When you decide to take a break and do an activity, fully engage in it. Show up fully. Anything less cheats yourself and the people you serve.
Rapid Battery Depletion
The other day I heard someone say that “being an adult is being tired all the time.”
Can you relate?
Have you ever found yourself in a season where you felt like your “internal battery” just won’t hold a charge? No matter what you do — sleep, exercise, taking breaks — you struggle to hold your focus and attention. It feels impossible to get things done with ease and efficiency.
It’s like your internal power is supplied by a faulty iPhone battery. But we cannot replace this battery.
The Shadow Side of Freedom
When I first started in my real estate business, I was so excited not to be chained to a desk. Even before I had an iPhone and iPad, I developed systems and workflows that enabled me to work from anywhere.
The freedom to set your own schedule and work from anywhere is what draws many of us to the solopreneur and freelancer path. But this freedom comes with a risk: when you can work from anywhere, you often end up working from everywhere.
Work bleeds into all parts of life. We no longer have clear boundaries around when we are on-the-clock and when we are off-the-clock. This creates a dynamic where we are always working in some form, even when we claim to be taking a break.
A study by professors from Lehigh University, Virginia Tech, and Colorado State University found that an “always on” culture may prevent employees from fully disengaging from work, causing stress. We experience emotional exhaustion, which has been proven to negatively affect work performance.
Here’s the interesting thing: the cause of the exhaustion was not work itself, but expectation and assumed availability.
William Becker, associate professor of management at Virginia Tech, noted that
Having an anticipation of work created a constant stressor.
A Special Challenge for Solopreneurs
This study was conducted in a corporate setting, but the problem is especially acute for freelancers and solopreneurs. We don’t have the benefits of a company policy to reset expectations around email and work hours. And, often, our “team” can vary from one project to the next, making it difficult to establish clear expectations and rules across the board.
The Myth of Multi-Tasking
It’s important to recover and recharge by doing things that fuel your energy. But many solopreneurs I speak with tell me that they don’t feel recharged after doing activities they love. That’s because they are trying to “split the baby” by multitasking their recharge activity with work.
- I’ll check email on the treadmill.
- I’ll take the call at the soccer game.
- I’ll edit the brief on the beach.
I even see it at conferences and seminars. Business owners invest thousands of dollars to attend an event, fly across the country and stay in the hotel, only to be on their phone or email the whole time. Why even bother coming to the event?
Multi-tasking is a myth. It’s not just ineffective; it robs us of what we need most.
When we multitask work with play we cheat ourselves of the recovery time that would otherwise refuel us. And when our recovery time involves other people we also cheat them of our full presence.
The studies make clear that to gain the benefits of recharging we must be fully present to our activity. We can’t go half-way.
Why We Multi-Task Our Recovery Time
If you want to stop doing something, you must know why you are doing it in the first place.
We know it’s most effective to be fully present to our rest time. So why do we multi-task?
The simple reason is that we feel guilty.
It’s against our cultural indoctrination to take time for ourselves. This is difficult for different people in different ways, depending on your mindset. Here are 3 main reasons why we often feel guilty.
(1) Belief: Self-Care is Selfish
If you’re service-oriented, you may have the false belief that taking time for yourself comes at the expense of serving others.
(2) Belief: Rest is Lazy
Taking time to rest and recover is antithetical to the cultural mindset around achievement and success. We harbor deep–seeded beliefs that that success is rooted in hustle and hard work and that rest is lazy.
(3) Martyr Syndrome
Women, especially, tend to assume an identity of caregiver, which comes with related belief that caring for others means putting all of their needs before our needs. This identity transcends roles we play in life, although it is particularly noticeable in moms. I’ve never seen a mother sit down to eat before feeding her children.
So if you’re a woman who is driven to serve others and also a high achiever driven to success, all three of these forces are working to keep you from claiming what you need to fully rejuvenate and restore and create space for your best work.
Multi-tasking feels like a good compromise: a way to get some recovery time without letting others down.
Consequences of Multi-Tasking
But when we multitask, we lose the benefits of the recovery activity. We don’t get the constructive rest we need. And we end up feeling resentful of the people that we desire to serve. At the extreme cases, if we continue this for too long, we end up burning out. In that state we cannot help anyone.
Solution: Full Presence
The antidote to multi-tasking is mindfulness. Learn to cultivate the qualities of presence. When you take a break, commit to what you are doing and do it fully.
The corollary to “Deep Work” is “Deep Play” — full immersion in an activity that fuels you.
Far from detracting from your service to clients, full immersion in recovery activities will enhance your abilities to serve at a higher level. You’ll have more to give.
When you step away from work to recharge, fully engage in what you’re doing. Otherwise you are cheating yourself and the people you serve.
What can you do this week to recharge your battery?
Whatever you do, show up fully. Be where you are.