At the beginning of my career, I used to get caught up in something I now call the Bottleneck Syndrome (BS). I worked hard to impress my superiors and get recognized as a team leader, but I was neglecting myself and, equally as important, my family and friends.
I could have easily blamed it on being new, but the truth is new and seasoned employees struggle to find the right balance in work and life. I’d argue that we should be trying to establish a career to build a life.
Not sure if you’re suffering from BS? Let me ask you this, have you checked in with your vision of a great life lately? Before it wreaks havoc in your life, keep an eye out for signs like these:
• You watch your co-workers leave for the evening while you sneak in another half an hour of “face time” at the office. Someone told you that working late was the sign of a leader, perhaps a leader is someone who has created effective systems and gets more done each day so that they don’t have to work late.
• Instead of saying “no” when a new project is offered, you say yes because you want to be a team player. What if being a leader was about knowing when to say no so that someone else could step up and build their skills?
• When it’s time to spend time with family or friends, you’re so tired from work that you’d rather do absolutely nothing. Or worse, you’re not really present, constantly checking email because you feel you “have” to work.
The truth is, you don’t have to work—you have to live.
It took me awhile before I figured out how to successfully mitigate the BS—how to be an active contributor by day and a free spirited friend, girlfriend and sister at night.
Here are some of the lessons I learned that I still carry with me today:
1. Set clear personal goals that align with your vision for your life.
One of the biggest lessons I ever learned is to make sure that once a year, usually in December, I sit with my vision and build my yearlong goals around it. I also take that time to update my vision board (a visual representation of what I am working toward in the next year). I truly believe that when you are clear on where you’re going, the journey is much more enjoyable.
As you look hard at your vision, here are some things to consider:
• What’s your life description? Don’t get me wrong, having a career is rewarding, but you are more than your job title. What else is important to you?
• If you were free to be yourself and enjoy what’s most important to you, what would that look like?
2. Live in the 8’s.
I learned this one from Brian Tracy—eight hours to work, eight hours to sleep and eight hours to enjoy what’s most important to you, be it family, vacationing, hobbies.
I have lived by this principle, and it helps me be the best version of who I am.
3. Focus on what you can control.
In my opinion, BS starts when you have to be in control. Of course, I get it—I am, after all, a graduate of “If You Want It Done Right, Do It Yourself” University. But as I’ve gotten older, the hustle and grind gets less rewarding and time enjoying my life becomes my main focus.
I have taken stock of what creates negative emotions for me—and I nip them in the bud. By focusing on what I want and what I can control, I have shifted my energy and released the bottleneck.
4. Secure your air mask first.
When the flight attendants are giving the safety instructions before takeoff, they say if the cabin loses pressure, an oxygen mask will drop from above your seat—secure your mask before helping those with you.
The same applies to all facets of life. We are no good to anyone if we are suffering from BS. So by going back to tip #1 and setting a vision for your life, you will ensure that those along for the ride will have an enjoyable experience with a refreshed, focused and present you.
5. Set an end to your day, every day.
This one is a Stephen Covey favorite for me. I also learned this around the time that I had my last outbreak of BS. I realized that by creating and working from a daily “top three things to do” list, I could achieve a daily win and, most importantly, set an end to my workday. I had to learn how to prioritize, but when I did, my life balance drastically improved.
BS is a bad habit. But by applying these strategies consistently, you’ll see a new habit emerge—a habit that positions you to live life on purpose.