Surviving the Rat Race

In the Library with the Lead Pipe recently posted an article that compared running a marathon with working in the library because both are endeavors where we need to pace ourselves to avoid fatigue and burnout.  Go read this article. It provides a brief overview of current brain science that might surprise you.

Fatigue and burnout are poison in the well.  They affect our abilities to be productive at work and home.  They affect our ability to communicate and negotiate with coworkers and friends and family. They affect our ability to make decisions and think things through effectively.

Here’s an exercise:

Write down 5 things you know you need to do in order to think more clearly, be more patient and find joy in your work.  Here’s what mine might look like.

1. 8-9 hours of sleep

2. Caffeine

3. Moderate exercise

4. Meditation

5. Healthy eating.

These should be things you have control of; so, not things like: get my kid to pick up his laundry.  You already know what you need to be calmer and happier at work.  You probably won’t be able to do all 5 all the time; but, make sure you are trying for 2-3 of them all the time.  Now commit yourself to doing them.

This might seem simplistic and it is really.  But, then why is it so hard to do the things we know we should be doing?  For me, sleep is my number one factor in having a good quality of life.  I have a friend who needs more than moderate exercise, pretty much everyday, in order to burn off the stress of working in a hospital.  She knows that she feels better and is happier when she gets home to her family.  She also told me that she noticed around 3pm everyday she was feeling sad and a bit down and wondered if it had to do with something in her eating habits.  She started eating a small handful of almonds at about 2:30 and she avoided the down turn in mood.  Eating almonds in the afternoon should be on her list.

I also need caffeine.  I’m weening myself down to one cup in the morning; but, in the big picture, caffeine (in moderation) is a basically harmless method of boosting focus, although temporary.  I have found it speeds up my brain’s transition from sleep to having the executive function perform at a level I need it to.  I suspect there are natural ways to help with this; but, at this point the caffeine works.

I also know that although meditation is the thing that helps me the most behind sleep, I do it the least which is something I would like to change.  I hit 3-4 things on my list everyday and would like to get that even higher.

Make the list.  Really think about it.  Put it somewhere where you can see it everyday.  You already know what you should be doing.  You don’t need a class or a book or a guru, although sometimes those things help with motivation.
One last piece of advice:  This is not another opportunity to assess your failure to reach a goal.  At the end of the day, if you only hit one congratulate yourself on hitting one.  That’s it.  This is something to shoot for and the reward is you feel better or you have more patience in frustrating situations or more energy to listen to your family’s stories when you get home.  If saying NO is on your list, the reward might be that you get to give your work projects the attention they deserve without feeling like you have spread yourself too thin.  This is your list; only you know what needs to go on it.

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3 thoughts on “Surviving the Rat Race

  1. Well, I loved your article. It brought up so many interesting points. I think a lot of non profit fields have burnout for the same reasons as the library field. More and more asked of fewer people and usually for a good cause. I had a friend in arts administration and she was burned out after two years. And kudos to the whole In the Library with a Leadpipe crew; I’m always happy when a new article shows up in Google Reader.

  2. Thanks, I like this list. I also find being writing a list of things in our present lives to be grateful for. Focusing on the negative can suck our energy, so focusing on being grateful for the things we have boost our energy and happiness. Therefore, we can be more focused and productive. I read the books by Eckhart Tolle which also helped a lot to focus my mind.

    Cheers,

    Chris

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