Don’t try to do it all

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On the days I sit at my computer from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m., I feel great about how much I’ve dedicated to my work but feel like I’ve neglected my health and relationships. When I take an afternoon off to drive a friend to an important medical appointment, I feel bad for not giving my work enough attention. I’m often distracted when relaxing at the spa on a weekday, wondering what kinds of emails are pilling up without my constant attention.

With this concussion, my inability to do it all has been highlighted. Each day, I’m supposed to work for 15 minutes five to six times, leaving at least an hour and a half break to rest in between. I need to do a number of brain exercises, make sure I’m eating healthy and drinking plenty of water, do a bit of housework so it doesn’t pile up to an unmanageable amount, and connect with friends to keep from getting too isolated and depressed. I’m also supposed to fit two short walks into each day and do some exercises for my neck every second day. And I need to push my brain a bit by re-introducing activities from my pre-concussion life, such as reading books, shopping and watching movies.

With a brain that isn’t functioning fully, this is overwhelming. I found myself with mad anxiety and a fatigued brain when I tried to get through my full to-do list before crashing for the night.

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Examples of how I’ve been structuring my days since being back to work with a concussion.

What helped a great deal was making detailed schedules for each day that included time to exercise and do chores, and told me when to eat. Through doing this, I realized that I can’t do everything in one day; there simply isn’t enough time. And that extends beyond this concussion.

Work-life balance is a confusing concept. There’s not much involved in work compared to the rest of life (sleep, food, play), and sometimes one component of life becomes more important than any other, requiring everything else to be dropped. My concussion is a great example. From the moment I crashed my car, my health became my number one priority, and my relationships and work had to be set aside.

Striving for a balance where every aspect of life is getting enough attention on a daily basis is unrealistic. Part of the reason why I wanted to freelance was to have the flexibility in my life to be there for others when they need help, so I shouldn’t be stressed when doing so.

I think some of this pressure to have it all and do it all has come from outside sources. In our society, we talk a lot about striking the perfect work-life balance. But, lately, I’ve heard from Paul Jarvis, Jean Chatsky and the rad women of Budgets and Cents about why they think this is unrealistic, and it’s encouraged me to examine my own life.

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For me, striving for a work-life balance is beyond unrealistic. It’s damaging. My chest is frequently buzzing with anxiety. Many days, I can use this energy to fuel productivity. Some days, I become so overwhelmed by everything I feel I need to do, the buzzing paralyzes me and I’m unable to answer text messages, check emails or focus on one task long enough to finish.

I’ve decided trying to strike a perfect balance is another instance where giving up is beneficial. I’m going to focus on no longer striving to have my entire life under control everyday. I just want to be able to pay enough attention to everything to be happy, and that might mean letting some things fall to the wayside permanently (so long, folding laundry!) and others for short periods of time.

What’s your relationship with the work-life balance concept like? Does it help you make sure you’re not spending too little time anywhere or, like me, does it make you feel like you’re failing somehow?


You may have noticed this came out on Monday instead of Friday. That’s because I’m getting ready to launch a weekly newsletter that will send motivational words to freelancers and creatives who struggle with anxiety. It’ll be similar to the blog, but more tailored and concise, with action steps you can take to better your life and career. It’ll be coming out every Monday morning to help folks start their week off with excitement and confidence. Whoop!

Sleep

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I know sleep is important. But I also know that I can run fine off of six hours of sleep a night. At least that’s what I thought.

A combination of sleeping only three to six hours a night, not eating a good breakfast with iron and protein (very important for a vegan) and hitting my head on a locker a couple weeks ago left me in pretty rough shape.

Doing freelance work as a journalist, I always have dozens of things on my to-do list and multiple places to go a day. So passing out from exhaustion and not taking proper care of myself is not okay. It’s not professional. It’s not healthy. But it is a good wake-up call.

I’ve come to a point where I’m so busy I need to schedule sleep into my life. So starting this week, I’m going to make sure to be in bed by 9:00 p.m. every night with an iron and protein packed smoothie waiting for me in the fridge when Working Titles wakes me up on my phone at 4:30 a.m.