In case of emergency – how to survive when you’ve overdone it

‘Are these people on crack?!’ was the first thought that came to mind as I read the blog title, ‘How to achieve a work/life balance in three easy steps’.

Three easy steps and the key to happiness, balance and sweet apple pie is in your hands? Sure, and I’m a five-time world pole vaulting champion.

As I continued, it came as no surprise that the blog post didn’t deliver me the sacred position of the Holy Grail and open the heavens above to let me into a world of enlightenment. It did however, make me think about the never ending tug-of-war between ambition and mental clarity and what effect being overworked takes on our wellbeing.

As a business owner juggling 3 businesses, I’ve spent some time in the hellish pits of burn-out. Not the most charming place I’ve visited, but I’m grateful to have been there, done that and bought the tee-shirt. Those moments of complete and utter burn-out make me grateful for the (rare) weekday swims in the ocean and the sometimes late starts — chai in hand, dog at feet. Those moments have taught me to be grateful for the ebbs and flows of busyness and to be patient with myself and my life. I now know what serious stress looks like (as I’m sure we all do), and can flag the warnings signs with myself much sooner these days.

Even since I was a little girl, I used to tell my mum that I didn’t want to go to sleep because it was a ‘waste of time’. I’ve always been a Type A personality that prides itself on ‘doing’ rather than being. I’ve spent a huge part of my life thinking I have to do all the things, all the time. Things really hit a feverish pitch when I launched my first business baby, this thing I call Smack Bang Designs. And we all know how that goes: I began creating more work for myself than I’d ever be able to accomplish and there was a LOT to learn — tax to deal with, staff to pay, clients to dazzle, an overloaded inbox to have panic attacks over, social media posts to be scheduled, phone calls to return, clients to tend to, blog posts to write, invoices to be sent, money to make, products to update, and parking fines to be paid. The to-do list was endless and it always seems the more work you do, the more work you create.

More recently than I’d like to admit, I went through a period of time where I had about 5 or 6 meetings a day. My calendar was disgustingly colourful and my mind a mess. I’d booked my dog walker to come into the studio and take my pup for a walk. She rocked up about an hour later and I was so overwhelmed and overworked that in the space of 60 minutes I’d both:
a) forgotten my own name, and
b) thought she was a client and invited her in for a coffee and to talk about her ‘project’.
Luckily she was gracious, understanding and thought the whole thing was hilarious. My team still haven’t let me live that one down.

What is a requirement for success is that you, as a founder, give a damn about everything. Which is great, beautiful in fact… but also pretty goddamn tiring after a while. I guess the thing is, I am so passionate about what I do and love what I do so much, that I could work around the clock til the early hours of the morning and feel fulfilled, great, groovy in fact. But there is one small problem — I am at war with my mind and my body. Whilst my mind says, ‘Keep going, this is fun, hallelujah let’s throw back espresso shot #7 and get it cracking!’, my body screams ‘Holy hell girl, slow down!’.

Of course building a business requires hard work, blood, sweat and a little too often, tears. Of course you have to commit to the cause, put in the work and make it happen. Of course you have to stay back, learn html via Youtube clips and live on bad Vietnamese food for a few years. But often the result of slogging it out day after day, week after week, and not prioritising your wellbeing, is a big rude shock that slaps us in the face one morning when we just can’t actually get out of bed. No-one can go full throttle forever, unless you’re the Energiser Bunny (hint — that thing is a fictional advertising success story).

So, how the HELL do you survive when even your coffee needs a coffee? I don’t claim to know everything. In fact, I don’t even really claim to know anything… but here’s what I’ve found helps to get some healthy perspective back into my life (hello, Tropical Holiday. And hello to you, too, Argentinian Malbec).

    I’d really love to meet the person who decided that the majority of us have to work five days a week with only two day left for adventure and fun. I’d high five them. In the face, with scalding hot iron. As business owners, we often forget that we actually do control our own time, and it’s within our power to apportion it best. Take a load off and maybe even take a day?
    This is a hard task to master, but when you close your laptop, simultaneously close the tabs in your brain. I’ve become really great at switching off when I need to. I feel like my mind is either blissfully calm or resembles a hellscape by Edvard Munch.
    You only have 24 hours in each day. Don’t try to fit in 100 tasks. Just focus on your rule of 3. Slash every non-urgent to-do off your list and just do the bare minimum for a week. Even if you technically have more time in the day, and you feel like you can keep working into the night, eventually your brain bites back and does that thing where it just says “piss off, Tess” and throws in the towel.
    It can’t all be doom and gloom, right? Maybe you have a really epic team. Or a really supportive business partner. Or the loveliest, most reassuring husband at home. Or just a dog who can listen to all your problems and not talk back? As much as you can, try to focus on the bright spots in your day.
    Walk away from your life. Even if it’s just for a few days. Escape is good for the soul. We put ourselves under so much pressure and sometimes the best way to vent that pressure is to pop the lid, let the steam out, and go someplace else for a little while.
    Set an autoresponder and drop offline. We’ll miss you, but we won’t die if you don’t write back to our email. It takes a bucketload of self control, but taking a day off your emails might just give you the time and space you need to recalibrate.
    Take five minutes to sit quietly, calmly and peacefully. Breathe deeply and mindfully. Maybe you meditate. Maybe you listen to the sounds. Maybe you just stare at the wall and wish you were someplace else. Either way, sit still, and learn the art of being, not doing.
    Rid your vocab of the word ‘should’, it is toxic. We place expectations of ourselves that we “should do this, should do that”. Worse still when you’re your own boss — the expectations you set for yourself are intense and often a bit OTT. Drop ‘should’ like you used to drop your Nokia 3310 when mum would check in on you in bed on a school night.

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