I can be a bit of a workaholic. Add to that that my brain works under entrepreneur guidelines and that can be really bad.
If you don’t know what I mean by that last bit, there’s a joke that says something like “entrepreneurs are the only people who will work 80 hours a week to avoid working 40”. It’s not a joke.
I work best when I’m self-driven to meet my own goals rather than working to meet someone else’s. So, yes I’d rather work 80 hours a week for myself than 40 hours a week for someone else, even if it means making less money.
The good news is that I don’t work 80 hours a week and that I’m able to accomplish more in 20 hours working for myself than most people accomplish in 40+ hours at a regular job.
Unfortunately, living with a fibromyalgia means that working 80 hours a week isn’t an option. It also means that working for someone else doesn’t work so well, so I have to find a balance.
Working for myself is really a combination of doing things that generate income directly for myself (projects that I own, like this blog) and projects that I do for other people (in which case I have a client). However, even when I’m working for a client I have to keep my limitations in mind.
Recently, I did something I haven’t done in decades. I picked up an hourly side gig at a campground we’re staying at. They needed a little extra help in their office and offered to help out.
Self-care in the workplace means that I have to keep a balance at all times between doing enough to keep a reasonable income level and not over-doing it to the point that I’m exhausted every minute that I’m not working, and therefore unable to enjoy the life I’ve created.
Life with chronic illness has taught me that I have to make some important choices when it comes to balancing work and life so that I can work and still have a life beyond work.
- Know my Limits
Clients and bosses don’t know my limits, but I should by now. And, it’s important that I keep them in mind when I’m asked to take on a task. Can I really fit that thing in without pushing myself or spreading myself too thin?
I recently ran into this with the extra hours I was working at the campground. I already had several tasks on my plate (I’d come in to redesign their website and help them set up online booking), and other client work that needed to be done. I figured one day a week for a short time wouldn’t be a big deal. But, when one day became two half days that was too much, because the half day was just as tiring as a whole day and I couldn’t really accomplish anything else on those days. I quickly had to backtrack and set new limits.
- Set Boundaries
Speaking of setting limits. Several years ago, I took an entrepreneurial business class and when they asked me about my goals, I said something about being able to stop by 5 PM and be done for the day. They looked at my like I was crazy. For the most part they didn’t see that as a possibility, and while I know that starting a new business means working your butt off, I also know that you can set limits and that I have to if I want to succeed.
Whether you live with chronic illness or not, boundaries have to play a role in your life. This means saying no to certain things, whether it’s working extra hours, working at certain times, or just making sure you take breaks when you need to.
- Take time for myself
Having the brain of a workaholic in a body with chronic illness, I have to remember to take time for me – time to exercise, time to rest, time to enjoy life- even during the workday. I have to make myself get up and meditate (as that helps control my anxiety and stress) and I have to make sure I exercise, even if it’s just a walk through whatever campground we are staying at.
I also have to take time to get out and do things. Whether it’s making sure I take time to explore the local area, or just getting out and talking to neighbors and friends. Spending time with other people helps me feel better and more connected.
- Schedule my day I had an interesting conversation with another business-person recently. They are on the other side of the world and we were trying to figure out when we could do a phone call. He was all for just turning on Skype and seeing when we crossed paths, but I knew that would never work for me. I have to schedule my day.
I used to hate schedules before I got sick, but I’ve learned that it’s not schedules I hate, it’s having to be on someone else’s schedule. These days I’ve found that I have to schedule pretty much everything, because if I don’t it either never happens or I get really stressed out worrying about how it will fit in my schedule.
Of course, just because it’s on my schedule doesn’t mean it gets done. Living with chronic illness sometimes means that I just don’t feel like doing anything. And, I have to allow for that and not let my schedule control me, but understand that I am in control of my schedule.
- Use my To-Do List wisely Speaking of having things on my calendar, I can’t live without my Google Tasks lists. I put everything on it, because if I don’t I will forget to do something. (Ah, the joy of Fibro Fog.) Funny, before Fibro I hated lists, and now I love them and have lists for everything and if I don’t write it on my list I can guarantee I will forget it.
I put everything on my To Do because it ensures that I don’t over-extend myself. I try to limit my number of tasks to 4-5 per day. There are days when the list is longer because I have smaller items, or because things get moved over from a previous day.
I just have to remember that it’s OK if I don’t check off all the tasks. If I don’t complete them they can get moved to another day (and they will). It’s not about having to do the things, it’s about remembering to do them when I can.
- Prioritize my work Each evening I take a look at the “to do” list for the next day and try to prioritize it by putting a number next to each item. The item with the #1 should be done first, with the others to follow. This way if I run out of time or energy it’s the lower priority items that get shifted. I’ve also learned that the worst thing I can do is check my email first thing in the morning because doing so is the fastest way to derail my entire day.
Being able to continue working despite fibromyalgia is important to me. I want to work for as long as I’m able, whether it’s just a few hours a week or full time.
Doing what I love makes continuing to work a lot easier, because it doesn’t feel like work. Instead it feels like I get paid to do something I’d do for free (if only I didn’t need money to live). Even so, it’s important that I work wisely and that self care is just as big a part of my workday as it is my personal time.
Making self care an important part of my workday allows me to be better able to enjoy my personal time, rather than working simply to spend the rest of my hours in pain or fatigued.