At the height of my career, I just wanted to stay at home and do nothing during the weekends. By myself. For a self-labeled extrovert, this was very confusing to me.
Going to the gym was a chore, any type of housework was put off for weeks and going out with friends was done 100% out of obligation, even if I usually ended up having fun in the end.
The truth of the matter was that my work week was so full of information, socializing, decision making, to-do’s and busyness in general, that I simply needed that down-time during the weekend.
The area of building capacity, in the mental, physical and emotional way, has been, and continues to be, my biggest challenge when it comes to setting myself up for success in my career.
These are the five areas I have identified as game changers when it comes to building more time and space into my day and life to help me avoid overwhelm and burnout:
1. Delegating both tasks and responsibilities
We all know that we can’t and we shouldn’t do it all, but delegating can take time and effort to put in place.
When I joined the start-up in the Philippines I ended up becoming Country Manager for, there was a strong cc culture, meaning that an alarming number of e-mails had me copied on as an FYI.
I had to take the time to work through person by person to empower them to take more responsibility and train them in what cases I needed to be put on copy.
This of course took a lot of time that I didn’t feel that I had, but by putting in the work upfront, it saved me a lot of time and mental space over the following months.
By making sure that those working for you are capable of both doing the work and making decisions around it, it frees up both time and decision making power for you, giving you more space to focus on YOUR work.
2. Setting boundaries – also known as saying NO
Ah, the good old “just say no”. So simple in theory, but oh so hard in practice.
I’ve been a compulsive pleaser for the majority of my life and it took a LOT of practice to learn how to say no and not obsess over it’s implications afterwards.
This could be from anything from taking on a new project at work or, God forbid, joining the summer party planning committee, to meeting up a friend after work or joining a new fitness challenge.
Anything that is going to take time and energy from you needs to be carefully considered before jumping in.
Having clear goals and priorities will help you feel confident in this decision and although I am a big fan of No being a complete sentence, I will probably always be a person who rather says “That sounds fun, but I need to focus on XXX for now. Maybe next time!”
Never embarrass the person who asks or say that you’re too busy/don’t have time/need to walk your dog, since we can all find time for what we need.
Setting boundaries towards yourself can be equally challenging, like limiting the time you spend on social media or going to bed at a certain time.
This is where routine can play a big part. By making things part of a routine, like always putting your phone on flight mode on your night stand by 9 pm, it becomes the new normal and not something you have to fight every day.
No career woman today hasn’t heard of the need to outsource. While studies show that workplaces are inching towards becoming more equal, women still tend to do the majority of the work at home.
I regularly make a list of all the things I do in a day/week/month and see if there are things that could be outsourced. From the normal laundry and cleaning services to clothes shopping and travel planning, see what you can throw money at to build more time and remove busyness in your day.
By having more time for the things that matter to you, you will be more present, less stressed and be better at the things you do.
4. Managing your time
There will always be a gap between how you spend your time and how you intend to spend your time. But by at least having that awareness, you can take action every day to work towards your ideal day.
And I’m not talking “I’d rather be at home on my couch watching Netflix”, even though I can’t tell you how many times that thought has crossed my mind in a loooong meeting that just never seems to end…
I always try to spend less time answering e-mails and sitting in meetings.
This means consistently trying to get more effective communication in e-mails to limit the back and forth, being clear on what should be done over e-mail and what is better discussed in other settings and delegating the e-mails at all.
The same with meetings – do we have a clear agenda? Is it necessary for me to be in this meeting? Can we do this in 30 minutes instead of 60?
I also try to find a “good enough” level on 80% of the work that I do, so I can do my best work on the things that are critical.
It can take time to figure out how to strike this balance and if you have perfectionist tendencies, you will need to fight that urge in a daily basis. There is no time for perfection in today’s fast paced work life!
5. Taking care of yourself
Between your job, your family, friends, the gym, and the other 6357 things we seem to have decided are normal things to do in a day, it’s easy to forget the nr. 1 in all of this – YOU.
Whether it’s sleeping in on a Sunday, having a few hours at home doing nothing or going on a getaway to get a change of environment, having time for yourself is critical for your well-being and your ability to perform over time.
Sure sometimes things get crazy at work and it can take over, but if it’s like that all the time either you or your organization has a problem.
Our brains aren’t computers that can keep running multiple programs over a long time span. That’s when we burn out. If you (like me!) tend to always be multi-tasking by planning, being productive, figuring out what everybody’s having for lunch or catching up on e-mails, you will end up exhausted and overwhelmed.
As I said, all of these areas are constant work in progress for me, and as life changes, these aspects change as well.
Interested in more inspiration and tools to crack the career code? Sign up for my mailing list at annacosic.com/signup
Anna Cosic is a Leadership and Career Coach who works with busy, ambitious women to help them earn more, achieve more and have more.
She holds a Master of Science in Management from Stockholm University. Anna spent almost 10 years climbing the career ladder in Scandinavia’s biggest media company, Schibsted, eventually leading a company and managing 70 people before starting her coaching business.
She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, toddler son and two pugs, Igor and Doris.