Overworked: How To Survive When You’ve Overdone It

By Smack Bang Design

'Are these people on crack?!’ was the first thought that came to mind as I read the blog title, ‘How to achieve a work/life balance in three easy steps’.

Three easy steps and the key to happiness, balance and sweet apple pie is in your hands? Sure, and I’m a five-time world pole vaulting champion.

As I continued, it came as no surprise that the blog post didn’t deliver me the sacred position of the Holy Grail and open the heavens above to let me into a world of enlightenment. It did however, make me think about the never ending tug-of-war between ambition and mental clarity and what effect being overworked takes on our wellbeing.

As a business owner juggling 3 businesses, I’ve spent some time in the hellish pits of burn-out. Not the most charming place I’ve visited, but I’m grateful to have been there, done that and bought the tee-shirt. Those moments of complete and utter burn-out make me grateful for the (rare) weekday swims in the ocean and the sometimes late starts — chai in hand, dog at feet. Those moments have taught me to be grateful for the ebbs and flows of busyness and to be patient with myself and my life. I now know what serious stress looks like (as I’m sure we all do), and can flag the warnings signs with myself much sooner these days.

Even since I was a little girl, I used to tell my mum that I didn’t want to go to sleep because it was a ‘waste of time’. I’ve always been a Type A personality that prides itself on ‘doing’ rather than being. I’ve spent a huge part of my life thinking I have to do all the things, all the time. Things really hit a feverish pitch when I launched my first business baby, this thing I call Smack Bang Designs. And we all know how that goes: I began creating more work for myself than I’d ever be able to accomplish and there was a LOT to learn — tax to deal with, staff to pay, clients to dazzle, an overloaded inbox to have panic attacks over, social media posts to be scheduled, phone calls to return, clients to tend to, blog posts to write, invoices to be sent, money to make, products to update, and parking fines to be paid. The to-do list was endless and it always seems the more work you do, the more work you create.

More recently than I’d like to admit, I went through a period of time where I had about 5 or 6 meetings a day. My calendar was disgustingly colourful and my mind a mess. I’d booked my dog walker to come into the studio and take my pup for a walk. She rocked up about an hour later and I was so overwhelmed and overworked that in the space of 60 minutes I’d both:

a) forgotten my own name, and
b) thought she was a client and invited her in for a coffee and to talk about her ‘project’. 

Luckily she was gracious, understanding and thought the whole thing was hilarious. My team still haven’t let me live that one down.

What is a requirement for success is that you, as a founder, give a damn about everything. Which is great, beautiful in fact… but also pretty goddamn tiring after a while. I guess the thing is, I am so passionate about what I do and love what I do so much, that I could work around the clock til the early hours of the morning and feel fulfilled, great, groovy in fact. But there is one small problem — I am at war with my mind and my body. Whilst my mind says, ‘Keep going, this is fun, hallelujah let’s throw back espresso shot #7 and get it cracking!’, my body screams ‘Holy hell girl, slow down!’.

Of course building a business requires hard work, blood, sweat and a little too often, tears. Of course you have to commit to the cause, put in the work and make it happen. Of course you have to stay back, learn html via Youtube clips and live on bad Vietnamese food for a few years. But often the result of slogging it out day after day, week after week, and not prioritising your wellbeing, is a big rude shock that slaps us in the face one morning when we just can’t actually get out of bed. No-one can go full throttle forever, unless you’re the Energiser Bunny (hint — that thing is a fictional advertising success story).

So, how the HELL do you survive when even your coffee needs a coffee? I don’t claim to know everything. In fact, I don’t even really claim to know anything… but here’s what I’ve found helps to get some healthy perspective back into my life (hello, Tropical Holiday. And hello to you, too, Argentinian Malbec).

