A fundamental lesson about unplugging I wish I knew before — A remote worker story

Do you find it difficult to unplug and feel fully satisfied at the end of the day?

Do you find it easy to stay awake until late, to send one more email or message to your colleagues on slack?

Do you show signs of compulsive behavior, stress, anxiety, insomnia, impossibility to enjoy the present moment without thinking about your job?

Then this post is for you!

The job market is increasingly competitive and it’s hard to stay sharp and focussed for longer periods of time and some days it’s impossible to concentrate. It’s hard to define a clear boundary between work and personal life above all when you work remotely. Finding satisfying work-life balance is very difficult.

Difficult, but not impossible. In fact, a healthy work-life balance is quite near at hand but don’t worry, I am not going to tell you one of those step-by-step useless lists the internet is saturated of. Instead, I am going to show you the approach you can adopt in order to develop your own work-life balance according to your needs and your personal story.

Case Study

It was around 10:00pm when I stood up and declared that I was leaving. The rest of my friends who attended the dinner looked at me as if I were completely out of my mind. What my friends couldn’t grasp was my restlessness. They couldn’t understand why I would prefer to go home instead of spending one more hour with them. Surprised and doubtful faces looked at me in complete silence. Those few seconds of awkwardness were enough to convince me to give a bit of explanation.

- Well…you know, I have some experiments going on right now, running on the server.

They were still waiting for the real explanation to come. I felt like a complete idiot standing in the middle of the living room while all the others were chilling out on the sofa and chairs, still snacking some biscuits and sipping tea. I felt compelled to continue.

- I programmed the script so that once the experiments are done, I receive a message. I just checked and the experiments are done. I can’t wait to see the results. (Some polite objections arose). I hear you, I can check them tomorrow, but if I check them tonight and they are good, tomorrow I can wrap everything up in an email to my boss and I will relax for the rest of the day.

Fooling myself was one of my top skills that I demolished over time. Back then, I was convincing myself that I told the truth. I got home, opened my laptop, checked the experiments and two possible scenarios could take place.

scenario 1. I obtained good results. You might think that at 11pm, after a working day and a satisfying dinner and great time with my friends, I would be happy with what I got and fall asleep no later than 11:15pm. Well…not exactly. I would still write my email because the more I did the more I could relax the next day. At least, that was my illusion. I would then go to sleep around 1am. The next day, I would still think about what the email meant in the big picture of the project. I would come up with new experiments to do and I would end up thinking and coding.

scenario 2. I didn’t get good results. I could then choose to shrug and go to sleep. Nope, I would get obsessed with what went wrong. Most likely a bug in the code. I could shrug and go to sleep. Again, I would discard this option and choose to look into the code to find that annoying bug. And run the experiments again. I would go to sleep around 1:30am. The next day I would still update my boss feeling guilty and ashamed that I didn’t fix the bug earlier.

I showed this compulsive behaviour in countless occasions. There was always something else to do that needed to be done right away. Life could wait. My friends could wait. My health could wait. My family could wait. Does it sound familiar?

Problem

The problem wasn’t my boss. The problem wasn’t the deadline or the pressure to obtain results. Nothing external to me was the real problem. Why? Because everything that I could do at the end of a working day when I was tired and frustrated could wait until the next day.

But then, what was the problem?

If you are still reading this post, I bet that you also feel like there must be something more that you still haven’t taken into account.

The real problem is the drive. Yes, the so called drive that pushes you to do more and to have more. For instance, I had a completely unhealthy drive that was encouraging me to adopt unhealthy behaviours. I wanted to have more articles published, a better version of my code, more sophisticated methods to get better results, more collaborations, more friends, more physical activity, more love.

That’s the aspect of unplugging I always overlooked: having a clear idea of what my real drive was and do something about it.

Just to be clear, I am not against having a drive. Instead, I advocate having a healthy drive. But in order to have a healthy drive, you first need to know what your current drive is.

Solution

The solution is pretty simple to see, but quite difficult to get. Imagine you have a glass wall that separates you from the solution. You can see it right in front of you, but you still can’t get it. The hard job is to find an opening in the glass wall.

Let’s take a look at the solution. A counterintuitive approach to see the solution is the following: the problem is the solution! Let me tell you something…there is nothing more clear that the urge to check your email, send a message, doing one more work related task. If you want to know what you can do to reduce the nasty desire to get the one-more-minute task done, the only way is to investigate that desire, to understand the drive.

If you find yourself blaming other people and situations, then you are moving far from the solution. Blaming someone or something else won’t work. Blaming yourself won’t work either. The point is that there is nothing and nobody to blame in the first place. What you have is a set of choices that you should be aware of and change.

Why, why…and again why

So, what works it to ask yourself why you are choosing work over life.

- What do you really want to accomplish?

- Why is it so important to you to send that message or check that bug now?

- How is it serving you and the people you love?

Those are just a few questions that you can ask in order to reveal your drive. In my mentoring practice, I gain fulfillment from the light I see in my client’s eyes when they finally get their eureka moment after we dig deeper. The same moment that can knock you down but you still feel awesome about it.

Now comes the hard, not impossible, part…and you can succeed

Learning to ask the right questions is a fantastic start. The hard part comes when you need to review your beliefs and habits that prevent you from acknowledging your drive. Imagine those beliefs and habits as pieces of clothes attached to the glass wall. You have to put them out of the way before you can take a look at what lies beyond the glass wall.

With the right mentor, you can dramatically speed up the process of stripping the glass wall of the clothes. Once you can finally look at what drives you, you can benefit from the mentor experience and guidance to find the opening in the wall.

Crossing the wall means that you understand your drive and you are able to make peace with it, adjusting your behavior according to your values and priorities.

Benefits of understanding the drive

Can you imagine the kind of connection you can achieve with yourself and your beloved once you have a clear picture of what your drive is and you develop your strategy to improve your work-life balance? Can you see yourself switching computer and phone off, being satisfied with what you accomplished and being completely present with your family and friends?

Those are only a few of the benefits of understanding your drive. Many other will come and they aren’t difficult to imagine. Being fulfilled on a daily basis will also:

- improve your sleep quality

- increase productivity

- reduce anxiety

- increase tolerance towards other people’s opinions and lives

- increase resilience to stress

Where to start?

You can start investigating your drive right now using the questions I gave you in the “why, why…and again why” section. But you can also go further by seeking professional guidance to help you through whatever might hold you back from achieving your perfect life style. Start reaching out for a meaningful conversation with someone who went through your situation and came out of it with a lot of experience to share.

Originally published at alemontalto.com

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Alessandro Montalto PhD

I mentor people to develop the required soft skills to become successful remote workers — alemontalto.com