Why 8 seconds just isn’t enough
Everything Liz and Mollie do is excellent but when I shared it on my socials you all got in touch so I think this one particularly resonated:
Many people worked from home before the pandemic, so what’s the big deal?
Well, firstly, many people did work from home. But not ALL THE TIME.
Many people did have a home office, but THERE WEREN’T THREE TEENAGERS IN THERE TOO*.
And many people didn’t work from home at all, in fact they travelled all over the country, or even all over the world.
I’ll just quickly open my laptop and get that email responded to.
I’ll just quickly check my phone and see who has messaged me on Teams.
I’ll just quickly zoom in to that training whilst entertaining my four-year-old at the same time.
This isn’t new.
But it has been magnified, exaggerated, blurred and intensified all over the country.
There is nothing inherently the matter with working from home. In fact, dogs all over the world are having a field day. And I must admit I do love the fact I can just pop a load of washing on and then go and coach a leadership team. I’ve learnt there’s actually so many more benefits to the online coaching world than I would have first considered.
But what I don’t love is feeling like the switch off and role-change is getting harder and harder. I don’t love trying to have a day off – for some reason this has become near impossible. The juggle between being a business owner, mother, wife, and so on has never been easy but this last year I have felt increasingly torn and squeezed and have found the separation of roles (and therefore the feeling of doing anything well) to be an increasingly elusive ambition. Speaking to clients and colleagues, friends and family, I know that I am not alone. And the research suggests (unsurprisingly) that it isn’t good for us. When we have no lines in the sand, no boundaries, no segregation, we can fall foul to the following:
When what we do is consistently integrated, with no separation, we experience higher levels of internal conflict. That feeling I have already mentioned above, of guilt, underperformance and the internal tussle as to what we should be giving our best to.
This can of course be a good thing. A good day at work can influence a fantastic mood around the family dinner table. A good weekend with family and good start to the day can set you up for the best day at work. But life isn’t always like that. We can lose a deal. We can disagree with our colleagues, drop a ball, miss a deadline. We can have a family disagreement at breakfast time (I mean this never happens in our home but I have heard of it). We can be sleep deprived from a new baby or have responsibilities to juggle. If we have no boundaries, these emotions too can impact upon our work life, or indeed our home life. An emotional incident in one area of life needn’t dictate our state of mind in another. Of course, when we hit major life scenarios, there is no separation for many of us. Handling the sudden and serious brain injury of a best friend had an impact on my day job. That’s to be expected. But if *every little* interaction or upset makes its way into my personal life or my work life, I am going to struggle to keep an emotional plateau which will impact me, my clients and my colleagues (and my kids).
I talked about burnout two weeks ago, so you can read more about the concept there, but again, when all of our life is intertwined and there is no cut off or end point, the likelihood of burnout increases. When we are set to ‘always on’ or ‘always available’ it might make us feel good, or superhuman, or like we are giving our all, but in turn we trade away our good night’s sleep, our relationships, our equilibrium. Goodbye peace, hello burnout.
This is all well and good, and I am pretty sure most of you won’t need much convincing.
But how do we actually do it? I am very much an ‘all-in’ individual and by nature I don’t live in a very ‘boundaried’ way (I am not saying this with pride by the way, more a statement of fact). I genuinely admire parents that switch off their phones whenever they are around their children, and don’t have their work emails on any personal devices. Or stick to set work hours with discipline and efficiency. I’m not, by nature, very good at that. I also run my own business which doesn’t totally fit with set hours to be honest.
This is the good news: we don’t have to become a personality type that doesn’t fit in order to make progress with this. I am learning that I can do better in this area without turning into a personality that I was not made to be. It’s OK if I choose to blur the lines at times but I have recognised that some habits are just not helpful, whatever your responsibilities, whatever your workload, whatever your personality.
(To encourage you: Barack Obama, previous leader of the free world, managed to make time to have dinner with his family pretty much every day that he was at home in the White House for eight years. If he can fit it in, then I reckon you and I can).
