You've likely thought or said this in your lifetime (like yesterday or last week):
I wish there was two of me.
I whispered this to myself recently as I faced over-workload chaos. It prevented me from sleeping well, performing well, and I ate ridiculous foods to the point that I felt my fat swell and smother me from the inside out.
I'm sure you've been here too- trying to ignore the signs that you just need to stop, but you push through the pain instead. You have to finish that project or get ready for that team meeting, so you push yourself so hard until your brain just says NO MORE.
Facing the Truth
My workaholic tendency to getting tasks done elevated my stress level to the point that my brain was shutting down, and I would pace around the office trying to decipher what I would do next. I found that my body was screaming at me:
STOP DOING THIS TO ME!
Later in the week, I was listening to Cynthia Murray, a wise colleague of mine and one of our coaches for the School of Executive Presence, speak on the topic of balancing our lives in spite of work demands. She emphasized the fact that we get caught up in the activities that ultimately don't matter that much. When she said the words...
"...just send one more email...just answer one more email..."
I heard myself saying those words.
Just like an alcoholic is addicted to alcohol and how it makes them feel, many of us are addicted to overactivity and work as rewards us with dopamine. We like to complain about how busy we are and how needed we are, we like the sense of accomplishment, knocking out bunches of emails, checking things off our lists, and clearing our day out before we sit down and rest (which is really not ever). The work is never over because we keep perpetuating more work, and eventually the brain gets tired of being a constant generator of brain crack. Then, It shuts down in rebellion.
No brainer. Literally, no brain power left. Our addiction eats away at our business brains. Our once-sharp thinking becomes dull and disengaged. The very thing we are striving for eludes us.
The Overactivity Addict Test
...I decided to take Labor Day off. No business work at all, period. I was determined to prove to myself I was not an overactivity addict and could control my need to work. The first hour after coffee was easy because I spent it mopping up the floors thanks to some "unexpected presents" left by my two dogs. Once that was over, I began to struggle.
Guilt crept in. Then a bit of anxiousness. I wasn't working, and the thought of deadlines and deliverables danced in my head. It felt like I was on the verge of panic as I headed toward my home office, but I stopped myself.
I chose to fight it. Instead, I went up to my art room to finish a piece of art I started a few months ago. Here was something that I enjoyed doing because it allowed me to access parts of my brain that I don't regularly tap into. I had let my love for art move to a lesser priority so I could send more emails and mark more things off my list. As I painted furiously, a different person emerged, and I produced two paintings that day. My daughter created some things alongside me as well, which made it more fun.
Later as I sat with the family, I reflected upon the day in my recliner. I was feeling rejuvenated and accomplished. Less activity, and I felt like I had spent time engaging in something meaningful. The floors were clean and I had new art on the wall.
A major realization: When we think we are weak because we aren't dishing out a bunch of work, we are actually demonstrating less strength when we can't put the work down and go be with our families.
What Does Unhealthy Busyness Look Like?
According to USA Today by Varsity Tudors, there are 7 signs that you're involved in too many activities or are in an unhealthy state of "busy":
You cannot quiet your mind.
You constantly feel tired, even though you go to bed early.
You get sick or hurt often.
You have frequent schedule overlaps.
You rarely get time to yourself.
You are falling behind on the important things, even forgetting more often.
Does this describe you? And, does this describe you FREQUENTLY? It may be time to change your behavior if you want to retain your mental acuity and sharpness.
In a Harvard Business Review article by Rebecca Knight, How to Break Your Addiction to Work, "workaholics are perfectionists who are always aiming to get ahead. Professional achievements are well and good, of course, but to live a truly full life you also need to “have purpose and draw a boundary line that shows respect for your family life, physical health, and spiritual health."
Overworking and overloading with activities can have a freeze effect on your brain power, the quality in your performance, and your relationships.
7 Brain Tips to Take Your Business Mind Back
Once you recognize that overworking and overactivity truly is an addiction- and it is- it's time to get control of your life- and take your business mind back.
1. Assess your addiction. Schedule a time when you will see how you do without working. Can you go a day without doing work, answering email, checking your phone to see what new crisis looms at the office?
2. Build up your technology-free tolerance. The key is to build up a resistance by weening yourself off of so much time on the computer or phone. Start by setting a goal to reduce your exposure by an hour. Leave your phone at home when you go to the store.
3. Fight to be mindful. Winning your mind back from the war of work is, well, a war. Step outside regularly throughout the day, breathe deeply, and soak up your surroundings. When the work demons are calling you back, tell them to shut up and refocus on the beauty before you. CHOOSE when you will go back to work instead of letting it dictate you.
4. What did I do that was meaningful today? Asking this question is powerful. Post it on your computer and in strategic places like the bathroom and car. Compare your answer to what you have identified as meaningful and impactful outcomes.
5. Enlist your family and friends to do interventions. My husband, the angel that he is, helps me by scheduling family activities away from the house. He understands the struggle and also comes into my office when it is time to quit working. He is there to remind me that work is over. And he is hungry.
6. Create Art. Not just for fun, but for building your brain. Research shows that artists have structurally different brains and reach higher levels of creativity and innovation. Art also allows your brain to process what you are experiencing when words become absent. You don't have to be great at it, and you can even suck at art, but do it for your brain. In The Artitudes Program, I teach people to build a sharper and more innovative brain through a series of art exercises and people walk away as different human beings. Grab a notebook and start doodling!
7. Seek support through a coach and/or a counselor. Work addiction is real, and it is an emotional and behavioral issue. A counselor can help you sort through what is at the root of your need to produce, and any depression or anxiety issues. A coach can help you refocus on what your values and goals are, how you live a meaningful business life, and operate within your defined mission.
No one is immune from overworking and at times our society demands it. Make it a point to start taking back your life and your mind so that you can truly make an impact in this world.
Does this article resonate with you? I would love to hear from you! I invite your comments, additions, and feedback.
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Executive Presence Coach and Founder of The School of Executive Presence, Angela Nuttle, is coming to Washington DC and Indianapolis in October to lead the Executive Presence Bootcamp!
What is the Executive Presence Bootcamp?
A 2-day intensive retreat style development experience where "inside out" foundational executive presence is taught, how to build your visibility success blueprint, social agility in meetings, and executive presentation. Participants will get individualized assessment and coaching during the workshop. The upcoming executive presence seminar is happening in Washington DC (October 20 and 21) and in Indianapolis(October 27 & 28). Click here to learn more and register.
Angela also does some 1:1 coaching, but does most of her formal coaching through The School of Executive Presence Mastermind Program and The Virtual Coaching Programs. You can learn more about those programs, which are now taking applications for the 2017 programs, by visiting here.
Angela Nuttle is an author, speaker, talent remodeler®, and consultant in talent and organizational development. As founder of The School of Executive Presence™, she teaches business people how to show up with executive presence and coaches them to business success. She also works directly with CEOS, Business Leaders, and HR Teams to develop people, potential, and processes that create productive and profitable business environments.