Turning Off Work
“Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress: Working hard for something we love is called passion.”
It doesn’t come as any surprise that in today’s world working seven days a week is more common than it used to be. The reason I say seven days a week is that with the way mobile technology has changed the workplace, it is much too easy to see that text from the boss—he had a great thought at 10:30 pm Saturday—or check your email to see if that deal went through. That means that your “time off” is rarely off. Getting ahead often requires a Sunday evening of review of the upcoming weeks’ work rather than attending that family bbq.
Everywhere you look you see articles lamenting the issue of how many days off are enough, or too much. There are those who suggest that two days off is just too much for some driven, aggressive executives. It appears that quite often, the two days off are just too much down time, and by Sunday they are frantic to get back to work. Actually as a factoid, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 35% of American workers work at least one day of a weekend.
What those reports fail to show is that years of research from places like Stanford University indicate that it is the age-old 40-hour work week that is indeed the best for workers and management alike. Their study indicated that working excessive amounts of overtime without receiving compensating time off to rest results in serious physical and mental health issues. Those kinds of stress increase the risk of heart disease, increased cholesterol levels, and depression.
Do You Work More Weekends Than Most?
Did you ever wonder why some people just walk out the door and never look back, while others fret each moment they are away from work? Did you notice that the ones that successfully disengage from work seem to come back on Monday well-rested, happy, and unnervingly ready to take on the challenges of the week? On the other hand, there are the others—you know them—that drag-ass in on Monday like they dug ditches all weekend. They look tired, worn-down, and sometimes they appear less rested over the weekend than they did Friday afternoon when you saw them last.
Numerous sources suggest that a person being able to disengage from the responsibilities of work is related to your energy levels. They speak in particular about the person’s tendency towards being optimistic or pessimistic—anabolic or catabolic—thinking.
Studies show on more than one occasion—both academic and business—that positive outlook (anabolic energy) and negative outlook (catabolic energy) have a big influence on stress. Generally speaking, positive outlooks greatly influence your opinions, and choices as well as controlling how you respond to stress. A brain with a lean towards catabolic energy will struggle to detach, relax, and have a much more difficult time getting that so important sense of mastery. They are overwhelmed much more often and tend towards anxiety and find themselves unable to relieve work stress. They tend to work more weekends—to their detriment—and even on vacations.
Lots of people in today’s business climate cling to the illusion that if they work at home, every night, and most weekends, that they will reduce their stress at work, staying ahead of the curve and their peers. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. For people with catabolic energy, the more they work, the more stress and negative feelings they have.
Take a Break and Relieve Your Stress
The first thing you need to address is what is it that stresses you the most. Is it the amount of work? Is it the nature of the work? Is it labor and deadline sensitive? How is your time management? Learning how to better allocate your time can be a good second step once you answer the first question first. Better time allocation lets you schedule time for work and your personal life. Remember the famous quote by Steven Covey; ”we manage our time to make sure we have time for the things we love doing.”
Dealing with the things that stress you, developing a plan or system to get them done is another step on the path of making good choices and changing your energy from catabolic to anabolic. Another big thing is to take periodic breaks. You wouldn’t dig a ditch without giving your body a break; what makes you think that you can work your mind without one? The research is very clear on this point; you simply must take “brain beaks” where you temporarily unplug from your work. It will reduce your stress and make you more effective at your tasks, and indeed improve all areas of your life.
So when you think that you can power through it all—without rest or a break for months at a time—remember that fellow digging that ditch and remember that you, too, deserve a break.
Frank Hopkins is a certified Professional Coach (CPC) by the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC). He is a certified Master Practitioner (ELI-MP) of the iPEC proprietary assessment tool, the Energy Leadership Index and offers seminars on Energy Leadership. He maintains memberships in the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and the Institute of Coaching (ICPA).