How to juggle the chaos of work and life according to an expert.
Life as a small business owner is hectic at the best of times, but come the festive season, the chaos increases tenfold. Many independent business owners and managers are juggling the needs of their team, brainstorming ways to boost wellness and morale, keeping up with overflowing client lists and managing Christmas marketing — on top of everyday duties outside of work and maintaining a healthy social life.
Rather than overcommitting yourself and falling into a cycle of guilt, it’s important to be honest with yourself about what you can realistically fit into one day and acknowledging when you are feeling overwhelmed. This is also essential when it comes to rethinking the concept of work-life balance as a whole and recognising that it’s okay to take a break and opt for self-care, even during the busiest time of year.
To help maximise your health and wellbeing, we spoke to Madeleine Dore, author of I Didn’t Do the Thing Today – On Letting Go of Productivity Guilt, to get her top tips and tricks for time management, mindful productivity and avoiding burnout.
What are your tips for avoiding burnout during this busy time of year?
MD: We often feel obliged to squeeze as much as we can into each day, ignoring the harmful toll it can take on our bodies, relationships, and even on the very thing we are striving to propel forward but are too busy to attend to. We forget that we can politely decline, we can reset, things can wait, we don’t have to add to our to do list just because we got through the current one.
Sometimes busyness is unavoidable, but sometimes there are areas of our lives where we have a choice about the needless type of busyness and make different choices. Instead of crafting lists of resolutions where we will promise to do more — more exercise, seeing friends more often, take on new tasks — we can experiment with doing less. Instead of acquiring new things or taking on new pursuits, we can go deeper with the things we already do. Or we can simply embrace taking nap, and remember not to feel guilty about it!
Do you have any advice for efficient time management?
MD: Our attempts to manage time efficiently can sometimes backfire. We can get into the habit of telling ourselves that we can only do certain things at certain times, or if we have a spare 30 minutes, we might convince ourselves that it’s not enough time to do something. But this overlooks the benefit of seizing what pockets of time we have in front of us, rather than waiting for the perfect time later.
Now, when I’m putting something off, I’ll set a timer for two minutes and start the activity, telling myself that I can at least do something for two minutes. Often a short burst of focus spills out into more. It’s a small exercise in reminding myself that there will never be a perfect time, so we may as well take this time now, even if it’s just a couple of minutes.
What are your tips for mindful productivity?
MD: It comes down to finding what works for you. While we can look to others for inspiration, we are the only ones who can make change happen, and it can take a long time to figure out what environments, supports, and approaches help us be productive.
When it comes to finding what works for you, look at what you need to thrive, rather than what you need to change about yourself. For example, instead of trying to force myself into becoming a morning person with a dreadfully early alarm and then berating myself for pressing the snooze button, I can face the fact that I’m probably never going to be part of the 5am club, and instead must get the sleep my body needs. When we take away the judgment and allow for our own rhythms, we often find ourselves more engaged, alert, and (perhaps counterintuitively) more productive.
Can you share how you maintain a healthy work-life balance?
MD: Much like productivity, I think balance has become an impossible standard we set for ourselves that can leave us feeling guilty and anxious if we don’t achieve it.
What’s more realistic is to recognise that work and life is a balancing act. Instead of striving for balance and stability, we can embrace what I call the “wobble” — the imperfect in-between of those tasks and commitments that are most meaningful, pressing or simply desirable in each moment.
How can we be honest with ourselves about what is practical and what is unachievable?
MD: We can swap being self-critical for being self-reflective. Instead of lamenting that we didn’t get through our to do list, or criticising ourselves for not doing the thing today, we can be reflective and see whether perhaps we put too much on the to-do list in the first place, or whether we really need to do the thing after all. We can embrace being imperfect, messy and incomplete — because that’s what it means to be human.
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