When you’re working overtime, it can feel like all you do is work, eat, sleep, work, eat, sleep, and work, eat, sleep some more. And the seemingly unceasing flow of work can make you feel fatigued, resentful, and burnt out.
As a time management coach, I’ve found that even in the midst of working overtime it’s essential that you find time for yourself. This is because, if you don’t take time for yourself intentionally, you will take time for yourself unintentionally. Typically the less conscious “me time” such as mindlessly scrolling through social media in the afternoon or watching YouTube videos until the wee hours of the night consumes quite a few hours each week but doesn’t actually satisfy our desires for downtime.
If you find yourself in a situation where you’re working excessive hours (but also want precious time for yourself)—here are a few strategies that can help you.
Set work-free times
When you’re working overtime, you likely do need to put in some hours on evenings and weekends. But if you never define what those hours are—and what they are not—you’ll have a vague sense that you “should” be working all the time. That feeling is exceptionally draining.
To avoid the “always on” feeling, set some work-free hours. Maybe that looks like a break from 6 to 8 p.m. to exercise and eat dinner and then work-free time after 10 p.m. Maybe that looks like designating Saturday morning as working hours but then taking yourself off-the-clock on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. Maybe that looks like not logging into your computer or checking your work phone until 8 a.m., even if you get up much earlier.
Whatever it is, have some time every day, as well as longer stretches each week, when you feel like you’re truly “off.” Not only will this reduce your feelings of guilt, but it will also help you to really focus on finishing up work because you know you have a true break waiting for you.
Define health must-haves
In product development, they have the concept of a “minimum viable product.” The idea is that you get a product to the point that it’s good enough for people to start using it, even if it’s not perfect and doesn’t include all the features that might be optimal.
I don’t want you to aim for the absolute minimum viable things that you need to do for your health, but we want to aspire to more than just keeping yourself out of the hospital. As a general rule, it’s good to have a general sense of the basic wellness activities you need to be healthy and to prioritize those activities, even when you’re working overtime.
This may look like getting seven hours of sleep a night or drinking enough water or taking 5- to 10-minute breaks during work hours to walk around or stretch and give your brain and body a break.
Yes, these activities take time. But in my experience, they keep you from falling into burnout, and they make you much more productive. When you take care of your body, your mind is sharper, you can get things done more quickly, and you’re less likely to succumb to the urge to escape into a social media rabbit hole.
Give yourself what you really want
Everyone has certain activities that really make them happy, which they find really satisfying, refreshing, and enjoyable. Maybe it’s going on a run, connecting with friends, reading, practicing an instrument, cooking, playing with your kids, or bingeing a TV series. Everyone is a little different. But we all have our “happy activities.” Whatever those are, try to make time for at least one of them on a daily basis. It could look like taking just 15 minutes to read a book before bed, go on a walk at lunch, or text a friend in the evening. And on a less busy day or on the weekends, you can potentially invest hours in these activities.
You don’t need to have long stretches of time to do activities you find satisfying. But when you make time for what you truly enjoy, it gives you back energy and enthusiasm for the rest of your life and work.
Working overtime doesn’t need to mean working all the time. When you’re clear on when you’re “off duty” and you make time for what you need to feel healthy and happy, you can still have extra time for yourself, even in the midst of a lot of work.