One of the most important things you can do to avoid burnout is to have clear boundaries between your work and home life. For most of us, that’s much easier said than done. Even if we make an effort to step away from work each evening, thoughts about work can continue to distract us. Maybe you’re facing a big milestone or deadline. Maybe you’ve had an upsetting interaction or made a mistake that you’re dwelling on. Maybe you’re feeling frustrated by something your boss did or by the direction the company is going.
The uncertainties of the current economic and business climate can also be distracting. Companies are downsizing, restructuring, changing direction, merging. Our minds don’t like to uncertainty, so we spend a lot of mental energy trying to determine what will happen next. We can easily get caught up in imagining future scenarios or worrying about how we’ll face potential changes.
Or maybe the quantity of work on your plate is the focus of your distraction. Companies are asking employees to do more than ever – and to do it while they’re understaffed and under-resourced, after so many years in the shadow of COVID and now economic decline. That means more work and more pressure for everyone who remains.
Any of these experiences can cause emotional upset and bleed into your life outside of work. Thoughts drift back to work or to what happened in the office, throughout your evening. You spend the weekend worrying about what the next week will bring. You find yourself pulling out your phone to check emails or to capture that task you want to follow up on. You lie awake at night worrying.
Those distractions come at a real cost.
They take away from our presence with our friends and loved ones. I’ve learned this lesson over and over again in my life. As a parent of a new college student, I know firsthand that the moments you have with young children are precious and fleeting. As are the moments with aging parents. I lost my Dad a couple of years ago and my father-in-law just a couple of weeks ago. I’m so grateful for the time that we had together and the moments I was able to be present with them. Even so, it’s hard knowing there will never be another opportunity for those connections again. Nothing brought this home to me more clearly than losing my best friend several years ago. We were trading messages trying to find a time to talk when she was killed in a tragic car accident. I didn’t get to tell her about all the ways I had been thinking of her. We just never know which interaction will be our last.
No one has to die for this to matter. Friendships, and even marriages, can start to drift apart when we’re not putting energy into them – when we let our focus on work take over.
Not to mention our connection with ourselves. I know so many people who don’t exercise, or don’t eat well, or don’t sleep enough because they feel like they don’t have time. And the reason is that they’re distracted by work. Work has taken over their time, their thoughts, and their energy. The result is real consequences for their mental and physical health.
There are three areas to focus on when you find yourself in these situations, where work is taking over your life.
Presence: For me, learning presence is about discovering that where you direct your attention in any given moment is a choice. It’s something you can control. It’s not automatic – you have to learn how and build the muscle to do it. But when you have the strategies and the tools, it is possible to stop ruminating, to stop obsessing about work, and to consciously pull your attention into the present moment and into the connections with the people around you.
Purpose: It’s important to clarify your goals and to create your own definition of success. When you don’t have your own definition, it’s easy to be pulled into everybody else’s version of success. You find yourself trying to please others, meeting their demands on your time, without having a clear sense of your own. That’s when work can be especially overwhelming because every single person that you work with, everyone up the chain in your organization will have some demand for you, some idea of where you should be spending your time and how. And if you let yourself be pulled into their demands without knowing what matters to you, you will be overwhelmed. Without your own north star about what’s important to you, you’ll end up trying to meet everyone else’s endless requests. That’s a recipe for overwhelm, overwork, and eventually burnout – not only for you but also for your team. On the other hand, when you know what success looks like for you and your team, you can take control over your time and attention. You can focus on work that matters to you, and then let it go at the end of the day, to shift your focus on to other things that matter in your life.
Partnership: Finally, implementing your vision of success requires that you set boundaries effectively – and that you do this in a spirit of partnership. Too many people come at boundary-setting as an adversarial task and end up coming across as difficult to work with. They’re experienced as complaining or being unwilling to pitch in. When you come to boundary-setting from an attitude of partnership, you’re more likely to be taken seriously. You’ll be seen as someone who is strategic and is looking out for the best interests of the company. The reality is that you see things your higher-ups don’t see. You see the impact of the choices they’re making in a way that they don’t see them. When you know how to bring that information up and share it, you become a valuable thinking partner to them. It’s all in the delivery and how you connect the dots for them.
These are all things that I help my clients do. When we work together, when I’m your coach, we’ll dig into your goals and what matters to you and create your personal definition of success. We’ll help you learn how to focus and be present – in the moment and in the big picture. And we’ll help you learn how to communicate that focus as a strategic leader rather than someone who’s just complaining or frustrated.
The best part about that is when you have those skills, you can be effective in any job – whether you stay in your current role or move somewhere else.
Without these skills, jumping into a new job isn’t likely to change your situation drastically. If you’re someone who ruminates about work and tries to please everyone, those tendencies will go with you wherever you go – resulting in distraction and overwhelm. But when you develop your own sense of purpose and presence and your ability to step into partnership with your boss, that also follows you wherever you go. When you can do that, you can create work for yourself that leaves you feeling satisfied and successful, without sacrificing your friendships, your family connections, or your own well-being.
If this resonates with you, we’d love to help you be present for your life and find the balance that works for you. Book a call with my team, and let’s talk about how to make 2023 your best year yet.
Here’s a video if you prefer to watch and listen to me talk about this topic: