Author’s Note: I originally wrote this piece two years ago, but I came across it recently, and realized it’s message is just as relevant today — in this golden age of remote work spawned by the COVID-19 pandemic — as it was back then. If you’re a content creator, I encourage you to go back through your archives and consider sharing something from the past. You’ll be surprised how much of it stands the test of time.
Full disclosure: I'm just as guilty of this as my peers. I know as well as anyone else that sacrificing a night of leisure here or there can often make the difference between delivering results, getting ahead, and getting stuck in the mud.
And yet, there are pitfalls to this lifestyle. Because we’re constantly putting our noses to the grindstone, it's easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. We lose the ability to distinguish between working hard in pursuit of a larger goal and working hard just to keep our heads above water.
Over time, this process breeds more inefficiencies than it solves. It keeps us from taking a step back to strategize and, worse, it exhausts us to the point where our taxing routines yield diminishing returns.
I wrote this piece in a moment of clarity when I sensed this shift was on the horizon. For the first time in years, I decided to unplug from the grind. I booked a one-way ticket to Canada’s East Coast, I rented a car, and I drove with no particular destination in mind. In addition to giving me the chance to see the Atlantic region I’d heard so much about, the trip gave me an opportunity to reflect.
Here are a few of the conclusions I arrived at along the way:
When work gets busy, it’s common for our brains to shut down and go on auto-pilot. In this fog, time passes increasingly quickly through the hourglass, as days turn into weeks, and weeks turn into months. Meanwhile, you never get the chance to stop and think about whether you’re reaching any of the goals you’d set for yourself.
By unplugging from time to time, you give your brain a chance to find the lighthouse in all this fog. Stepping away from the rat race gives you the rare opportunity to take inventory of your goals and recalibrate.
People often use the two words synonymously, but there’s a big difference between being busy and being productive. If you’re working hard just for the sake of it, chances are you’re not working efficiently. When you’re overtaxing yourself, the process of checking items off your to-do list often involves taking two steps forward and four steps backward. Working hard and working smart are two completely different things. Taking the occasional break gives you the chance to rediscover this distinction.
Find your muse, whatever it may be. If you don’t have a muse — even better. Go out and try everything. Keep experimenting until you find the passion that inspires you.
In this era of constant connectivity, it's become harder than ever to carve out a healthy work-life balance. Now that millions of people are working from home due to the pandemic, the lines have all but ceased to exist. Of course, it can be difficult to take a step back in the midst of our hectic schedules, but I'd urge you to try it when you get the opportunity. The next time you're feeling pressured to take on as many tasks as possible just to meet some arbitrary measure of productivity, take a deep breath to ask yourself "what purpose does this serve?"
If you can't come up with a satisfying answer, you may need to rethink things a little.