    I’d really love to meet the person who decided that the majority of us have to work five days a week with only two day left for adventure and fun. I’d high five them. In the face, with scalding hot iron. As business owners, we often forget that we actually do control our own time, and it’s within our power to apportion it best. Take a load off and maybe even take a day?
    This is a hard task to master, but when you close your laptop, simultaneously close the tabs in your brain. I’ve become really great at switching off when I need to. I feel like my mind is either blissfully calm or resembles a hellscape by Edvard Munch.
    You only have 24 hours in each day. Don’t try to fit in 100 tasks. Just focus on your rule of 3. Slash every non-urgent to-do off your list and just do the bare minimum for a week. Even if you technically have more time in the day, and you feel like you can keep working into the night, eventually your brain bites back and does that thing where it just says “piss off, Tess” and throws in the towel.
    It can’t all be doom and gloom, right? Maybe you have a really epic team. Or a really supportive business partner. Or the loveliest, most reassuring husband at home. Or just a dog who can listen to all your problems and not talk back? As much as you can, try to focus on the bright spots in your day.
    Walk away from your life. Even if it’s just for a few days. Escape is good for the soul. We put ourselves under so much pressure and sometimes the best way to vent that pressure is to pop the lid, let the steam out, and go someplace else for a little while.
    Set an autoresponder and drop offline. We’ll miss you, but we won’t die if you don’t write back to our email. It takes a bucketload of self control, but taking a day off your emails might just give you the time and space you need to recalibrate.
    Take five minutes to sit quietly, calmly and peacefully. Breathe deeply and mindfully. Maybe you meditate. Maybe you listen to the sounds. Maybe you just stare at the wall and wish you were someplace else. Either way, sit still, and learn the art of being, not doing.
    Rid your vocab of the word ‘should’, it is toxic. We place expectations of ourselves that we “should do this, should do that”. Worse still when you’re your own boss — the expectations you set for yourself are intense and often a bit OTT. Drop ‘should’ like you used to drop your Nokia 3310 when mum would check in on you in bed on a school night.

This post originally appeared on Smack Bang Design and has been republished here with permission. To check out more design and sanity saving tips check out their website.

Live, Don’t Survive: How I Realised My Life Was Ready For A Shake-Up

By Rebecca Papillo

Do you sometimes feel like you’re just surviving? Only just hanging on?

I had a vacation-induced epiphany recently where I realised that so much of my life seems to be about just surviving (in the not-living-life-to-the-fullest sense). Just making it through the day. Or the week. Spontaneity and fun are pushed to the back burner while my long list of to-do’s take pride of place.

Does any of this sound familiar to you? It’d help to know I’m not the only one who’s treading water, holding out for the next weekend, long weekend or holiday to get on with all that living I have planned.

Before getting into my whole ‘holiday-epiphany’ thing, there are a few questions that keep popping up and pushing their way to the front of my overcrowded and overstimulated mind that are in no small way linked to this whole idea of living vs. surviving.

Why am I trapped in a cycle of constant obligations?

The idea of ‘obligations’ has started to haunt me. I’m not sure if I read it somewhere or how it manifested itself deep inside my subconscious, but I’ve started to measure time in terms of how many obligations I have. For example, if I wrote a list of every activity I did in a given week, I’m fairly confident that over 80% would be categorised as an obligation.

Now when I talk about obligations, I’m not talking about a promise I made to someone else necessarily, just things that I am (or think I am) required to do. I’m talking housework, groceries, family commitments, work…it goes on.

Another way to think about obligations is anything that you preface with ‘should’. For example, all those social commitments you feel you should attend but don’t necessarily want to.

Once I’m done with all my obligations, I get this strange feeling like there’s very little time left for those things I actually want to do. Sleep, read, work-out, write, create, visit my sister-in-law to rub her growing bump (soon-to-be first time auntie over here!), taste test the latest recipe from my sister’s blog and JUST DO GENUINELY FUN AND SPONTANEOUS FUN STUFF!

To summarise, obligations = surviving.

Am I putting off truly living?

My mate Tim Ferriss (whose must-listen podcast I wrote about here) talks about the idea of a deferred-life plan (and why it sucks) in his New York Times Bestseller, The Four Hour Work Week.  Essentially, he can’t understand why we’d spend the best years of our lives – those when we’re at our fittest and healthiest – slaving away for the man for 40+ hours a week only to save our biggest dreams and goals for retirement.

To counteract the deferred-life plan, he presents a step-by-step alternative to automate cash flow and liberate yourself from the binds of the traditional, location-dependent workforce. Needless to say, there’s a bit more to it than that (approximately 370+ pages more but I’ll leave you to dive into that).

And while a lot of the anecdotal stories in the book are about these amazing digital nomads who base themselves out of a different city each week, or families who create a life traversing the most exotic corners of the world, kids in tow, for years on end, I’m not so interested in the extreme case of total mobility. I’m actually a bit of a homebody. Ok, I’m the ultimate homebody. I love routine and consistency to a fault. I still want some structure and to come home to my cosy house at the end of the day. I still want to watch Offspring on a Wednesday. I want to cook my own dinner and curl up in my mint green dressing gown and fluffy slippers and call my mum to discuss the latest controversy on Survivor Australia.

