How I’m trying not to burn out
How To Not Be Working
What is my work?
Have you ever really put thought into what’s work for you? In the beginning of her book How to Not Always Be Working Marlee Grace explains this question and really makes you think about it. If you just think, what’s my work, what’s work to me, you might think of the thing you get paid to do. You’re an accountant; your work is accounting. You’re a teacher; your work is teaching. You’re a student; your work is studying (at least most of us here in Finland get paid to do that).
Grace asks you to dig a little deeper. She doesn’t define work as “the thing you get paid to do”. She defines work as the things that feel like work. It isn’t simple, and there are some gray areas (things that don’t feel like work but you do get paid for). Nevertheless, I think this interpretation of “work” is essential to finding out how to not always be working and essentially avoiding burning out.
At the end of each chapter of her book, Grace had a few excercises for the reader. The very first excercise was defining, what’s work to me. Here’s my list:
- Carccia; marketing, customer service, deliveries, packing, franchising (a project that I hope to get paid for working on at some point in the future)
- Hurma Projektit; accounting, sales (a company I do some work for, but don’t really get paid to do so)
- Orion Pharma; marketing (my employer, that does pay me hourly salary)
- Essays / thesis / reading books / self-development type excercises (so the very thing I’m doing right now)
- Life admin type tasks (emails, paying the bills, budgeting, running errands)
- @kiiabujoilee on Instagram (another project that I hope to get paid for working on at some point in the future)
- Drawing on Procreate (again something that I wish I get paid for doing at some point)
So, of the seven things that feel like work on my list, only one is my actual job that I do to get paid regularly. The rest of the things mostly feel like working, even if there isn’t a payslip at the end of the month for me. Of course, there are some gray areas: sometimes for example working on my Instagram account, doing marketing materials for Carccia or drawing on my iPad don’t feel like work. Sometimes they’re fun to do. But at the end of the day, they still are work to me, and even the fun work tasks can exhaust you, if you forget to take breaks to not be working.
Where is my work?
Grace describes different workspaces and contemplates on their effects: does slouching on the couch make you feel powerful or does it feel draining, when after a long work day at the dining table you’re still sitting at the dining table eating dinner with your family? At the end, Grace also explains that a workspace can be a mental choise as well.
For me, I feel like a workspace is definitely more about my mental state than about the physical room I’m working in or desk I’m working at. Because of my work I have space in three different offices in three different cities and even before the current pandemic (but especially now) I do a lot of remote work at home, sitting at my desk that’s in our bedroom. Sometimes I also work on the couch, in my boyfriend’s car, at the dining table in my boyfriend’s parents’ home, in the living room of my parents’ home or in my parents’ RV.
I dream about moving into a two-bedroom apartment, so I could have my own at home office, instead of having my desk and main workspace less than a meter from my bed. If I had that office at home, I could go into it every morning to start my work day and close the door to it in the afternoon to start my free time. But the key here is, that I can achieve the same excact thing with my mindset.
As I already mentioned, remote working this past spring wasn’t that big of a change for me. I think the biggest thing for me has been the fact that my boyfriend has stayed home too, working remotely. Sitting next to each other trying to focus on work was definitely something we both needed some time to get used to. But now, after a couple of months, we have our routines. One of them has been a free time -announcement.
In the morning, we usually ask each other if we have any remote meetings and during which times those are and around what time are we planning on closing our work computers. This way we both have an estimate of how the day is going to go in “our office”. At the end of the work day we have started to say “now I’m on my free time”, to let the other one know we’re done working and also to keep each other accountable, so we can’t work to the late hours of the night. After this free time -announcement, no working is allowed anymore!
How is my work?
This summer I have been working a lot. Two things feel almost like full time jobs (Carccia & Orion Pharma) so I kind of feel like I’m working two jobs and then doing all the other little things on my work list in between these two.
If we talk about hours, this means I’m putting more hours into my work every week than an average full time job requires. My current work hours are around 60-80 each week. I do recognize that this isnt’ sustainable for my health and I do recognize that with this amount of work I also do need to make sure I have that free time and that I’m also not working sometimes. Otherwise I will burn out before the leaves fall off the trees.
One of the excersices Grace tells you to think about closer to the end of the book is this: what does not working feel like for me?
For me, not working feels light. It feels like I’d never have to work again – I forget my work. I forget the report that’s half finished, I forget the pictures that I need to edit by friday, I forget the difficult meeting I had in the morning. I forget that I even have a job. In stead, I focus on the people I’m with, I focus on the fun things we’re doing or I focus on my hobbies, that are not my work (and I’m not trying to get paid to do even in the future). That’s how not working feels like for me.
And to not burn out, to not exhaust myself with my work, I need to remind myself of this feeling regularly. I need to get into that mindset every day, even if it is for just a few minutes. Every now and then I need to take an entire day to feel this way. Or maybe a weekend. To forget, to recharge. Then I’m ready to tackle another Monday again.
Grace, M. 2018. How to Not Always Be Working. Storytel.