Why Does the Work Never End?
Every day, I am grateful for the privilege of having a stable job during a pandemic, especially since many have been laid off as the economy slowed down. I’m also very lucky that I am allowed to work from home as it keeps me and my family safe.
But while I am nothing but thankful, remote work has its own set of challenges. Hours seem infinitely longer as my professional life melts into my personal life. Meetings take several hours of my shift, effectively sentencing me to working late into the night as the things that I need to do get pushed down my schedule.
There’s also so much more to do now as I learn to navigate through all these constant changes in my industry. In fact, I’ve been trying to monitor what I do in a day—I write everything down, no matter how small the task is, to see how much time I spend on each, and you know what? If you think a work-from-home employee is free to laze around, let me prove you wrong: My day is so packed, I barely even have time stand up and stretch my legs sometimes. The only non-negotiable in my schedule is my lunch break, because hell hath no fury like a woman who’s hungry.
With all that, sometimes I find myself feeling low. Really low. When anxiety creeps in upon waking up on a work day and I find myself running down my tasks while I stand under the shower, I feel conflicted between gratefulness and fatigue, which oftentimes makes me guilty about wanting to rest.
“Besides, what is rest?” I sometimes ask myself. It’s only recently that I remembered an article I wrote some time ago about karoshi—the Japanese term for “death by overwork”. That made me think that I need to do something about how I’m going about my job, and basically, and how I’m managing my life in this crazy new reality we’re in.
The first thing to do is to acknowledge that this isn’t an isolated thing and that there is nothing wrong with feeling tired and fatigued despite feeling grateful about having a job at this time. Licensed clinical worker Alexandra Finkel tells Today that many people are talking about feeling guilty and shameful about being safe and okay: “Guilt is present in almost every patient encounter I have right now. It is being both overtly discussed, as in clients saying ‘I feel so guilty for being upset when I am so fortunate’ and also showing up in more subtle ways, as in ‘I'm not doing enough’.”
This guilt is exactly what I have been feeling these days, which is probably one reason why I keep on unreasonably pushing myself to do “better”. The thing is, while guilt can spur a person to change the status quo, it can be unhealthy when allowed to fester; it can destroy how you see things that you actually deserve.
Guilt can be detrimental when it is “present when there is no wrongdoing; when it discounts the positive and when it persists overtime,” Finkel continues. “The guilt that is being expressed…comes from a deeper place of shame. Shame is a painful feeling that relates to the way we view and feel about ourselves. Engrained feelings of shame can cause damage to the way we view ourselves and the way we see the world.”
So, why does the work never end?
Here’s the thing: the work will never end, but you can finish the tasks at hand. You're allowed to say, "I'm done for the day." Guilt has been pushing me to keep on working, and it’s not at all the best way to go about it. Load should be managed based on what one can only do efficiently—you can't push it if you can't handle it. I’ve come to terms with the fact that the task list will always be long, and it has honestly made me feel better because now I have the freedom to manage it and to demand a place to stop.
That being said, I still feel both guilty and grateful about having a job during a pandemic, but I’ve been currently trying to fix my day in order to accommodate everything that I do without working myself to a burnout:
New habit 1: Wake up at 5:00 a.m.
Work officially starts at 10, but I realized that the earlier I start my day, the better.
New habit 2: Work out.
This is really the reason why I have started waking up at 5 a.m. I make time for this because endorphins, endorphins, endorphins. Exercise helps put me in a lighter mood, plus I get to work on my leg muscles to avoid atrophy from sitting in front of a computer the whole day.
New habit 3: Eat breakfast at a leisurely pace.
No more eating in front of the laptop! This has made a huge difference, as it feels like the morning is my own.
New habit 4: Start working on heavier daily tasks.
After breakfast, I start on tasks that need my full focus first, so that I’m done with them by the time work messages come in. The thing about working from home is that it’s so easy to get distracted when someone pings you for another assignment, and then you forget what you’re doing in the first place. With the bigger jobs out of the way, I can concentrate on collaborating with others and focus on them better, too. It may sound cliché, but rearranging your priorities is key.
New habit 5: Stop work earlier.
I won’t even share how far into the night I used to put work in. I’m trying to change that now.
Don't be a martyr.
Yes, I tell myself this often these days, and I personally hope you do, too. Don’t sacrifice yourself and your health just to finish a list of tasks that will either melt into other tasks or will be done in a new cycle all over again. Set boundaries. Easier said than done, I know. It may even need retraining and a shift in mindset, but once you put your foot down, things will be a bit easier. Don’t burn yourself out, and lastly, sleep, dammit. You should never feel guilty about resting. Sleep should be a priority.
After all, there’s always tomorrow to make things better.
This story originally appeared on Femalenetwork.com. Minor edits have been made by Esquiremag.ph editors.