I’ve been working non-stop trying to “keep up” with my self-imposed obligations for over two months. I took on a lot of big projects (happily) and I’ve been trying to conquer the world.
But at what cost? A lot of sleep deprivation (I’m a father, too), a lot of stress, a lot of things slipping through the cracks.
After losing close to 11 hours of sleep over a week, I was falling apart. I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t keep up, and my suffering caused my family to suffer.
Pushing through doesn’t work.
“It’s important that you don’t lie to yourself. If you lie to yourself, you end up with burnout.”— Patrick Pichette
Trust me, I tried. I gave it my all, and I failed pretty miserably. At the end of the third day I still needed to film, clean house, write, feed the animals, and get my coffee ready for the next day. But I was done.
So…what did I do? I made more coffee at 9:30 p.m. (30 minutes before my “bedtime”), drank half of the pot, and filmed. I felt nauseous and jittery the entire time, and filming took at least twice as long as it usually does.
Then I cleaned, skipped my writing, fed the pets, and passed out HARD. I woke up to my son crying 5 hours later and pushed through some more.
But I didn’t get anything done the next day. My productivity hangover was intense. I wanted to fall into the oblivion of my bed.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t an option. There was too much to do. So I repeated a similar process that night. And my time and sleep debt kept racking up.
Until the crash.
I had to leave work early. That’s a pretty big deal when you’re an independent contractor. The hustle makes you money.
I couldn’t pay attention to my wife and kids when I got home. They thought I was grumpy, but I was just exhausted. I crashed, but I couldn’t sleep.
You know the feeling, right? When you’re so tired, but stressed to the point that you can’t fall asleep? Apparently, that’s not uncommon. So I stared at the ceiling for hours and eventually slipped into a restless slumber.
I needed a break, but I couldn’t afford one.
I couldn’t afford not to take a break. As the weekend slowly approached, I knew I’d get a bit of respite. I could sleep in or nap. I could shut off for a day or maybe work ahead a little bit.
I decided to try all three. I slept in, I spent the morning with my family, and I lazily worked ahead a bit in the afternoon. I still made time to play with the kids before bed, then tucked my son in while my wife tucked my daughter in (that’s our nightly routine).
And when my Monday rolled around…I felt great! I had a little bit of a buffer, I’d stolen as much rest as I could, and I was ready to get back to it with fervor.
That one weekend taught me a lot.
Give yourself some slack.
“Systems with slack are more resilient. The few extra minutes of time aren’t wasted, the same way that a bike helmet isn’t wasted if you don’t have a crash today. That buffer will save the day, sooner or later.”— Seth Godin
The biggest takeaway from that weekend was that I needed slack. The necessary buffer to be comfortable without being overwhelmed or stressed.
I have a bad habit of taking on more than is normally possible, and sometimes that’s good. It makes me grow every time I do it, but it also causes growing pains.
So instead of constantly pushing myself to achieve more and more, I’ve started scheduling less and looking at what’s giving me the best return.
The way I consider it, there are two ways to give yourself a buffer.
- Have fewer demands and obligations.
- Increase your output to exceed your demands and obligations.
I’m actively trying to do both.
By building slack time into my schedule (by extending deadlines, booking fewer clients, taking on fewer projects), I can focus on increasing my output in other areas. Like creating a course, building my tribe, writing articles, and helping as many people as possible.
And I’ll still be home every night to tuck my kids in.
Don’t rush. Use your slack wisely.
A big mistake I made was trying to do too much during my slack time. I’d cram it full of projects and ideas. I gave myself more obligations than I could handle.
That almost caused a self-destruct sequence. Or maybe it did, I just defused the bomb before it exploded.
Now, during my slack time, I’ll simply get as much done on my extra projects as I can. They’re all prioritized, and I don’t feel guilty when I can’t get ‘em all done. I go to bed when I need to, and I don’t worry about what I’m going to be able to get done tomorrow.
Think of your slack projects as savings accounts – invest as much as you safely can into them, but don’t go broke to fund your savings. If you do this right, your slack projects will turn into savings accounts, and compound interest is real.
Where can you give yourself some slack?
I want to ask a favor. Think about where you might be over-extended, then start reducing your obligations in those areas. Do that until you actually have some free time.
Then fill that time with interesting projects that you can view as an investment. Something that you aren’t rushing to complete. Remember – this is building slack.
And let me know how it goes. 🙂