Monday, March 22, 2010

Know When to Say When

"Work hard, play hard"
"Burn the candle at both ends"
"No pain, no gain"

The value of hard work cannot be denied. America was founded on The Puritan Work Ethic and that's probably why we have longer work days and take fewer vacation days than several of our European counterparts.

Technology has only made this worst. I remember getting my first cell phone in 1998. My job gave it to me. At that time, I told my friends that I felt that cell phones and email were part of an insidious plot to keep people working all the time. They laughed. Now, they see that I was right!

An AOL survey (2007) showed that 83% of people check their email daily while on vacation. Many of them are checking work and personal email. I've taken business calls on Sunday and on weekdays as late as 10:30 p.m.

Working is great. It helps give life meaning. Although technology has changed our relationship with work, we still have to know when to say when. What I mean, is that it becomes more important than ever to set boundaries and listen to our bodies.

Just Stop. Working very long hours is impressive; it looks good. It shows your commitment. It is, sometimes, necessary. But the truth of the matter is that after a point, when you start getting tired, you are losing your effectiveness. The law of diminishing returns kicks in. You start getting less out of the work you put in. This is a great time to step away and get some rest. Come back early and start again fresher and with greater focus.

If you cannot, step away for an extended period (usually because a tight deadline is involved), shift gears and do something else for a few minutes. Take a break. Get some water. Take a brief and brisk walk. Make a phone call. Do something else and then switch back to your work.

Set boundaries. I cannot tell my boss what to do (if I want to keep a job! LOL!) However, I can dictate to others what my boundaries are. I have a number of freelance clients. I tell them from the beginning, I do not accept work calls after 7:00 p.m. on weekdays. I do not do weekends. If they need me on a weekend, they need to call me on a week day and schedule the time.

Listen to your body. These tips don't just apply to work. When you are at home cleaning, when you are exercising, when you are driving on a trip, it pays to listen to you body, you can only push it so far. Yes, there is something to be said for 'pushing through the pain' and the virtue of 'feeling the burn' when you are working out. But if you are paying attention, you also know when you are doing too much. Stop before you injure yourself or worst.

Pushing yourself is a good thing. Pushing beyond your limits isn't. Only you know you, you know what your limits are. The key is being honest and realistic with yourself.

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