If I had asked you in 2019 what you would do with an extra day every week, how would you have answered? You might have said you’d spend more time with your kids, read, take up a hobby, exercise. Or maybe you would have said you’d catch up on sleep.
I don’t think you would have said you would fill the saved time with more email and meetings. And yet in 2020 and 2021, when many of us were working from home, we got our commute time (up to 10 hours per week) “refunded”, we perpetuated our already hectic lifestyles. Instead of recognising the time refund as a gift, we simply absorbed it back into our busy, out-of-control, overwhelmed lives.
In Australia, we work 3.2 billion hours a year in unpaid overtime, we have 134 million days of accrued annual leave, and 3.8 million of us don’t take lunch breaks. We are addicted to being busy and it’s preventing us from getting the rest we need to perform at our best. This is what is leading to burnout, and here are some simple ways to overcome it:
1. Wipe the mind
Write down everything you have on your mind right now. This is not a to do list but a brain dump. List everything from ‘replace batteries in smoke detectors’ to ‘research next holiday’ to ‘prepare client presentation’. Writing things down produces a sense of relief. It’s like a weight being lifted from your shoulders that creates a sense of relaxation and control.
2. Book a meeting with yourself
How do you feel when a meeting is cancelled? If you’re like most people, the primary emotion would be relief because you have a whole hour to get some work done. Rather than being at the mercy of someone else, schedule a one-hour meeting with yourself every day that you can look forward to. A break from having to be attentive to others, when you can focus on what is important to you.
3. Defrag your day
For many of us, our workdays always feel busy but are not productive. You may not consider yourself a multitasker, but you may be a ‘project jumper’. Jumping from task to task in an effort to keep chipping away at your never-ending to-do list. Chunk and batch your similar or like work together so that you can maintain focus. Time block these activities to free up time later in the day.
4. Meetings Black Out
Don’t schedule meetings before 10am and after 3pm. This protects your most productive and mentally alert time in the morning, and the time in the afternoon for you to wrap things up so you can get away from work at a decent hour. Slow down, take stock and operate with a 15% margin or buffer so that you can sustain your performance over time. This might seem arbitrary, or too little, and in many ways it’s more about what happens in our heads than about watching the clock.
Strive to feel as though you are performing at a steady pace, always with this tiny bit of room to breathe, not as though you are constantly catching up or struggling. You will feel in control instead of overwhelmed and exhausted from pushing yourself (or those around you) too far.
Donna McGeorge is a best-selling author and global authority on productivity. Her book series, It’s About Time, covers meetings, structing your day, and doing more with less.