Stress and anxiety run deep in my veins. I am very orderly and need things to be a certain way. I’m also a creative who likes to execute grand visions. Sometimes it’s difficult for me to get things done in small amounts of time because I need time to just think and overthink before I get to work. When I finally get to work, I have several drafts and aim for perfection. I put my all into my work, even sacrificing sleep on a regular basis to do a job well-done.
I am very proud of my work ethic. Unfortunately, I was not giving myself time to enjoy the execution and results of my strong work. I would think back on the day’s work and feel upset by how long it took, how stressed it made me feel, and how anxious I was the entire time. For something I put my sweat, sometimes tears, and very often, sacrificed sleep into, it felt unjust to not enjoy the success in the aftermath.
In attempt to diagnose myself, because I truly did want to have a healthier relationship with my stress and anxiety as it’s reckless to think one could get rid of these brats so easily, I determined my problem was that I wasn’t taking enough time to do me.
I couldn’t remember the last time I went on a fun trip outside of my visits to see my parents. I couldn’t remember the last time I spent time with friends without a) venting about the amount of work I had or b) silently thinking about how much work I had to do. I couldn’t remember the last time I just relaxed and felt content with the great and valuable work I do. I wasn’t celebrating myself.
As a teacher, taking days off feels wrong since holidays are literally built into my schedule. But I don’t think that’s how it should feel. It’s difficult to make the rest of your world time their holidays around your schedule. Also, I truly spend a lot of my holiday time catching up on everything that slipped through the cracks.
Just like other working professionals, I have PTO – days that I can use should something come up. And recently, for the first time in my teaching career, I used my vacation days to do just that… vacation. And it was amazing.
I celebrated a loved one for an accomplishment he was so proud of… and I shut everything off and just made time for one thing: relaxing. I ordered room service and pampered myself at the spa. And there were times during my trip where I did have to do my lesson planning for the following week, but I happily did it! And it was one of the best lessons I ever made! Truly, I wish I recorded it. Not only was it a fun lesson, I had fun teaching it. I was just happy (stay tuned for my post on really feeling joy).
All of this made me think of just how important relaxing is for a person.
Here are some things I recommend doing if you, too, seek balance:
- Once a week, shut down every aspect of your job to only do things you love. As simple as this seems, it’s so difficult to execute. Pick one day a week to turn everything off. If you’re a reader, read for hours and read with rigor! Work out, explore your city, hang with friends. Whatever it is, be fully in it without fretting over work.
When spending time with friends and family, leave your work and work phone at home. Once upon a time, I used to have my work email synced to my personal phone. That’s not a thing anymore. It’s better to just be in the moment. Nothing is so urgent in life that should take you away from your loved ones. It’s significantly more urgent and powerful to be present and attentive to your people.
Two words: Timed Efficiency. Time everything you do. More explicitly, give yourself a time limit to get certain tasks done. Dishes? 10 minutes. Respond to emails? 20 minutes. Plan out Monday’s lesson? 45 minutes. And so on. I find that giving myself a dedicated chunk of time prevents me from getting lost in extraneous details and just focus logically at the task at hand (what up, Hermione). Literally set your phone timer, say a little prayer, and start moving. And it’s surprising just how much you’ll get done in that allotted time. It’s almost a game I play with myself, daring and pushing myself to move faster and work smarter. It’s amazing how much I’ll get done in a day with this tactic, even opening up time to do something just for me every single night.
Take the days off AND make a brilliant game plan for your absence. I can’t tell you how gratifying it was to get an email from my principal at the end of the work day on Friday saying how much he valued the detailed plan I left for my substitute. The day went flawlessly and my kids left the classroom having learned something… and I wasn’t even there.
DELEGATE and loosen up the reins. There are some tasks that you shouldn’t spend your time doing because someone else, just as capable, can do that same task while you focus your energy on things that only you can do. Figure out what tasks you just need to delegate out to others (obviously be kind and fair about what you delegate), and what tasks you need to pay special attention to. I had a very hard time with this one. I was obsessed with doing everything on my own because obviously only I knew how I liked things to be. It took me a while to learn that there are several routes one can take to do a great job and that my way is not the only way. I just had to loosen up the reins a bit.
- Express yourself. If something is too overwhelming for you, gently express that you would like some help. If something upsets you, address it logically. And it’s just as important to express your positive feelings. If you’re extremely proud and happy about something, SAY IT!
Sometimes, you just need to relax and do you in order to recharge and reboot. You may be surprised with the rigor and excitement you’ll bring to your career by allowing yourself the time to enjoy life!