What Tim and his deferred-life plan have done, though, is make me want more. More time for the fun. For the living. Less time spent on obligations. I’m not about to quit my job and buy a one way ticket around the world, but I want to make sure I’m prioritising the good stuff in life, and not saving it all up for later.

Where has all the fun gone?

So how has all this even come to be?! How did I get so mixed up in this life of obligations and deferred-living? Why is it that I’m only surviving when I could be living?

To answer this question, I refer you above. ‘Ultimate home-body’. ‘Love routine and consistency to a fault’. Not exactly the qualities of a wild and adventurous young spirit, ey?

Somewhere in the last few years, years of growing up and settling down, this need for comfort and routine has seen me push back against anything remotely outside my comfort zone and fall deeper into the cushiony, predictability of what is safe and what is known.

In some ways, I can now see that starting my blog was an early and subconscious rebellion against that sameness. An effort to stretch myself outside that comfort zone by putting myself, my thoughts and my writing out there. But it took my recent vacation to really shake things up a bit.

Ready to live, not just survive

The first flash of ‘living’, of that strange foreign sense of exhilaration, came on my first day of my holiday, swerving haphazardly through peak hour traffic on the streets of San Francisco, one of hundreds of bike riders taking part in the monthly Critical Mass bike ride. While I selected a sensible combination of black skinny jeans and a bomber jacket as my attire for the ride, many of my fellow riders were dressed somewhat more elaborately. There were dinosaur tails and sexy Christmas outfits, pink tutus, and for a few brave souls – nothing at all – their modesty socks thrown to the wind as we took off from our starting point. And what occurred to me as I pedalled (for the first time in years) down the Embarcadero, the sun slowly setting, music blaring from boom-boxes fixed to the backs of people’s bikes, in this crowd of eccentric and colourful strangers, all smiling encouragingly at me as I accidentally cut them off or hovered dangerously close to a parked car, was that I hadn’t felt this light, this free, in years.   

And now I’m home. Head again swarming with obligations but at least now I’m aware of it. Aware of the fine line between living and surviving, and committed to retaining some of that spark, that fun spontaneity I rediscovered while abroad.

I don’t yet have any tried and tested techniques or tools for helping me strike a better balance other than just to revisit the ideas of obligations and deferred-life plan, and to remind myself that life is for living. To remind myself to take every chance that presents itself. So dig out that long-lost passion and get back to working on it. Turn that hobby into a side-gig and that side-gig into something bigger. Take that class you've always wanted to but keep putting off. Say yes, even if it’s scary, to something new and exciting.

How do you strike a balance between living life and your mounting list of obligations? How do you ensure you’re living your best and most exciting life?

Rebecca Papillo is a full time corporate who moonlights as a blogger at The Modern Ascent. The Modern Ascent is for and about women working it the modern way. But, as Rebecca knows all too well, sometimes, even for super women like us, the elusive path to having it all can be tough. Through The Modern Ascent, Rebecca creates a place where we can all find a daily dose of inspo from kick-arse women doing brilliant things out in the world. A place where we can connect with others and learn from their experiences. A community that gets us - that understands that we’re all finding our way through this modern day workplace together.

Rebecca is a big advocate for finding and nurturing your passions! Her greatest passion in life is writing, followed closely by connecting with like-minded superstars. She loves meeting new people so head over to the blog to take a look around, follow her on Instagram, 'like' her page on Facebook and drop her a note at bec@themodernascent.com.

How To Avoid Blogger Burnout

Chinese Medicine

By Keri Krieger

When discussing self care, burn out and how to know when your pushing too hard in your work or life, I would have to say it all boils down to your heart. Now this isn’t an ubiquitous invitation to ‘listen to your heart’ but to truly hear and nourish that most important ruler of the fire element in our bodies. Because when we hit burn out I can guarantee you its the lack of care and respect in this case of yourself. Fire can burn when its out of control or leave you in cold if not lovingly tended to.  

