The drive to be "on" all the time can come from many sources, from a true passion for your work, such that the extra hours don't feel like a sacrifice, to the reality that there is simply more work than time to do it.
Then, of course, there's our addiction to the devices we spend every waking moment with — checking our email, Slack, and texts from the moment we wake up, during meetings, at the dinner table, and back in bed — which can wreak havoc on the quality of our relationships and our ability to rest and recharge away from the office.
And burnout comes with a cost. Disengaged employees report 37% higher absenteeism, 18% lower productivity, and 15% lower profitability, according to Gallup's 2017 State of the American Workplace report. A 2014 study from Stanford University found that productivity per hour sharply declines when we work over 50 hours a week. The psychological and physical effects of burnout account for an estimated $125 to $190 billion in health-care spending in the United States.
Video by Courtney Stith
In every industry I work in as a time management coach, I've noticed that top-tier performers are deeply committed to their work/life balance. They may be working long hours, but they are very thoughtful about their leisure time, so that they make excellent use of their time away from the office. This is a critical skill, especially if you're working long hours, because you have fewer hours to play with in the first place.
Here's how you, too, can take back control of your time and avoid burnout.
Whenever you have more to do than time to do it, apply the 4 D's to streamline your workload.
- Delete tasks that are not worth the time invested.
- Delay tasks by rescheduling them for a more appropriate time.
- Diminish tasks by finding a shortcut to get them done.
- Delegate tasks by giving them to someone who is capable of completing them.
The 4 D's will help you create a more realistic action plan, and focus your time on the most important tasks.
Prioritizing is a matter of relativity. The true question is: What's the most important in relation to the other things on your list? Take one item at a time; everything can mask itself as a critical task.
Choose a single, consistent place to capture everything, whether that is your calendar, a simple notepad, a task app, or the to-do function of Outlook. Select only one location for these to-dos and be meticulous about writing down absolutely everything. Having everything captured in one place will free you to make clear decisions, reprioritize on the fly, and get a better night's rest, knowing everything is accounted for.
Waiting until the morning to map out your to-do list is too late—the pressure of the day is already upon you. Instead, spend 15 minutes at the end of each day to plan tomorrow plus two days beyond that.
- Evaluate the content and flow of your day
- Prepare mentally and physically for each meeting and task
- Ask, "What could derail me?"
Having a three-day arc gives you context for each activity on your schedule, frees you from worry about what you might be forgetting, and prevents you from getting caught up in unimportant tasks.
The most dramatic, effective way to boost your productivity is to break your email habit. Start by completely avoiding email for the first hour and last hour of each day. A 2014 University of British Columbia study found that batch processing email, rather than checking constantly, reduces stress, improves performance, and allows you to get through the same number of emails in 30 minutes less per day.
Create a reasonable container that constitutes your work hours. Is it 9-5? 8-6? 8-8? 6 a.m. to midnight? Discuss these edges with your boss, colleagues, direct reports, and clients, and let them know that if they need you after hours and weekends, to call you during your preferred hours.
That frees you from the compulsion to check email "just in case," while still making yourself accessible for things that are truly urgent.
Switching gears between work and home is one of the biggest challenges we face, since we're never quite finished with our to-do list for either realm.
Before crossing any threshold, take a beat to prepare for a mindful transition. Ask yourself, "When I walk through the door, what is my intention?" Maybe it is to show your family how happy you are to see them, to make your kids laugh, or to decompress by listening to music.
Top tier performers put as much thought into how they spend their time off as they do to their work lives, in order to ensure they are energized, refreshed, and renewed every day. No matter how busy you are, carve out about 20 minutes per day or a few hours weekly to do something that completely transports you every time you do it: tennis, dancing, cooking — any passion that brings you instant joy. A solid work/life balance boosts your performance at work by increasing your energy, accuracy, innovation, and patience.
If you feel exhausted, depleted, and like you don't know where you'll find energy to tackle that next project, take a leap into the unknown: Try trusting that work will survive without you for an hour, an evening, or a weekend. Embrace the fact that, sometimes, your best hope for getting to the bottom of your to-do list is to let go and take care of yourself first.
Julie Morgenstern is an organizing and time management expert. She is a consultant, speaker, and the New York Times bestselling author of "Never Check Email in the Morning."
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