The Mad Dash
The life of the small business owner is one of always being on the go. There seems to be a networking event, a quote, a cold call, an invoice, or a project demanding your attention and keeping you more busy than you ever imagined, and not always in a good way. But sometimes in your rush to get everything done, you don’t realize how much you’re burning out.
In the not too distant past, I was on the Board of Directors for two different organizations and both of them had major events in the same week. What that meant was lots of meetings, lots of follow-up, lots of stress, and not any of it was for actual paying work. But just because I was crazy busy helping out these organizations didn’t mean my bills weren’t piling up, so I couldn’t ignore my customers. I had to make sure I responded to emails, phone calls, quote requests and actually complete the projects I had already committed to. There was barely time to eat, much less listen to what my body was telling me.
Jumping Out of the Fast Lane
By the end of the week, my neck and shoulder muscles were so tight that I could feel the tension in my sleep. Definitely not a good thing! At one point during the week, a span of a couple of hours opened up for an afternoon and I thought I was going to get all kinds of work done. I couldn’t have been more wrong because my body had other ideas for me. I fell asleep on the couch after lunch (which did nothing to help the pain in my neck and shoulders) and woke up groggy, cranky and secretly wishing for a huge world-wide power outage that would shut down email for 24 hours. Since that seemed unlikely to happen, I stumbled down the hall to my home office and booted up my computer and got to work.
Or at least I tried to but nothing happened. Oh, my computer was working just fine, it was me that was the problem. I stared at the screen and sat there wondering how I had gotten myself into such a mess. My business was booming, I was active in organizations that brought me a lot of satisfaction and I was working from home (I swore after leaving Corporate America that I would never again work out of a cubicle). So why wasn’t I happy? Maybe it was because I realized that my house had become a giant cubicle that I only returned to between meetings. Somehow I had put myself back in the exact same pattern that I had so desperately tried to escape from when I was working for a big company. My workplace accommodations were much nicer, but they felt like a cage just the same (and before you say anything, I am one of those people who cannot work in a coffee shop or the library – I would spend my whole time people watching and never getting any work done).
But the feeling of being trapped wasn’t just limited to the walls that surrounded me. Like I said, even the emails in my inbox seemed to have a physical weight to them. I sat there on my office chair, sad, frustrated and concerned – what the heck was I doing? (or not doing, as the case may be). And suddenly I knew it was time to just walk away from it all and give myself some room to breath. Away from the emails, away from the guilt of not working hard enough or fast enough, the never ending text messages and voice mails from clients. I needed a minute, so I decided to go on a walk around the block. Just a five minute breather to clear my head.
The Road Less Traveled
I grabbed my iPhone so I could have some tunes while I strolled (I go running on a regular basis and having music while I walk and/or run is a must-have for me). I fired up Pandora and found my favorite spa music station. Yep, you read that right. I have saved in my Pandora stations one that plays the music you typically hear when you’re getting a massage or facial – all soothing flute music and sounds of water. I do a lot of copywriting for spas and massage therapists and sometimes I need to capture the right mood when I’m writing. I associate that type of music with relaxation and peace, the two things I was searching for at that precise moment. With the gentle sounds of chimes and waves flowing through my earbuds, I set out on my walk. Five minutes, I told myself, and then I could get back to work.
When you work all day by yourself, you tend to forget about the world moving around you because you are so hyper-focused on whatever is in front of you. At least, I assume others experience this as much as I do. I go running on a regular basis – one, because I like it and two, because it is the easiest way for me to exercise around my busy schedule. But I typically run the way I do everything else – focused on getting the task at hand done so can move on to the next thing.
But once I started walking that day, I let myself meander through the neighborhood, taking odd little detours because I saw something interesting. I walked through a park I had lived by for years and never been to. I walked behind groups of people who didn’t speak a word of English and tried to imagine what the were talking about. I walked and walked and didn’t let myself think about work (again, the spa music really seemed to help with that). I took pictures at the wharf of the fishermen bringing in the last catch of the day as the sun dipped behind the mountains. I wandered by tourists slurping down clam chowder and icy cold beers next to the walkway and found them beautiful, where normally I might find them loud and obnoxious. I walked for miles and still I didn’t think about work (thank goodness I wore my running shoes!)
For the Love of Yourself
I love what I do. Most days, I love being a small business owner and knowing that my success comes from the hard work I put in. But what my long walk taught me is that sometimes you have to be willing to walk away from it all and connect back with the world around you. It’s not necessary to take an expensive vacation or doing something specific that makes you feel obligated to relax (which sometimes can be rather stressful in and of itself). Taking a walk means that you are physically putting some distance between yourself and the work. You are giving yourself permission to breath and take a break and find gratitude. It’s to reconnect with the essential essence of you and what you are, so you can come back to the work refreshed and renewed.
And for those of you who might be curious, I did not come back home and start working again. I came home and finished a really good novel I had started the weekend before while slowly sipping on a glass of wine. And I woke up the next morning eager to get back to work and get things accomplished.
What do you do to keep keep your sanity and stay focused while juggling your personal and professional lives? Leave a comment below and tell me what works for you!