“Burnout is nature’s way of telling you, you’ve been going through the motions your soul has departed.” – Sam Keen
I went to my cabin for the weekend with two friends and we did nothing but sleep and read. Aside from two walks in the woods that lasted no more than an hour, we did nothing and the walks were not technical in any way. We shuffled along with no spring in our step, happy to be in the forest, taking our time to look at things.
I use the summer to recharge and to create new stuff, but what is significant is that I do not think about new stuff, or worry about things I want to change, until the right time of the year. When I am flying around in January, February, March and April I don’t try to innovate; I save innovation for later in the year, specifically the summer when I am at the lake and I can focus all my energy on working and thinking deeply.
When I am flying around speaking, I have a focused objective. Specifically, I manage my energy so that I can deliver the best hour of talking that the audience will hear at the conference. I aspire to be the highest rated, most appreciated speaker featured. Once the event is complete, I switch to low power mode, and my objective is to expend as little mental or physical energy as I can en route to my next engagement. As Dr. Kevin Elko suggests, I repeat his simple mantra while I navigate airports: “If I’m easy going, this is going to be easy.”
So last weekend when I made it to Pine Lodge for my first weekend at the cabin, I slept. I looked into my summer office and considered setting it up, but even that was a little too much work for how I was feeling. I had about enough ambition to poach an egg.
I felt like doing nothing, and that is exactly what I did.
My two dear friends, Anyk (Ann-ick) and Andy did the same thing. Nothing. In fact, we all were surprised by how much sleeping we did. Anyk asked a loaded question: “What does it say about us that we need this much sleep? What does it say about us that we are this tired?” I wondered what it says about all of us that we think overworking is a sign of our human value.
I work all fall and spring fulfilling things. I enjoy a long break from the road from late November till early January to recharge and rest. I invest my time in the summer recharging and creating. When I think of a great new idea in February – “I should do this!! It will be amazing” – I email myself the idea and warehouse it until the summer.
I have learned, painfully, that I don’t have the energy to create when I am speaking and flying. To travel and deliver as I am expected to, I need to do nothing but focus on that. All good ideas, all innovation, all new books, I put off exploring until the right time. The summer.
So here we are in May, and I am two nights into my summer season. I am eager to finish my tour off right, on a high note so that I can come home and feel great about it. Then I’m heading up into the northwoods to slow down and think deeply and recharge for what will be a busy fall season. September is only 3.5 months away!
So here are some things for you to attempt. I’m warning you this is going to be really hard because we have been hardwired to work too hard. We think that working too hard is noble. We think that being burnt out and sacrificing ourselves and our families for money is worthy of other people’s admiration.
Working hard is good. Doing good work is good. Being intentional and present and committing to something that is bigger than you is also good.
But burning out is unacceptable. Losing perspective and living with regret is unacceptable. Squandering your time because you are locked in routine and can’t innovate to save yourself is unacceptable.
Here are a few things for you to do to start your serious shift towards working and living smarter and healthier:
Set aside time to waste on a daily basis
Work expands to fill the time that is given. So give yourself less time to do your work and create time to waste. When I come in in the morning, I turn off my Skype and email so that nobody interrupts me, and I work. I focus deeply and get my work done. I set a timer. Today I finished all kinds of work before the 11am conference call that served as my deadline.
I often leave my office for an hour to grab some healthy fuel and go for a walk. I enjoy not being in a rush.
Does this idea make you uncomfortable? If you are too busy to schedule an hour out of your office, you have a problem and one that can easily be fixed. You are a disorganized mess. However, if just the idea of scheduling an hour to waste upsets you because you feel wrong about it, then you need a psychologist to help you understand this crippling sense of obligation.
A tip of the hat to my more organized and smarter business partner Tom Frisby who has helped me wrestle this. At one time, I’d go to the cabin and worry that I wasn’t available enough. Then later I’d be on a flight, regretting that I didn’t spend enough time unplugged at the cabin. Wherever you are, be there. Now I go to the lake, I get up early and work for a few hours and by 11am I’m done. I go out on the lake and I don’t check my emails until later that night.
Shrug off obligation
Quit telling yourself what you should do. I should really run more. Even if you love running or yoga or doing nothing, if you tell yourself that you should, that you have to, you will rob even those activities of joy. So rather than tell yourself why you should, instead tell yourself why you like to do it.
“I should really close the computer and go out on the lake with my kids. I should. If I don’t, I’m going to regret it” isn’t nearly as powerful or mentally healthy as saying this: “I love spending time with my kids in this far-away-fabled-forest. I love swimming off the boat in the middle of the lake, I love shore lunches. I love watching Ella feed the fire and later, when I’m making my way from San Francisco to Orlando, I’m going to be so happy I did this.”
Obligation is just guilt, and it’s pointless and exhausting.
‘Cause I Can
Do some things just because you like to. Do some things for no reason other than your happiness. Go for a walk without a destination. Hug your kid because it feels good. Call a baby sitter and go on a date, and if you want it can be McDonalds, who cares? Go see a movie that is completely fun and has no moral message.
Spend more time in nature
You don’t have to climb a mountain or hike the Appalachian Trail, but could you get out of the city? Are you stuck in the city? Can you find out when the sun will set tonight? Can you make a point of being outside to see it?
I’m so lucky. I have Pine Lodge and it is in the middle of a big Provincial Park, truly in the middle of nowhere, and if you want to come spend some time at the lake with me just let me know, I can make that happen. We can sit around in the woods, look at the stars, sit by a fire, share some meals and talk about big stuff. I wouldn’t type it if I didn’t mean it.
Pay attention to nature. Its good for you and it will soothe you on many levels.
Keep it up
At night I walk my dog, The Dirty Smooch, near my house in a big green space. There are only a handful of other dog walkers. I usually put my headphones on and listen to various Ted Talks. I realized that I spend about an hour every day walking and listening to some truly amazing thoughts. I fill my head with other people’s insight. While music is great, try mixing it up with a 15-minute inspirational Ted Talk. See how you like it.