I’ve just returned from a wonderful writer’s conference that left me extremely inspired, motivated, and exhausted. Though I had intended to keep up with my blog writing, book revisions, as well as an online class I’m taking, I’ve fell woefully behind. It’s always wonderful to get away, but it’s always a bit painful to return when work has piled up and the afterglow of time off turns to flushes of frustration. Sound familiar?
Many people who fear drowning in work that has piled up while they’re away often choose not to take time off, feeling that a vacation, or even a few days off, is more trouble than it’s worth. Some of us even feel guilty for taking time away. The problem isn’t taking time for ourselves, but perhaps it’s our mindlessness.
If you continue to do something at work the way you’ve always done it because it’s always been done that way, this is the essence of mindlessness. Letting work pile up while on vacation because you think you’re the only one who can do it may be creating the problem you’re trying to avoid. Social psychologist, Ellen Langer, author of eleven books and over 200 articles on mindfulness, believes that when it comes to work/life balance, we often are quite the opposite of mindful. Perhaps rules have been put in place by others or even ourselves that are too rigid or unattainable. Langer says rules and goals should guide you, not govern you.
“Question the belief that you’re the only one who can do it, that there’s only one way to do it, and that the company will collapse if you don’t do it. When you open your views to be mindful, the stress just dissipates,” Langer says.
Sometimes there isn’t any way to “balance” it all, and if we think we can, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. Although my time off didn’t lead to a company collapse, it did cause a lot of anxiety as I worried about what waited for me on my return. Now that I am back, I have to decide which writing job to tackle first while finding time to finish a drywall project, reseed my yard, spray the fruit trees, and plant a garden. In the past, if I choose to write, I’d feel pangs of guilt for not cleaning house or mowing the yard. By approaching each task mindfully, procrastination and regret, Langer believes, fade away. “. . . If you know why you’re doing something, you don’t take yourself to task for not doing something else. If you’re fully present when you decide to prioritize this task or work at this firm or create this product or pursue this strategy, why would you regret it?”
Tonight, I’ve decided I’m going to work in the garden, and I’m going to do so with my full attention and energy. Tomorrow, perhaps, I’ll get back to the book revisions with my full attention and energy, unless the day unfolds with a different priority. If it does, I’ll adjust, and I’ll leave the feelings of guilt buried in the garden.
(Excerpts of Langer interview from Harvard Business Review)