Working in the digital marketing profession means putting in some long hours, particularly during peak promotional seasons. As an entrepreneur and business owner, I know the feeling all too well, as the concept of the 40-hour work week becomes more of a myth, with work days extending to twelve-fourteen hours and sometimes longer.
No matter how passionate you are about your business or career, it can be easy to feel the effects of professional ‘burn out.’ Even the most successful and driven individuals develop the type of mental exhaustion that makes it difficult to perform at the level that they are used to. The volume or quantity of work may not change, but intuitive professionals feel that the quality of their work may be impacted.
What if I was to tell you that from my personal experience, I know first-hand that a lack of downtime can harm your productivity in measurable ways? Creating the discipline to allow yourself time to literally “do nothing” is difficult, but it is also a habit that professionals who want to succeed can build on. You can break through the fear of slowing down, and realise some significant personal benefits by giving yourself time to regroup and recharge.
Why We Are Afraid of Doing ‘Nothing’
Did you know that humans are physiologically hardwired to stay busy? In an interesting study by Hsee Yang, “Idleness aversion and the need for justifiable busyness” adults demonstrate an aversion to idleness because staying busy stimulates an emotional feeling of happiness and productivity. The research identified two groups of people who were forced to be busy (with assigned activities) and those that opted to be busy, delegating work to preoccupy themselves.
In the study, it was determined that since human beings are understood to be the only species capable of imagination, and the ability to look forward into the future, that we are most content when we feel we are building toward positive outcomes. Whether that means a higher income, or a better quality of life, our personal goals are created by the future that we envision for ourselves. When we are not actively doing anything to make those goals happen, or advance our progression to the future we are trying to create, we begin to feel that we are not actualising our potential and we aren’t climbing the steps on the ladder that will get us to the destination we want to arrive at.
Part of the psychological burden of being enlightened and able to ruminate about our future, also involves our ability to think about our own mortality. Many psychologists agree that human beings use this sense of mortality to create a schedule and progression of where they want to be (and when). The ticking clock of our own lifespan motivates many to pack as much productivity as they can, into each day or week, with end-goals in mind.
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Taking time off, can be perceived as slowing down progress, and reducing our ability to realize those goals on the schedule that we create for ourselves. For driven and goal -focussed individuals, it’s unacceptable to think that we delaying things that matter most to us; like financial or business growth, personal security, or retirement.
The ‘Busy Person’ Guilt Complex
We measure success by the amount of work and effort that someone is willing to pour into actualising their goals, and so, when we see someone taking a lot of time off, we naturally make a negative assumption about the individual. We think they are not “trying” or committed to their work, their business or to improving their career or life situation.
How powerful is the guilt that prevents workers and professionals from taking time off? In 2014, Oxford Economics published a report that revealed American’s were using only 77% of their paid time off. In fact, the report confirmed that use of vacation time was at a historic 40-year low for the average American worker, adding up to an estimated 169 million forfeited vacation days, and approximately $52 Bn dollars in lost benefits.
What Are The Obstacles To Taking Time Off?
In addition to a cultural preference to stay busy, there are many practical reasons why professionals choose to opt out of vacation time. Workload was cited in the Oxford Economics study, as a key factor that discouraged workers from taking advantage of downtime. The global economy and recessionary climate has restructured many roles and, in SMEs, it’s not uncommon for workers and middle manager to be accountable for tasks that may have been assigned to more than one person in the past.
Being “good at what you do” can be a double-edged sword for entrepreneurs and career professionals, when the delegation of important tasks is not possible. Do you ever have the feeling that you can do something better, and faster yourself? You are not alone and this train of thought can derail entrepreneurs and leaders into overloading their schedule, and spreading themselves thinly over multiple projects, rather than training and developing other team members, who can contribute.
Corporate culture can inadvertently (and sometimes deliberately) contribute to the vilification of down-time. While most employees are entitled to paid time off annually, management may reward workers who put in long hours, as they appear to be more committed to the bottom line. It’s not surprising to see employee turnover and issues with retention are rampant in organisations that fail to encourage balance between work and personal time.
Why ‘Time Off’ To Recharge Matters
Working long hours, every day of the week and forgoing even short periods of vacation is counterproductive for professionals. It is a lesson that I struggled to learn, as I progressed through my own career development and into my own startup. I wanted my business to grow exponentially, and I was convinced that working sub-human hours every day was the path I needed to take, if I wanted to succeed.
There are personal and professional costs to running at peak production for a long duration of time. What are some of the signs that you are heading for a career burnout?
- You may feel tired all the time.
- You can experience health problems like hypertension (high-blood pressure), weight gain, or changes to your mood including depression, anxiety and irritability.
- You can begin to lose the passion that you innately have for your business, or for your profession. This can manifest as a general disinterest in projects and outcomes, or a noticeable decline in the quality of your work.
- Personal relationships can suffer. From family to friendships, the social imbalance of “all work no play” can create distance between people you care about, and contribute to a disruptive feeling of isolation.
- Overall satisfaction with your quality of life can be impacted, leading you to resent the hours you work, and professionals can experience a sense of grief and disillusionment.
When you look at celebrity magnates and CEOs you admire on vacation, try to focus less on the fact that they can vacation because they are successful, and consider that they may be successful, because they learned how to strike a critical balance between work and downtime.
Creative problem solving, ideas and strategy are born from feeling refreshed and balanced in all aspects of life… and that starts with giving yourself permission to unplug, and recharge.
[This post by Pratik Dholakiya first appeared on LinkedIn and has been reproduced with permission.]