I don't know about you, but my sense of urgency to do things and achieve has increased over the last few years. I don't know whether this is an affect of lockdown and sense of time changing (somehow it felt like I could do more during lockdown and be in 2 places at once using online meetings), or whether it's the state of the sector I work in or life as an adult with ever increasing responsibilities. Whatever it is, I can't remember the last time I got to the end of the day and felt on top of things, or that there wasn't a whole load of actions and things I wanted to do left undone and pushed back another week. Everything feels and seems urgent. People want things done quicker, there's a sense of immediacy with requests on ourselves and to each other, and deadlines for things such as funding and time to deliver projects in my work life have increased in pace. The pace of life as a whole feels quicker. I've been considering whether this is something I inflict on myself or whether this is outside factors, and over the last year I've started to clock that it's a bit of both, and to be honest, it's been taking it's toll. I've started to stop enjoying certain aspects of work, and in some cases working with people who I've previously loved working with. It doesn't give me a sense of achievement or joy in what I'm doing and I constantly feel on edge. A problem that I have noticed is that we all try and keep up with one another. We live in a world where comparison is competitive and not celebrated. In this instance, comparing ourselves to others and how busy they are, what they're doing and what we're perceiving that they are achieving only adds to the feeling of not doing enough. This is yet another layer of feeling like we should do more, be more, achieve more, which in return impacts our self esteem, confidence and general well-being. So, enough is enough. I've decided to take it into my own hands and in doing so, I hope that if I can change my culture and approach to work others I work with may change how they work with me and start taking the pressure off themselves in turn.
Personally, I've always been someone who's busy. I thrive on it and function much better as someone who has lots of things doing on. I get a sense of control from being busy and I find it really rewarding. But, what busy looks and feels like to me is different to others and I've come to noticing and appreciating what they are. I am not the busiest person I know, and when you work with people who are busier or seem to be able to manage more, I have found that it only impacts on those they're working with. The more I've been noticing this, the more I've become aware of what my thresholds are and when busy turns into burn out, and when goals turn into a mountain of unachieved actions. This hasn't occurred to me over night, it's something I've been aware of of the last few years, as previously mentioned, and it's only recently that I've been forced to consider this that I have had a light bulb moment - it's ok to only do what you can do and work or live at your own pace. Simple really isn't it? But how many of us give ourselves that grace?
Sometimes I need to force myself to slow down. Stop. Breath. Reset. Like I say, I'm happy being busy. I also know that I crash, big time. All of a sudden I will have no motivation, no energy and completely step away from what I'm doing. Sometimes this is for a day or so, but recently I've noticed these periods are longer and more frequent and I can only come to the conclusion that it's because life in all of its aspects is full on! I know that for myself what I need to do in those situations is step back, rest and recoup, but there's been so much going on that it's been hard to do that and sometimes it's felt as though I've needed permission to slow down. Now, I'm not writing this for you to feel sorry for me or to understand. I'm writing it because the more people I speak to about this, the more I realise we're all feeling the same. Everyone feels up against it, whatever they're doing, with very little let up. My hope, in writing this blog is that we collective share this experience, recognise it and in doing so we go easier on ourselves and others. Remember, not everything has to be urgent. Things are ok to happen later. And, only do what you can do! Again, simple, right?
Now, this word gets battered around a lot but it's one of the main things that I feel will help us all in this situation. It's the 'B' word. BOUNDARIES! By recognising what our capacity is and where our thresholds are, we can start to recognise what our boundaries need to be. This could be from leaving work on time, to how quickly you'll reply to emails. Boundaries can create healthy habits, approaches and values that you want to instill in your life, and create beautiful, healthy relationships. Set your boundaries around what you need and what your expectations are in order to create balance for yourself. I'm telling myself more and more to be strict and confident with my boundaries. I've set them for a reason and that reason is important to me, however hard it is to put those boundaries in place and practice them. For example, I've experience push back and challenge recently when I didn't reply to an email quickly enough (I'm talking hours!) and in not replying quickly enough my ability to be a producer was questioned. It hurt and was confronted, but only because I had been challenged but my boundary allowed me to protect my integrity and explain why I don't reply immediately. Which brings me to my next point - boundaries are no good unless you communicate them. This doesn't necessarily mean shouting them from the rooftops or verbalising them. It could be an 'out of office' or your voice message instruction. It could be how you approach situations or set up new partnerships and how you work. It can be how you spend your time personally and what you decide are your non-negotiables to be happy and content. In sharing your boundaries, you share your expectations and ways you want to be worked with. Just like children, adults respect boundaries and it provides them with the parameters to know how to work with you, what you need and what you are willing to do. Without boundaries and clear communication of them, the levels of expectations and that sense of urgency and not achieving creeps back in. An example of how to set boundaries in working life and practice is to set certain times or days that you will be working and communicate that with those you work with. They then know that this is when they can contact you and when you will be available for them and their needs. The same could be said for your family and personal life. By recognising your boundaries and how you want to work, you can share them with those you need to and create the culture and balance that you want. I've started to set myself boundaries of how I will use my working days. I've commuted this with those I work with and asked if they see a problem with me protecting some of my working day to catch up on actions. Not one person has disagreed or asked more from me. In sharing this boundary, I've also asked those who I work with and manage to block out time for their own practice and work. In doing so, I hope to try and change the culture of how we work together so that everyone can slow down, work on what they need to work on and do as much or as little as they can to stay on top of things, remembering that we all work at different paces.
The next thing I've realised I need to focus on, which again is another lightbulb moment of simplicity, is to focus on what's important to me. This can be from the macro to the micro, acknowledging that there will be stress and busier times in my diary (I freelance and work part-time after all). By focusing on what's important and the bigger picture, it's enabled me to focus on what I need to do right now and what can be left until I have time. I've used the term 'non-negotiable' before, and by this I mean, what are the things that you NEED to do to feel joy. This could be a good nights sleep. 5 minutes of meditation. Or simply getting through the day. Whatever it is, it's not up for negotiation. What these are might change, but knowing what they are means you can focus on what's important to the overall picture of your happiness and ensure you're protecting time to do them.
This brings me to my penultimate point and one which itself deserves a blog and conversation on its own - let's be radical with our rest. We all know that we need to slow down, so let's slow down. Let's see what happens if we set those boundaries, communicate when we will get things done and when we're available, and most importantly include rest in our non-negotiables. What rest means to you may be different to others. Rest can be social or it can be quiet. It can be active and it can be still. Rest, however you need to and want to because let's face it, we all know that we're no good to anyone or anything without it, and guess what.... without rest there's no hope in you achieving your goals, balance or lifestyle you crave because you'll be too tired and burnt out to achieve it let alone appreciate it when you get there!
And so to my final point that I've realised for myself. Possibly my simplest realisations; by slowing down, by resting, by putting in boundaries to protect my well-being, by only doing what I can physically and mentally do, I have more time to notice how much I've already achieved. I have more time to feel joy, sadness, appreciation and love. I have more time. And you know what, I'm not going to give that time up for work because it's not work that brings me the greatest joy in my life. Those stressed days will come. Busy weeks will happen. I will be asked and sometimes need to do more than I have capacity to do. But it's not those moments that will make me happy. I'm not going to work harder or do more than I can, and that's more than ok, because if I don't I jeopodise the time I have with those who matter the most to me, including myself.
As always, my blogs are my own thoughts and I appreciate that what I experience is different to many. I do hope that in reading my experiences and thoughts, it allows you time to consider how doing less could bring you so much more. Good luck with identifying your boundaries and be confident in setting them - you'll only be doing yourself a disservice if you don't.
Take care, rest and be happy,