I spoke to my brother the other day (who fits into the category of before covid = ‘used to occasionally work from home but mainly worked all over the world’ and since covid = ‘rarely leave my home office’). He said he has learnt that the 8 second walk from his office to his kitchen just isn’t enough to decompress. I feel for his wife.
Decompress. Essentially this grand sounding word means to relieve the pressure. To lift the lid. To reduce the load and to allow us the time to ‘switch modes’.
I am acutely aware of the need for this time. I remember in a previous lifetime when my children were little and I used to be an assistant head, I was lucky enough to work at a school so close to home it meant my commute was 1.5 minutes. Great for the family, not so great for me: when I walked through the door and moved immediately into mom mode I had been afforded no time to switch modes, and was therefore often still uptight and in desperate need of some decompression. I don’t think I realised that at the time, so I would just get stuck into the melee and make the dinner and get cracking with the next section of my day, roles and responsibilities. Perhaps you resonate with this. You’re spending all day giving and juggling in one environment but just don’t feel you have the luxury to pop off and have some ‘me time’ when there’s so many other responsibilities calling for your attention? I know many people I speak to aren’t missing the daily waste of time that a long commute can be, but to have no commute at all has meant that a little bit of alone time, decompression time, just isn’t available anymore.
I like to be practical and useful, rather than aiming at lofty ideals that none of us living in the real world can achieve. I talked to a few of you so that I could gather a few next steps to suggest to you.
This is one of my own. I do my best to pack everything away properly when I finish working. This shutdown ritual, of tidying away my work stuff and closing the laptop and putting it in the cupboard has been of real benefit to me. I can’t always do it, but when I know I can, I choose to power off and move it away from my eyesight. Out of sight, out of mind. Even if just for a little bit.
Stop for five minutes and be grateful. Grateful for all the good in the work day. What you managed to achieve. How you helped another person. Any positive interactions or outcomes. Maybe write it down if you like. Take another couple of minutes to let go of any disappointments, frustrations, difficult interactions or moments you let yourself down. Write them down. Let them go. As I write this it dawns on me you might want to do this at the start of your work day too.
Do something that signals to you that this section of your day is over. Yes, you may need to do something later like send an email (try not to) but draw a marker in the sand. One client I talked to told me he went and got on his exercise bike at this point every day. Before he engaged with family, he took 20 minutes to cycle. Another said they listened to music, went out for a walk, picked up a book, listened to a podcast.
Allow yourself the time to fully disengage so that your connection time is meaningful, you can be fully present and give your loved ones (and yourself) your best. You may be really hard pressed for time. You might not have the luxury of a daily private walk after you work. So do what you can. Take ten minutes to read a few pages of a book. Signal to yourself, to your mind, to your body that you are changing lanes.
Turn off all distractions. Phones, laptop, people (!). Take five minutes to breathe in and breathe out. In the silence. Let your thoughts settle down – write all the things that come into your head down until you have quiet. I find sometimes that it takes a good while for my mind to stop chattering but that’s OK. Take as long as you need. But wait for the quiet. Take some deep breaths, remind yourself that you are not what you do, and then get ready to leave the space. A client today told me that he knows many of his leaders choose to spend 15 minutes on an app such as Calm or Headspace to help bridge the transition.
I say this a lot – but I think we sometimes don’t try anything because the greatest of ideals isn’t available to us. We want to be able to decompress like the best of them (yoga, running, transcendental meditation, feng shui, etc) so we don’t bother at all. Don’t fall into that trap – I have spent a lot of time there and it’s no good for anyone. Some of you will have decided that if you can’t do this every day or do it perfectly or for more than five minutes then it’s not worth bothering. That is just not true. Progress is better than perfect. Do what you can.
Give yourself time to decompress. Try something. Watch what happens. I reckon everyone around you will thank you for taking that time to switch modes. (I’m pretty confident my brother’s wife would testify to this).
I’d love to hear what you do!
P.S. Full disclosure – I wrote this on a Sunday afternoon. To be fair, family were watching the football and I just had an idea so went with it. It’s OK not to be religious about these things.
*insert your own variation on a theme – baby, toddler, pre-schooler, husband, you choose.