If you’re like me, you love and hate lists in equal measure. It feels great when you’ve got 30 minutes to sort through your workload and get it all down. It feels even better when you can get lots of stuff crossed off! On the other hand, you may also have been paralysed by the sheer amount ahead of you. I can’t be the only who feels like for each thing I cross off, like the heads of the Lernaean Hydra, two more grew to replace it. Emails, meetings, and “have you got five minutes” chats were a very real Sisyphean struggle.
It wasn’t just the actual work, but also the mental load. If you’re unfamiliar with this, an anonymous French illustrator, known simply as Emma, has gone viral over the last couple of years with her comic demonstrating what the domestic mental load looks like. In a previous role, being the only female senior manager and as a people-centred leader, lots of this mental load fell onto me. This meant that outside of the 50+ hours I did in the office, this invaded into my spare time – running to the supermarket to pick up the birthday/leaving/well done treats; looking up local specialist contacts for staff I couldn’t help on my own; and keeping a note of who was struggling with what and triggering issues.
After checking in with my closest people, I decided to be more disciplined with my time and energy. It reminded me that I stopped doing the exercise that my former counsellor shared with me – to protect my boundaries. In a bid to get some of my life back, I pointed out to my line manager that I was the only senior manager that the crying people came to. This was having a negative impact on my well-being and my workload. We then implemented a staff well-being and resilience programme. My other tactic is the main one and one of the few habits I’ve managed to maintain longer term.
I started to set goals for my hobbies. Yes – just like I did at work. I wanted to finally learn to paint miniatures for this game that I invested heavily in; I wanted to finally reduce the ridiculous amount of open missions on Skyrim; and I wanted to be good at Magic: The Gathering again. This retrained my brain in a significant way – if it wasn’t on my list, I wouldn’t get around to doing it. If it’s not on the list, it’s not important. Take a deep breath and listen carefully…
Got that? If you replied yes, then you got it much quicker than I did. But let’s talk about how helpful (or not!) guilt can be another time. Ultimately, setting hobby goals gave me a chance to work out why I enjoyed the things I did and want I wanted to get out of it. Having goals and an action plan gave me a weapon to bat off things that tried to leech off my free time. It gave me time to rest and recuperate. Unlike lots of aspect of my job at the time, which involved long term projects and cultural changes, my hobby goals gave me that instant hit of achievement in a shorter space of time. It made me save some time and energy aside to spend with people who nurtured other aspects of my personality – not just Work Lou.