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How not to be a robot; balancing work and life

Wash, lather, rinse, repeat.

Wake up, go to work, go to sleep, repeat.

Sounds like a robot, doesn’t it? Anyone in the working life can attest to that. You do the same thing, every day. You can’t tell the days apart from how similar they’ve become.

You see, work has taken over our lives. You’re at the dinner table, and all of a sudden, the table starts shaking. No, it’s not an earthquake; it’s your phone. Or rather, it’s your boss. You thought the day was over, but here’s an email explaining that something urgent came up and that you must address it immediately. There goes the quality time with family you thought you were having tonight.

Then, the next day, you’re doing the night shift. You glance at your spouse for a mere, blurry second as they leave early for work (you’re in bed trying to get as much sleep as possible to stay awake at work) and you get home after midnight when they’re sound asleep. I’m not going to wake him, you think to yourself. Besides, he’s so— zzzand you crash.

For those of you in the beginning of your careers, know that you’re probably going to be working a part of your anatomy off for a while. But the fear is that it will never end.  A lot of people say, “Oh, it’s just the beginning.” But then why, 30 years down the road, do I still see people doing nothing but work?

For a lot of people, work is their way of contributing to society. It’s their way of making a difference. But for a lot of other people, work is just a way of paying the bills that results in no other time for 1). things they really want to do and 2). being human. As a result of our usually praised workaholic society, we are risking our relationships, health and overall happiness. So it’s not about “dreading” going to work or not wanting to; it’s about having that balance, as we should in every aspect of our lives.

One of the top 5 regrets of dying people was: I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. So how do we not live life like robots?

I’m a complete rookie to the work life. But from what I’ve seen thus far, this is what I think will help me stay passionate about my work without sacrificing every other element in my life.

Here are 5 ways to live and and work efficiently ever after:

1). When you’re at work, be at work

If you treat your however many hours you’re required to work with perfection, you will get your work done and will have less “homework” to do at home. The key is to try to be efficient and to eliminate distractions. If you have a lunch break, don’t go beyond the time allocated for it. Don’t waste time at work. You want to excel at your job. Do the best you can and once you’ve done that, try even harder. Some days you’re going to have work more than others, and that’s O.K. as long as you’re aware when and how often it’s happening. (Not so you can be paid overtime but for your own assessment)

2). Schedule everything in

I  mean it— everything. That doesn’t mean you can’t be spontaneous, but that means you’ve prioritized what’s important to you and you’ve actually allocated time for it. Make use of every minute of every day. According to a TIME article, research shows that the happiest people are busy — but don’t feel rushed.

Use a weekly schedule and decide what you want to do daily, weekly, bi-weekly or monthly. That can include -but is obviously not limited to- yoga, visiting family, catching up with friends, volunteering, spiritual gatherings— anything you want to do or any hobby you want to continue taking part in. You may not get to do everything every week, but you’re going to try. And if you miss it, a small part of you will feel guilty so you’ll try not to miss it twice in a row. Efficient people have planned schedules but aren’t afraid to break away from them when necessary (remember that).

3). Where’s that bucket list?

Remember the list of things you’ve always wanted to do before you turned 30? (And now that you’ve turned 30, it’s now up to 40…) Get to it! Going skydiving or starting on that novel you’ve always wanted to write (or whatever it is you really want to do)— do it now. It’ll make you less resentful. Even though you’re working long hours, you’ll feel satisfied knowing that you’re accomplishing the things you’ve always wanted to accomplish. It’ll make you feel less like a robot…more free-spirited. You’ll feel like you’re in control. You’ll feel excited and if anything, you’ll be excited to go to work and brag about what you’ve done over the weekend.

4). Me, me, me

(I know, if you’re a mother reading this, you probably want to shoot me right now. ME TIME? IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE?!) But really. Have some time for your own sanity. Turn off your phone and write in a journal; go for a jog; sit under a tree; read a book; or just sit and do nothing. Reflect. Assess how you feel. Don’t ignore that little voice in your head that asks you every day, “are you happy?” “are you becoming a better person?” They’re trivial questions that may need some time to be answered.

5). Urgent vs. important

Simply put, decide what you need to do now and what can wait until later. Often times, you’ll realize it’s not really the end of the world and time is on your side— for once.

The Decision Book: 50 Models for Strategic Thinking

At the end of the day, you really should love what you do. But it’s important to realize that work isn’t the only identifier that speaks to who you are. You work so you can have a life, you don’t have a life just so you can work. We’re not machines, but without the proper balance, we can eventually breakdown.

Just Do It.

You know what the problem is? Sometimes you try so hard, too hard, to be perfect in all that you do, that you actually don’t get anything done. You’re so worried about taking the first step of a six-mile marathon. You forget that it’s one of many. You’re occupying yourself with thoughts that are quite unnecessary. Should I start with my right foot, or my left foot? Should I tie my laces in a bunny or a butterfly? What if I get tired half way? It looks like it’s going to rain. Should I bring an umbrella? Should I even run the marathon?—JUST START ALREADY. Stop worrying. Take the step. Take a leap of faith. Have trust in yourself…and go.

Lately, I’ve been putting off a lot of things. I’ve been so afraid of starting something and not being able to finish it. Or that it may not come out the way I want it to. So I kept postponing my “to do” list. Not my studies, because that stuff has a deadline. Keyword: DEADLINE. You see? The problem is setting deadlines for yourself, by yourself. We think we have a long time to do whatever we want. We literally think we have forever. We say “Oh, if not today, then tomorrow. If not tomorrow, then the day after…and so on.” And then all of a sudden, two months have passed and looking back, you’ve done nothing. Where did time go?

Those two hours you spent re-watching Titanic or The Proposal, you could’ve spent actually doing something. Not to say you shouldn’t have a break and watch a movie! By all means, go ahead. But the issue is, we’re now always on a break. If the day had 10 hours (aside from sleeping), we’d spend 8 hours on a break and 2 hours actually working. Our break has become our “normal”. We now normally watch two movies a day. We’ve become professional time wasters- unintentionally. We go on Facebook simply to check our notifications, and we somehow end up on our friend’s cousin’s fiancé’s aunt’s daughter’s birthday pictures when she was five. How did we get there?! Beats me.

Good news is, it’s never too late to get back on track :). Set a schedule for yourself. Make a calendar; it helps. Actually write down what you want to do. Whether it’s by hand, on your laptop or on your phone, it’ll keep you on track. Have long-term goals, but don’t let those stop you from achieving the short term ones. Don’t be afraid of something not being perfect. Having something done is better than not having anything at all. And remember, being too much of a perfectionist is an imperfection in itself. Yes, Allah loves those who perfect their actions, but keyword: ACTION. Actually do something so you can perfect it.

Stop worrying about the “what-ifs”, think about “what-now”, and just do it. (No NIKE plagiarism intended)

TEDxIB – 5 before 5

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