Denver Bar Association
March 2007
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Time to Call it Quits

by Debbie Williams

Burning the midnight oil? Take a step back to re-evaluate your priorities.

Used with permission from the Organized Times website:

You would think that quitting work for the day would be a simple thing to do, because it’s so hard to get started in the first place, right? But all too often, calling it quits for the day is something that many of us just can’t do.

Our workdays are getting longer, in spite of the technowizardry at our fingertips: cell phones, voicemail, e-mail and instant messaging. The workaholic of the ’80s — in a business suit and downtown corporate office — has been replaced with a contractor in shorts and sandals working on a report poolside. And then there’s the issue of constant interruptions once you do manage to leave the office, wherever it may be. You can run, but you cannot hide; with accessibility comes frustration and irritability.

What’s the answer to this problem? Is there a need to limit the hours of our workday, closing the door on works-in-progress until another day? The answer is yes if you need to eat, sleep or have any kind of life outside your virtual office. And managing time, the hours in each day, involves managing the people in your life, as well as that list of "to do’s" in your planner.

Out to Lunch

Whether you work in an office, at home, or in the field, you need to take breaks to recharge your batteries. You’re not going to be able to concentrate on closing a sale, writing a proposal or crunching numbers in a sales projection if you forgot to eat lunch and your sugar levels are scrambling your gray cells.

Remember in grade school when they told us that breakfast was the most important meal of the day? There is something to be said for working on a full stomach, with lots of protein and carbohydrates to fuel your concentration. Keeping the levels of energy constant will enable you to carry on, but you can’t do it on sheer willpower.

If you can’t take a lunch break, at least keep snacks near your work area for refueling. Tuck peanut butter crackers into the laptop case, stash a small cooler in your car with milk and sandwiches, or brown bag it for a nutritious meal. Get up, stretch, walk around the room, or take a nice walk. If your job is fast-paced, complete with busy phones and someone always wanting a little piece of your attention, then leave the building.

Many people combine lunch breaks with their daily exercise, walking laps around the outside of the building, inside the parking garage, or working out in the nearby gym. Eat a light lunch at your desk or in your car, then take off and let off some steam!

Post Your Business Hours

This sounds like an obvious tip for reducing stress and workload, but establishing work hours, even if you work at home, sets boundaries and helps you pace yourself. Early in my virtual organizing business, I learned from others working at home that it was crucial to set business hours, not giving in to the temptation of being available 24/7. Checking e-mail each time you hear the incoming message, responding to every instant message you receive, or running for the phone each time it rings is not conducive to stress management.

Write down your business hours and post them on your bulletin board to remind you to have a life away from work. Whether you work in a hospital, from your car or at home, you will see a marked improvement in your stress level and efficiency once you learn to walk away. It’s all too easy to get into a habit of working an hour late today, two hours late tomorrow, and then, within a week, you’re working "overtime" as a rule rather than as an exception. Entrepreneurs are probably the worst at this, which is pretty ironic when you think about it.

The reason most of us start our own business is to be our own boss, set our own hours and answer to no one. However, for many of us, we’re answering to ourselves, and we have set our sights on a prize so high, so unattainable, that we cannot reach it.

Gone Fishing

You don’t often see this sign hanging from the door of a busy office building or posted on a website. That really is a shame. Today we have more vacation days, more paid holidays, and shorter mandatory workdays than ever before. Yet, we’re too tired to enjoy the fruits of our labor, too tired to play with the toys we’ve bought with all that money we earned. Why not take a mental health day now and then? In school, you didn’t think twice about playing hooky. Now that you’re a grown-up, take a day off for fishing, surfing, shopping or reading. Don’t make any plans at all and see where the day leads you. Or, make reservations at a spa or your favorite restaurant, schedule it in your planner and try not to cancel. Go ahead, you deserve it!

Now that you’re the boss, it might be more difficult to get away and take time for yourself. Your entire day is planned, from meetings and sales appointments to dinner with the inlaws and vacations with the family. Why not make an appointment with yourself? Don’t just do this once and forget it; try it again and you may find that you like it!

Marriage counselors suggest that couples have a weekly date night, spending time alone together without kids, work, or other distractions. It sparks the old flames that brought them together so long ago. If you don’t take care of yourself, you certainly can’t effectively take care of others in your care. Office managers, school principals, nurse administrators, CEOs and small business owners need TLC, but usually are the ones giving it rather than being on the receiving end.

It’s up to you to make an appointment with yourself on a routine basis. Start out weekly, then decrease to twice a month. If something unexpectedly comes up, you can always get back in the swing of things next month. Be a tourist in your hometown, or take a day trip. Do things on your "someday list" and live each week as if it were your last in that area of the country. Even if you have lived your entire life in the same town, there always is something new to see or experience. Things change, and you can too.

In Summary

Set your hours, take a day off and keep a comfortable distance from your work. Re-evaluate your schedule in two or three weeks, and then try to cut back from work even further. It’s amazing what you can achieve when you know you have a deadline, even if it is self-imposed. And, surprisingly enough, all that work will still be waiting for you in the morning!

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