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I'm a professional coach and former practicing lawyer, here to help you explore how to become more effective, intentional, and fulfilled in your personal and professional life. Grab a cup of coffee or tea and join me!
I’ve always been a high-achiever but working for myself (doing work I love) really kicked my urge to work all the time into high gear. As a lawyer, I had a surprising amount of autonomy and could work from home often. I often worked long hours, but I did my best to establish some boundaries. In some ways, it was easier for me to have boundaries working for someone else than myself. Now, my work doesn’t even feel like “work” most of the time and it is tempting to never shut it off. Can you relate?
Even when you don’t have to work more and know you should probably rest, actually doing it is a different story! It can be so tempting to cozy up on the couch in the evening, turn on the TV, and… pull out your laptop just a little bit longer. I can’t count the number of times I’ve wanted to “just get one more thing done” or tell myself I should multitask while I’m “just sitting there.” Still, I know that rest and boundaries are essential and I bet you do too.
Of course, I’m not against digging in and doing the work. There’s a time and place for that, for sure. But… having very few (or no) boundaries is a recipe for burn out. It means you’re probably missing out on some of the best parts of living–the things that make life full, meaningful and more fulfilling. Spending quality time with family. Sipping wine with girlfriends. Finally reading that book that’s been sitting on your nightstand for months. Not to mention, the things that keep you healthy and nourished for long-term success like getting that workout in and making healthy meals.
If you want to enjoy living more and set yourself up for sustainable success, here are a few simple tips:
You may be tempted to dive straight into work, only stopping when you feel like it, but that makes it too easy to work all the time. Having some boundaries can actually help you feel more focused when you are working and more balanced in your life.
Whatever they are, set them in advance. When you go into your workday with clear intentions, you’re more likely to stick to them. I find that writing them down like an agreement with myself makes me more likely to honor my boundaries. Better yet, tell someone else for accountability!
It matters less what the exact boundaries are than that you’ve made a decision about them. You could decide to stick to an 8-hour workday, so no matter when you start your day, you stop working 8 hours later. Or you may choose a specific hard stop time. It’s not just work times, it’s also the conditions of your work. For instance, some people thrive when they have a separate workspace to provide more physical separation between work and home. Or maybe you want to take breaks for lunch every day.
Feel into what would honestly be best for you. It may not always be what sounds the most enticing at first, but deep down you know what’s best for you. Decide, here and now, that you are going to honor the choices you’ve made, at least for a certain amount of time long enough to try it out. You can always adjust your boundaries and make a new agreement with yourself down the road.
It may sound rigid if you’re not used to this, but it doesn’t have to be! Ditch the belief that structure always means a lack of flow. Within a little bit of structure, it can actually be easier to find flow! I was working with a client recently who had this realization. She reflected back to me that she felt more focused and productive during her working hours after establishing a daily stop time. And trust that your business will benefit from a more rested, well-rounded leader!
Most of us passion-driven people tend to overestimate what we can do in a day. This is 110% true for me. And it can cause you to bounce from task to task but not really do focused work on anything. It’s so frustrating getting to the end of the day and realizing you only crossed off maybe one or two things on your to-do list that’s a mile long!
Knowing that I tend to overestimate, I’ve learned to adjust my expectations. Still, I have to remind myself of this often. Otherwise, I feel scattered, frustrated, and behind.
One of the biggest shifts I made was to change how I manage my task lists. I used to write my entire list for all the things I wanted to accomplish, remember, be, and do in foreseeable future as my daily to-do list. Then, I’d carry over what I didn’t finish to the next day (which usually was a lot).
Doing it this way is so incredibly stressful because you’re looking at an insurmountable list of goals and action items every single day. If you do this too, you know it’s a stressful way to operate!
Now I only use my daily to-do list for what I honestly think I can accomplish in one day. Some things go straight onto my calendar and skip my to-do list altogether. Projects and action items that aren’t actually for today do not go on my daily to-do list, they go on a “master” list I keep somewhere else.
This simple shift has reduced my day-to-day stress levels so much. And it’s super simple and something you can implement right away. You don’t need a fancy system or a new planner to do this! Just decide in advance a separate place where you will write each of your lists. (Bonus tip: Don’t make that place a bunch of random scraps of paper!! Be deliberate in your choice and stick to it.)
When you’re buried in your laptop, it’s easy to get way up in your head and out of tune with your body. While it can be productive to be in the zone like that, if you stay there too long without checking in, you can become really ungrounded. That’s not good for you or for you work, at least not long-term.
Numerous research studies have shown that taking breaks makes you more productive, focused, and happier than trying to plow through the workday and stay focused and productive the whole time–we’re just not made for that. That’s also the place where, for me, I can lose sight of all other priorities in my life unless I pull myself out and remember.
Be mindful and check in with yourself throughout the day so you stay grounded and catch any stress or tension bubbling up before it boils over. You can even set alarms that go off periodically to reminder you to look up, breathe, and check in with yourself. The key is to actually turn your attention off of work during that time and check in with yourself, laugh, do something else (that is not scrolling social media) so you come back refreshed.
If you notice some anxious or stressed out energy, instead of forcing yourself to continue working right away, consider taking a break and maybe going for a walk outside. Walking helps me reconnect with myself, boosts my mood, and allows me to process my thoughts and generate ideas.
A quick workout can also be very effective! Other ideas are meditating, standing up and stretching, deep breathing with your eyes closed, and yoga. There are some great quick (5-15 minute) videos available online for free. For me, the stretching and deep breathing in yoga really helps my neck and shoulders loosen up from the tension of working on a computer and it offers mindfulness and physical activity in one. Remember: Take this time to get refreshed, don’t use it as a break to scroll social media!
Having control over your schedule and doing what you love is a gift. And it can also easily become consuming to a point where you neglect your other priorities in life. If you are mindful of this and set some boundaries and practices around your work now, you can stay grounded and thriving over the long-term!