Remembering to live, not just work
I’m a rare breed in the world of PR, marketing and social media: I’ve always taken a noontime break and left work at 5 p.m. Even though I usually bring my own lunch to save money, I take a lunchtime walk to stretch my legs or write letters in the sunshine. Sometimes I leave my phone behind, other times I bring it purely to Instagram some shiny, happy, only-in-NYC moment.
I strongly believe that my evening plans—a yoga class, drinks dates, an acupuncture appointment, sitting in bed watching Netflix and ordering Seamless—are just as important as whatever work I’m doing. Those are the things that keep me sane, happy, connected, balanced.
This isn’t to say I don’t take my work seriously. I’ve had overwhelmingly positive reviews by my supervisors for being extremely efficient and effective: I get my work done well and on time. But I believe that I’m ineffective as an employee if I’m unhappy, overworked, stressed out. I also know my own work habits: I’m most productive in short, intense bursts. I can sit at a computer for hours, but I will absolutely burn out (and distract myself with Gchat, YouTube and Facebook) if I don’t move from the same spot for 10 straight hours.
In New York City, it’s almost a religion to discuss how busy you are. People are constantly running late, cancelling plans. They go the gym in the morning, squeeze in errands on their lunch break. People work until midnight, they work on the weekends. There’s a culture of staying at work past 5 p.m.: it’s as if simply sitting in front of your computer will somehow prove that you’re a better employee than the one who got their work done and left on time.
The standard American vacation time is 10 days a year—and many Americans don’t even take that. Even many who do board a plane to some exotic location with palm trees and pina coladas will continue to check work emails, work on projects, check off daily tasks. There’s this feeling of insecurity, a sense of being indispensable; to me, however, that simply signals an inability to delegate and an unwillingness to trust. The more you make yourself available, the more people will expect you to be responsive 24/7: that’s why my work email isn’t hooked up to my phone and why I rarely (unless it is URGENT) answer work emails in the evening.
Bursts of completely disconnecting are becoming more and more valuable to me: whether it’s a week on a boat without any internet connection or simply turning my phone off every single night. It’s those times when I turn my mind off from work and from blogging that I’m able to recharge my energy levels and dial up my creativity.
As Tim Krieder wrote in “The Busy Trap” for The New York Times this summer (highly, highly recommend this read): “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”
It’s a good reminder that being quiet and still with ourselves is just as important as “getting things done.” It’s a reminder to meditate, to set aside time for a yoga practice or a long walk–or, perhaps, just to let yourself sleep in and spend the morning reading magazines and drinking tea in bed without any guilt. It’s also a moment to reflect on what we’d like to be remembered for: I absolutely want to to be recognized as a reliable, creative, hard-working employee. But more than that, I want to be known as a cheerful presence, a person who always showed up, someone who appreciated her family and her community.
Because when it comes down to it: it’s more important to live than to work.