to flake out and watch a compellingly mindless period drama while knitting for 45 minutes, is in fact the best way to prepare myself and “get ahead” for the week. But, when the moment comes and I’ve put my daughter down for a nap on Saturday afternoon, I actually have to put conscious effort into reminding myself of that. And while I sit on the couch watching said period drama, I have to remind myself about 5 times over the course of the 45 minutes, that I am  in fact doing the right thing. Why? I like to think of myself as a pretty smart person, and I know that I will perform better if I do this kind of self-care, however, I’ve reached a point in my life where taking the “get ahead” approach feels more normal and somehow safer to me.

The way I’ve been getting myself out of the habit is by both telling people that I’m doing this — close friends and my partner — so they can hold me accountable to some degree, and by also actually talking myself through the consequences. I’m a worst case scenario planning type person, so trying to be ahead of the game often helps me to relax, even if it cuts into my relaxation time (in some twisted and nasty way). So, to get over that tendency I actually talk myself through the worst case scenario if I don’t do my getting ahead work. At the end of my week, I look at my to do list for the next week, and my meeting schedule, and I figure out what could be dropped if it had to be. Is there a client deliverable I can let go of if things don’t go as planned? And can I deal with the fallout if that has to happen? I ask myself, if I have to call a client and cancel a meeting, or tell them that I’ll miss a milestone, will that be ok? Can I handle doing it? So far, the answer is always yes. And that’s not to say that I don’t value quality work, commitments or my clients, I absolutely do. But, I also know that my clients value me, and that if things go really sideways, then I can give them a heads up and let them know that something will be done a day or two later than expected. There are some deliverables that can’t handle that kind of push back, but frankly when it really come down to it, most can. Most due dates were created by me, and can be adjusted by me as long as everyone gets a heads up. .

I’ll admit, I’m really struggling with this. I had to look at that to do list and talk myself out of working on it no less than four times this weekend (once during each nap and after bed time). But, with the exception of responding to a few quick and easy emails, I did it. I didn’t try to get ahead (now I did have to work an extra unplanned day last week, so I’m winning some battles but not the war here).

I’d love to hear what your goals for self-care and better balance are for this year, and how you’re tackling them. I know that if I can master this one in 2012, I’ll be thrilled.

Tags: Business Advice · Motherhood & Business · Thoughts

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Debbie Brodsky // Jan 12, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    I can so relate to your post! I do the exact same things. Something that has helped me recently is a sad but good reality check. I have both a current client with terminal cancer, as well as two close friends who just had surgeries (BOTH this week) for their cancers. It has made me much more aware and appreciative of the time I’m spending with my two little boys as well as the time spent relaxing on my own or with my husband. It has totally put into perspective for me that at the end of the day, they are most important to me and where I want to focus my time when I’m not working. It really does help shift the balance. Best of luck to you in mastering your goals for 2012!

  • 2 Tina // Jan 16, 2012 at 9:11 pm

    Well said! I’ve been struggling with this same issue for awhile now and I am (as I suspect all of us in this same boat are) my own worst enemy. It is easier to work every day in order to dance with the desire not to have a long list of things to do, etc. BUT the downside is that I get pissy. Surprise! I’m trying to dance MY dance and not that of partner or c0-workers, to know that I need to carve out time on a very regular basis. Hold my own feet to the fire over it. Case in point I just spent a three day weekend with about 90% downtime, pretty remarkable— and I feel great. I started knitting a sweater (JOY) and am almost ready to start knitting the sleeves. I’m taking time for me and journaling my thoughts more. Watching, listening and keeping myself on track. My happiness truly does positively affect everyone around me. Sorry— that was a long answer to your great post!

  • 3 Zsa Zsa // Jan 26, 2012 at 8:36 am

    We are our worst enemy indeed, and this couldn’t be more true when it comes to bad habits at work! Thanks for reminding us that we need to get our act together. :)

  • 4 Erica Midkiff | Dearingford // May 22, 2012 at 11:40 am

    I am actually pretty good at keeping weekend time sacred. (I know, you want to throw something at me.) The reason: a past boss that felt strongly about it. To be clear, I would work late if needed (and sometimes it was needed), but I rarely came in on the weekends–I didn’t have much intention of doing so. But my boss ALWAYS fussed at me if I was working late or even hinted at weekend work. Even if I was doing something important! The reason? He believed, as I do now, that weekends are the prerequisite for a productive week–just what you’re saying here. Many people look at it as a reward (if I can just get there…!), but we really need the relaxing time before we have to be on our game. So if I ever feel like working on the weekend, I just remind myself how tired and burnt out I’ll already feel on Monday, and how miserable I’ll be by Friday, and march myself right back to my book! I hope this positive attitude helps. :) (PS I’m working on remembering this on weekday evenings as well…working from home has its downsides!)

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