If your job falls into the "always-on" category—as so many jobs do these days—then you'll want to hear what Claire Wasserman has to say. As the founder of Ladies Get Paid, she meets hundreds of women who struggle with a round-the-clock job. Here, in her latest piece for the Well+Good Council, she explains how to do your job while keeping your personal life (and sanity) intact.
Does this describe your work life? You barely have any personal life, and when you finally of get an iota of free time, you’re too exhausted to do anything but lie on your couch watching trash TV and ordering Seamless. You find yourself becoming resentful of everything, guilty that you can’t give energy to your friends and family, and angry that you haven’t been able to change the situation. Here’s the good news: making big changes start with small steps.
Determine if it’s you or them
Does the job reallyyyy require you to be on call all the time? As women, we’re socialized to be work hard, be nice, and accommodate others. Make sure to identify if it’s the job that requires you to perform at all times—or if you’re the one driving yourself to perfection and ultimately, burnout.
Make sure you’re not making things harder for yourself
While you very well may work for a demanding job or boss, let’s first take a look inside to identify how you may in fact be contributing to this need to always be on. If any of these sound like you, you’re probably adding to your own stress level, and it’s time to evaluate how you can approach things in a way that doesn’t add to the chaos.
The Firewoman: For you, every event is a crisis. You're so busy putting out fires that tasks pile up around you. You’re probably a Type A personality that thrives on panic mode, even if you hate feeling it.
The Over-Committer: You have trouble saying no. Whether you’re asked to do something or you raise your hand to volunteer, you’re constantly overextended and struggle with burnout.
The Perfectionist: Whether it’s a desire to do a good job or the fear of failure, you tend to overwork in the hopes of chasing perfection. You put incredible pressure on yourself to perform.
Learn how to prioritize
The best way to handle a 24/7 job is to work smart, not just hard. Since your manager is the one who determines if you’re going to get a promotion and/or raise, it’s imperative that you’re on the same page in terms of what gets done. Things are always influx and moving fast, so you need to check in constantly to confirm that you’re prioritizing the right things and that you understand how they measure success.
Make a list of what you believe you are being held accountable for in your job. Have your boss do the same and then compare them. Work together to prioritize them according to timelines that you both agree upon.
Put this in a document that you can continually refer back to whether it’s during your consistent one-on-one meetingss (which you should be having, since so much can get lost via email).
When new things come up and the scope changes (which they always do!) refer back to the document and double-confirm with them. Remind them that you really want to focus on making the best product you can, which means that if you’re doing one thing, you’re not doing another thing. Something’s gotta give.
Be more productive
Sometimes it can feel like we’re constantly being pulled in different directions. To deal with a 24/7 job, you need to have a game plan for how you’re going to do the most amount of work in the least amount of time.
- Know when and where you are most productive. In the morning? At home? See if you can make the case to your manager on the benefits of having workplace flexibility. If they’re nervous about letting you work from home, test it out one day every month and send them a report of everything you did. You’ll ease 'em into it, and they’ll see how much work you can accomplish when you’re not surrounded by colleagues constantly wanting to talk to you.
- Organize a rockstar to-do list that helps you determine what you need to do, what you can defer, things to delegate, and things you can drop.
- Put it in categories of house on fire, nice to have, maybe next week. In the morning, go over it again and move things around during the day accordingly.
- Pick three that if you don’t do, you’re screwed. Move the rest of them to an entirely different paper that you hide.
- Batch similar tasks. Different tasks demand different types of thinking, so it makes sense to allow your mind to continue to flow with its current zone rather than switching unnecessarily to something that’s going to require you to re-orient.
Set yourself up for success
What kind of environment helps you feel calm and ready to take on the world? Even if you’re not conscious of it, clutter can really add to the chaos that is a 24/7 job.
- Clean up your space.
- Close browser windows.
- Put your phone in another room where you can still hear it but you won’t mindlessly check it.
- Listen to songs on repeat to get in the zone.
- Surround yourself with things that make you feel good: plants, photographs, affirmations.
Easier said than done, right? The biggest boundary that I think most of us struggle with is with our inboxes. By the time I reach inbox zero, it seems 100 more emails pop up—with no end in sight. The best way I’ve teamed the email beast is by not responding. Seriously. I hide my inbox using the Inbox When Ready plug-in and often will put up an away message that instructs people to put TIME SENSITIVE in the subject line. Train yourself to only check your emails at certain points during the day, and as you did with your to-do list, categorize them by urgency. Here are some other ways to communicate boundaries:
- What boundaries do you need to protect your well-being? Notice the areas where you currently feel frustrated, stressed, or overwhelmed, and how, when, and by whom these boundaries are being crossed. Keep a log of this.
- Challenge the stories that hold you back. When it comes to setting boundaries, we often catastrophize about the consequences of saying "no" to people at work. What if it upsets them, or even puts your job at risk? Ask yourself: “What am I afraid will happen if I do?”
- Start with one conversation. Don't try to set all your boundaries at once. Take it one conversation at a time and practice identifying, asking for and keeping a boundary. Make the space for self-reflection and write out what you need to say this person to help you feel more confident about honoring the boundaries you require.
- Notice what works, adjust what doesn’t and keep moving forward to make these conversations an effective part of the way you work.
- Enforce your boundaries. Create a plan of action for what will happen when your boundaries are crossed.
- Be sure to compassionately let people know when you feel your boundaries are not being respected (most people will mean no malice, but may be unaware of the impact their behavior is having on you). Communicate clearly what choices you will need to make in order to honor the boundaries you’ve set to ensure you can successfully support yourself, your team and your organization.
- Pay attention to what works. When you begin progressing and setting better boundaries, give yourself credit for each step forward. Setting boundaries takes practice so give yourself permission to keep learning and growing knowing that this is a skill vital for your success and happiness.
The worst thing you can feel is out of control of your time, so find small ways to regain some of it. Licensed social worker and career coach Melody Wilding suggests finding things in your environment that you can tweak. She had a client who felt like she was never getting things done, so she identified her calendar as a way to regain some of that control. People were just grabbing open times, so instead of playing defense, she proactively told her teammates when she could and could not meet, and made sure her calendar reflected that.
Make sure you’re taking care of yourself. (Seriously.)
Whether it’s getting enough sleep, eating well, or something else, it’s easy to forget to do this when you’re super busy. But trust me, it’s imperative. It doesn’t have take much time or money; even just taking five minutes in the morning to meditate counts. You are reminding yourself that your health comes above all else. (Remember, you gotta put on your oxygen mask before anyone else’s.) And when you do spend your Saturday lying in bed, eating Seamless and watching Southern Charm, relish in it. You’ve certainly earned it.
The founder of Ladies Get Paid, Claire Wasserman is an educator, coach, and podcaster who helps women navigate their professional options to find fulfilling career paths.
What should Claire write about next? Send your questions and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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