In Chinese Medicine I work with the five elements. Earth, Air Fire Water and Wood. Pulses on the wrist are taken and these correlate to each of the organs and the elements they correspond with. These pulses give us feedback on the Qi or energy in each organ; the state of your fuel tank so to speak. This is just one of the diagnostic tools we use. In eastern philosophy there is also a soul or spirit that is associated with each organ and its this spirit that I work most with in my practice.  Sure, I  still talk about food, lifestyle practices and fitness, but in the chronically stressed, burnt out, and emotionally exhausted people (usually women but not exclusively) I treat its this soul that we really need to be nourishing. 

You can be eating all the superfoods in the world and leaping small buildings in your lunch hour but this too can actually be counter productive. If we are not listening to our individual bodies needs and not taking soulful care of our emotional wellbeing all the superfoods in the world will be no help. 

The spirit of the Heart is the Shen, its the soul most like what we in the west would call the soul. In a happy thriving person we can see this soul through the sparkle in someones eyes. The light of the Shen is so essential to our feeling loved that its this spirit that is shared in heartfelt gaze between lovers and from a Mamma to her new born. “.....from a Taoist mythological perspective, the light of the shen or spirit comes to us directly from the stars, from the divine, and resides, during our lives, in the empty space at the center of the heart”   Lorie Eve Dechar

How beautiful is that! When it comes to burn out,  exhaustion and the new prevalence of adrenal fatigue we also need to talk about the Kidneys and the water element. The kidneys are the home of the Zhi.  It often gets translated as willpower or drive and determination. The fight or flight mechanism needs to be mentioned here too. The adrenals whilst technically not part of the Kidneys are for the ease of this conversation popped in the same basket. They’re like the yang super chargers for when we need to get out of trouble fast. It makes sense then that the emotion of the kidney is fear, this is an appropriate and useful experience of fear, until it becomes over used as a means of pushing through every. single. day. (you know what I’m talking about)

Now before this conversation gets overly technical, its this alchemical relationship between the heart and the kidneys, the water and the fire elements, the will power and the passionate soul that teach how just how far is far enough. One of the reasons I think we as a culture have become so out of balance is that for generations we have glorified busy, and we put will power and drive up on a pedestal and while doing so we dismissed the song of our hearts as frivolous and unnecessary. There has been many culturally understandable reasons for this. But in this new found generation of entrepreneurs and self employed creatives its time for this balance to be addressed if we are to survive and thrive and share our much needed gifts with the world. Phew! Ok so that technical pre-amble out of the way what does that mean for the average person other than going and getting some acupuncture to nourish their Kidney Qi and keep the Heart fires burning. The answer is LOTS!

Nourishing the Shen 

  • When the Shen in out of balance we can experience anxiety, insomnia, restlessness that leads to fatigue and a ‘whats the point’ attitude. We literally want to invite this spirit lovingly back into our bodies. In doing so we will feel calm and anchored
  • Spend time in nature. 
  • Cultivate a practice that puts you in touch with your inner voice. Meditation, Journalling. Limit exposure to the constant streaming of media. 
  • Choose caffeine free 
  • Have massages 

Exercise gently in a way that your breath is encouraged into your belly or dan tien. In acute cases of shock, bach flowers and nurturing loving touch is essential.

Nourishing the Zhi 

  • Regular gentle exercise, in this case its the regularity and commitment that is essential. 
  • Spend time near water,
  • Stay hydrated
  • Have some unstructured time in your week 
  • Avoid over working
  • Foot massage as the kidney channel starts on the feet.
  • Nourishing food that includes the salty flavour 

And one last thing. 
Coeur is the French word for the heart, its where we get the word courage from. When the spirit of the Kidneys and the Heart are in balance we are able to be courageous. Courageous enough to create that business, that relationship or that meaningful experience. It’s this heartfelt courage that we can act upon to achieve our most daring and meaningful feats. 

It’s in the melting pot of our hearts (the Chinese pictogram for the heart literally means empty vessel) that will power can be catalysed with love to create the courage you need to be and do all that is your souls purpose in this world. When we come from this place our energy is renewable and virtually inexhaustible. 

Burn out be gone! 

Keri is an acupuncturist life-coach and passionate advocate of women creating the life of their dreams without hitting burnout! Translating the ancient wisdom of Chinese Medicine into modern language Keri coaches women through big transitions in life and mentors other health practitioners on how to create a thriving practice. With almost 20 years in the wellness industry Keri can be found contributing regularly to health mags traveling the east coast of Australia with her Rockupuncture™ modality and treating at Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat. In her down time she’ll be hanging at the beach with her Westie Ruben. You can find her at kerikrieger.com.

Avoid Blogger Burnout