Back in May, on the corner of burnout and breakdown, I blurted out to my partner, “Something needs to change. I can’t keep doing this”. To be clear: I wasn’t talking about our relationship. Our relationship is wonderful, it was my career that was flying off the rails. I did the mental math: 16 clients, no free time, unhappy, tired, bloated, not thrilled about work either.
Let me start with how we got here. I’m what you might call an overachiever, recovering habitual email-checker, to-do lister. I have never intentionally slowed down in my entire life. That means a lot of saying “yes”, people-pleasing and putting everyone else’s needs before my own without any regard to my own well-being and happiness. Sounds pleasant, right?
I basically “yes” ’d my way right into burnout, believing that if I wasn’t working meant I wasn’t making progress.
Here’s the thing though, if you sit in meetings with my clients, you’ll hear me preach boundaries, knowing your worth, and standing in your power. I was the queen of boundaries…until it came to my own life.
Reality check: I’ve owned a business for four and a half years and was not acting like the boss. I was an employee to my own business answering all its demands without question. Seven months into my boundaries setting journey, I’m going to share what’s working after overhauling my business and life.
- I gave myself a deadline and then a clean slate. When I realised just how out of control my life had become, I gave myself a deadline. In 30 days I would close out every existing client and then promptly give myself a clean slate to start over. I don’t advocate for losing sleep over your work, but I worked night and day to close out those projects. When you are determined to make it to the finish line, you’ll work hard as hell to get there. I hit my deadline, had a celebration, and promised myself things would be different going forward.
- I ordered a book that turned me into a morning routine person. During this whole near burnout experience, I did what any sensible person does in a breakdown: I ordered a book. Essentialism by Greg McKeown to be exact. Let me be clear, I had not completed a book in (checks notes) close to three years. I decided to read a chapter each morning. I wrapped up the first chapter one morning and had a fleeting thought, “maybe I’ll take a walk this morning”. A walk?! First I’m reading, now I’m walking like someone with a morning routine?!
I didn’t just take a walk that morning, I walked three whole miles. Just me and all the thoughts swirling around my brain for 45 minutes. I couldn’t even recall the last time I spent 45 minutes like that.
I almost hated how much I loved it. It was cleansing. It felt like such a win even before my “workday” started. In the beginning, I felt like I was skipping class or playing hooky.
Here’s the thing I realise now: I am an entrepreneur with complete ownership over my life and schedule but I wasn’t treating myself that way. I created a narrative in my head that I didn’t have the time or energy or ability to have 45 minutes to myself in the morning. You’re probably thinking “That sounds ridiculous”. That’s because it is. That’s because so often on this journey we get so caught up in limiting beliefs that we aren’t capable.
It’s been a few months of walking and reading. I’ve let go of the control and checking my email first thing in the morning. It’s not always perfect and the limiting beliefs still creep in sometimes, but the practice of dedicating time to myself keeps me focused on the voices I should be listening to and the ones getting in the way.
- “You’re doing great. This is terrible” Part of this journey to taking back my time includes a renewed focus on my health. I started working out at a new gym last week and a guy yelled “You’re doing great. This is terrible.” as he passed me. I was *very clearly* barely making it through the class and that encouragement (?) actually made a difference. This is a new thing for me, a firm (an affirmative) push out of my comfort zone.
Those two sentences define this season for me. Everything is new, everything in some way can feel terrible. Oftentimes it can feel like we’re just pushing through to the next day. I’d like to offer an upgrade, a daily affirmation if you will:
“You’re doing great. This is hard, and I will see it through”
Changing my perspective and my language has been a powerful tool in a year that seems to constantly shift. Speaking to myself kindly and with grace gives me the power to show up imperfect but present for everyone around me.
- Slowing down time and stepping away. For far too long, I bought into hustle culture that if I wasn’t working, I wasn’t making progress. False. Doing the work you love and find deeply fulfilling does not require the self-sacrifice of your sanity.
Let me repeat: you do NOT have to empty yourself to do fulfilling work. Here are a few practical boundaries I’ve placed in my life to maximise my time in the office and out of the office:
- Morning routine (see above)
- Working out 3x a week
- Focused work mid-morning (post morning routine). I am most creative in the morning so anything creative happens in the morning. All admin happens in the afternoon on select days of the week.
- Eating 2 larger meals per day of whole foods. I’ve found this works best for me and provides me the most energy.
- Only checking email once a day and only responding once a day in batches.
- Deleting all work apps off my phone on the weekends.
- Note: I delete email, Slack, and Trello off my phone Friday at noon. This is easier with iOS 14 because I can just hide them from my home screen making it less likely I’ll click on them. On weeks I really need to focus and have major deadlines, I don’t download those apps again until the following week so I have limited distractions. I take this week by week but I’ve set up client expectations that anything sent afternoon on Friday is answered the following week. This took years and I hope you don’t wait that long to create boundaries that work for you.
Creating boundaries is all about testing and trialing what works for you. It took trial and error to find what works for me and I’m still refining what my days look like. As we navigate this year and look towards 2021, I encourage you to take inventory of your life. What is not serving you? Which limiting beliefs are holding you back from embracing what you want out of life? Then what are the next steps towards leaving some things behind and bringing in new, fresh perspective into your life?