One of the most impactful things I’ve learned over the last few years is to get better at looking after myself.
I used to think that I had to satisfy everyone else’s needs before my own. I would burn myself out trying to keep everyone else happy and be worried about dropping something or missing something or letting someone down.
I’d spend so much energy trying to stay on top of everything that eventually everything would crumble.
When I was employed, every few months or so I’d end up needing a mental health day… except I didn’t realise that’s what I was doing. I’d pushed myself so hard that I was physically worn out and feeling very ill.
I’d ignore the initial signs of pressure and stress because I was “strong” so I could push on through. The only way my body could get me to take a break was to give me physical symptoms – IBS, headaches, extreme fatigue.
I’d give in, take myself off to bed for a day and as my mind slowed down I’d get a new perspective, things would settle, and the physical symptoms would disappear.
What was interesting was that when I did this, the people I let down rarely cared as much as I thought – they weren’t as dependent on me as my ego wanted me to believe.
Then a coach introduced me to a new way of thinking about productivity:
- she encouraged me to experiment with taking a break as soon as I noticed I felt stressed.
- instead of pushing myself to complete a task when things weren’t flowing, she suggested I step away and go for a walk (or something to settle my mind).
- she got me to notice when I was most creative and impactful, and I discovered that this was usually when I felt rested and had invested in myself.
There is one specific instance I remember as an “aha moment”.
I was trying to write a blog about “How to get out of a low mood” and it just wasn’t flowing. It was one of those times when you just sit there and stare at the screen and all the words you try just feel wrong, so I decided it was about time I experimented to take the things I was writing about to the next level.
Instead of pushing myself to finish before I took a break, I got up, left things mid-way through, went out for a run and took some time out for me.
When I got back later and sat down to complete my work it took me about 15 minutes to pull it all together. I know that if I’d kept on pushing through I would have been there 3 hours later, and in an even worse mood too.
The big insight was when I realised that including the run it had taken me under 2 hours to complete my work, and I’d enjoyed it much more. Much more effective than sitting there staring at a screen for 3 hours, and I’d had some time for myself too!
Now, in this example, I could take the risk and deliver “late” because the only stakeholder was me. I know that it can be much harder when you’ve made a commitment to other people.
But, over the years I’ve continued to experiment with these ideas, getting brave enough to prioritise my own well-being and step away from things early, even if it might mean letting other people down.
What I’ve started to discover is magical. When I look after myself and remove the pressure, not only do I tend to deliver faster, but I also have better ideas, create new opportunities, and am more interested in what I’m doing.
I enjoy the things I do more, spend less energy worrying about things, and as a result, I end up taking less time for me.
I don’t expect you to read this and take my word for it. To fully get these ideas you need to see them for yourself. You need to experiment too:
- start small, pick a task you’re pushing yourself to do, and instead of working hard to get it finished with the break as a reward, give yourself a treat now, and notice how it affects your performance.
- get interested in the difference in your productivity and creativity before you take a holiday and afterwards.
- pick something that you love to get absorbed in and give yourself permission to immerse yourself in it for a few weeks. Notice the impact this has on the way you approach other tasks.
Play with these ideas, and, for the month of August, why not experiment with looking after yourself and putting yourself first…
If you’d like to exlpore this further, share and reflect on your experiences and get some ideas, come over and chat with us my Authentic Visibility for Women In Tech Facebook community.
If you’d like some one-to-one support to explore these ideas, book an initial conversation with me to find out how I can support you.
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