The hustle of work is compelling, especially in the States, because of how intertwined it is with our cultural pride and the type of self we’re taught to want to portray.
“A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.” Colin Powell, American statesman and a retired four-star general in the United States Army
“Hard work spotlights the character of people: some turn up their sleeves, some turn up their noses, and some don’t turn up at all.” Sam Ewing, former baseball player for the Chicago White Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays
Hard work is great! It helps us advance as individuals and as a civilization. Overwork, however, is not great.
“Overwork sucks us into a negative spiral: More work causes more stress; increased stress causes our brains to slow down and compromises our emotional intelligence; less creativity and poor people skills harm our ability to get things done…
Many overworkers believe that working more will alleviate stress: If they just finish that project, get that report done, read all that e-mail, they’ll feel less out of control. But of course the work never ends.” Happiness Traps by Annie McKee
As we hustle ourselves into poor heath and unhappiness, it’s tough to set the boundaries that tell us when to stop.
At the start of my current job search, I often felt stressed trying to finish a never-ending task list. No matter how much I did, I felt simultaneously exhausted and unproductive. Prompted by a blog post by Andrew Wilkinson, I took a step back, determined why I was suffering, and created some good-day guidelines.
Terrible Day Traits
- No chillin’ time. Specifically, no chillin’ time with Mark (my significant other).
- Feeling stressed.
- Doing redundant or busy work.
- Not growing or learning anything new.
- Having an unproductive day (and feeling guilty about it).
Good Day Guidelines
- Prioritize relationships over self-assigned tasks. If the promise is just to yourself and not to others, you can postpone it once or twice. Make sure there is a limit on how long or how often you can postpone something. Frequently breaking promises to yourself can feel just as demotivating as breaking promises to others.
- Create a ranked list of daily to-dos. If a new task comes to mind, I immediately note it down for later so I can focus on the task at hand.
- Define the why for iffy tasks. The why needs to be more significant than “because so-and-so asked me to do it” or “other people do it so I think I should do it too.”
- Do one small task each day to reach your personal development goals. On days you don’t have the bandwidth to do big things like helping people with their projects or taking classes, set aside some time to improve yourself in little ways. These are my favorite little growth tasks:
- 20 Minute Progress: Spend 20 minutes three times a week on creating something new. It can be anything from an Illustrator graphic to a job application cover letter.
- 10 Minute Read: Invest 10 minutes a day reading industry related articles. Commenting on these pieces will help build your social presence.
- 20 Minute Activity: Schedule 20 minutes moving around daily. I usually take walks, dance around my apartment, or do stretches.
- Pick the top three to-dos for today and enjoy the win of completing those tasks. Completing what I’ve promised myself I would do that day helps me end the day satisfied.
If you feel like you’re struggling to grasp your happiness, try creating anti-goals. Instead of setting objectives based on aspirations, describe a terrible day and work backwards from there.
Don’t feel guilty about pacing your hustle. Prioritizing health and happiness is a life best practice.