Before I left a 20 year career in advertising and marketing, I had many days where I thought things like:
- I’m at the end of my rope.
- I’ll never make it through the day.
- This will never get done.
- I’m too busy to function.
- I have nothing left to give.
Dramatic? Perhaps. Honest? Yes.
So I stayed up late, worked through lunch and kept piling it on. I knew I could do it all. I was proud of doing it all. While I may have been able to do it all at work, on reflection, I can see that other things and areas of my life were quietly suffering.
When you fall out of love with your work, or your job is wearing you down, the destruction is often so gradual, that you can’t respond to it. You know something isn’t right, but it doesn’t have a name or a solution. When you start thinking or saying words like exhausted, trapped, and hopeless, it’s time for a change.
Today, while I run my own microbusiness and have the enormous blessing of choosing creative projects I love and working with people I love, I still have days (like today) where everything seems to be happening at once. This morning, I looked at my list of things to do and felt the pressure of a crazy day approaching.
With several projects in different stages and a trip to Austin tomorrow morning, I am feeling a little overwhelmed. The way I see it, I have two choices:
- I can work all day and into the night and try to wrap everything up before I leave tomorrow morning.
- I can remember why I walked away from a regular paycheck, work for a few hours, and then take my daughter to lunch.
Both choices require compromise. With option 1, I will make small sacrifices in health, time with family and the quality of my work. Maybe no one will notice, but I’ll know. With option 2, I’ll compromise my deadlines and perhaps some free time over the weekend.
If you work for someone else, you might not have the same choices, but you do have options. If you are overwhelmed or unhappy at work, think about incorporating a few of the following strategies:
For a better work life …
Leave the office.
If you work in a structured office setting that is a high stress environment, leave the office during your work day. Walk away from your desk and go outside for a 15 minute walk. Fresh air and movement will relieve some of your tension.
Stand while you work.
Create a make-shift stand up desk so you have an alternative to sitting all day. You don’t need anything fancy. My standing desk is pictured above.
Standing will improve your health and may even increase your creativity and productivity. As Rob Schwartz, chief creative officer of ad agency TBWA\Chiat\Day LA suggests, “You get more done when you’re standing up,” Schwartz says. “When you’re sitting, you’re naturally recessive, you’re receiving, when you’re standing, you’re ready to do something.”
If you don’t like your job, you probably work with people who are unhappy at work too. It’s nice to know you aren’t alone, but break the habit of complaining and commiserating. Misery loves company and the more company you have, the more miserable you will be.
Journal your frustration.
If your boss treats you like crap, or you have to sit through mindless meetings, write about it privately. There is hope in ink on paper.
Ask about an alternative schedule.
Switching your schedule up can have a big impact on your work flow and attitude towards your job. Ask about leaving an hour early or starting an hour late. If you don’t ask, you’ll never know.
Plan your escape.
Maybe you aren’t in a position to walk away from a stressful job, but you can start something new. When I started this site, I was still working full-time and dreading every Monday morning meeting. Starting something new, while initially more work, gave me something to look forward to and be excited about. One year and five months later, I lost my job on purpose to do work I love. I’m so glad I didn’t wait another day or month or year to get started.
Life is too good to stay at a bad job for too long. While there are unloveable tasks in every career, when you start to do work you really care about, it feels less like a job and more like a piece of the good life you so deserve.
If you were wondering about my dilemma above, I picked option 2 and took my daughter out to lunch. I’m delivering this post a little late and there will be a few things I won’t get to today. On the upside, I’ll be refreshed and excited for my trip tomorrow and will get back to my work rested, motivated and creatively charged.