Learning to take a step back from work

- Mindfulness

by Jennifer Riggins

Some that may read this (like, ahem, my husband) may find this quite hypocritical. I love my job, but I’m not very good at taking a step back.

That’s become glaringly apparent as I’m well into my third trimester of my rather complicated first pregnancy. Soon, I’ll have to take a step back from work for six weeks (unpaid) mat leave and then, you know, figure out how to run my own business while cultivating a tiny, needy human. From the tiny human standpoint, it’s thrilling. From the workaholic standpoint living in the excessively expensive London, it’s terrifying.

So, in the spirit of our month dedicated to four more ways for people be happy at work and in life — and in the pursuit of sanity — I thought I better start looking at ways to take steps back from work.

Let me be the first to admit that I have a problem, but I’m not alone. We live in a world now that touts hard work to the excess. We are often even proud of our suffering. A teacher friend always talks about those martyr teachers who go into work sick. We of course know that teachers are heroes but they can’t do much when they’re sick and the germs will just fester and come around again in a crowded classroom.

So how exactly do we take a step back from work, particularly when we love it? (Or, perhaps, especially if we don’t?)

Delegate or ask for help

We could say that one of the hardest things for us Type A personalities when thinking about stepping back is our egos — trusting that someone will be able to do it just the way we like it in just the same way. Except our way isn’t (necessarily) the best and if we are going to burn out or simply not have enough time to get it done to that quality level anyway, then what’s the point of gatekeeping our tasks?

I’ve found that sometimes it helps to explain the context of the situation we are facing, especially if external factors are proving troublesome. Then, to look for specific people who are best equipped to do specific tasks and then try to delegate to them.

There’s no doubt that it’s hard to admit that you can’t complete all you’ve signed up for, but it’s better than working yourself sick and then not delivering on anything anyways.

Just say no!

Not to unnecessarily quote Nancy Reagan, but sometimes we just have to say no!

Author Adam Grant points out that there are definitely people who love giving help, but these tend to be the same people who are excessively uncomfortable asking for it. And Timemagazine has written about how the secret to happiness is helping others. But the problem is that we often say yes too much and need to set our own limits.

I have that wonderful entrepreneurial problem of being excessively in demand. And that over the last couple years my clients have gotten better and better! (Yes, yes, whinge, whinge.) But I find it harder and harder to say no. And with my time less and less (you have no idea how much time doctors’ appointments eat up) and with my mind more all over the place (you try growing a tiny human), I have less time to commit. So I run the risk of not only over-committing and driving myself crazy but also delivering poorly and late.

Since you run the risk of saying no and losing a client, I wouldn’t say no to something you are interested in from the start. Instead, I would say take that half an hour to meet with them and figure out what they are looking for. Explain your situation, how you would love to work with them, but you simply don’t have time right now to give it your all.

Today, I want to focus on another kind of help: helping people connect to each other. I got the idea from David Logan’s Tribal Leadership where he describes it as creating triadic relationships. Practically it means connecting two people who don’t know each other, but who can help each other in achieving something great. So my challenge for today is: start building at least one triadic relationship.”

Go ahead and introduce them to the right person or persons in your network to complete this task. This means your former, potential or future client will stay in your network, you still help to solve their problem so they keep you in mind in the future, and you help out a trusted friend!

And then as for saying no on a team, you have to work harder to set boundaries and to make it clear what you can and cannot do. At least your teammates understand that it doesn’t help anyone if you do something subpar.  And don’t be afraid to repeat the ask, when you simply can’t get it done — your teammates are probably just as busy as you and things get missed.

How do you take a step back? Help me out by offering your advice below!

And don’t forget to learn more paths to happiness via the resources below:

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