A merging of life has happened to the world. The pandemic has caused a need to re-evaluate what we truly value. Time is being morphed being in the same environment every day all day. On the dreary days, it feels like purgatory. Weekends feel like the week. I often forget what month it is.
Today, April 12, 2020, marks the 30th day that I have been quarantined. What was initially having a separate work office is now a luxury. I look back so far and feel as though there is no momentum in my life of what I find important. The line has never felt more blurred between my work and life.
Both of the leaders of Microsoft and Amazon, Satya Nadella and Jeff Bezos, agree on the importance of work-life harmony. To bring the energy created at work to home and vice versa. It is a flywheel where generating energy in the workplace is essential to having harmony in life instead of a tradeoff with a viewpoint of work-life balance.
During this time where remote work has been forced upon us without a choice. We need to take control through making the most of this time of working remotely full-time. I want to be able to look back on this period of time knowing I took control of what I could. That I accomplished small wins in different areas that I value. A new normal needs to be defined.
This change has shaken us awake from living life on autopilot. We need to make decisions based on what is important even if it is challenging to adjust. Experiment while figuring out how to work and set boundaries for work, life, and leisure. There is a time for work and a time for play. This concept is from one of Aesop’s fables of the Ants and the Grasshopper.
In late autumn, a family of Ants was bustling along in the warm sunshine, drying out their grain they had dried up during the summer. A starving Grasshopper, with his fiddle under his arm, came and begged for a bite to eat. The ants cried out in surprise asking the Grasshopper what he had stored for the winter given it was only Fall. He confessed that he didn’t have time to store any food since he was so busy making music before the summer ended. The Ants were disgusted at the Grasshopper for not planning ahead to feed his future self. The Ants made a joke of the Grasshopper and encouraged him to make an addition to his music with dancing. They didn’t offer him any food.
Righteously so, the Ants worked hard for their rewards of being prepared for the winter. Like for the Ants, remote work has become more challenging than ever before to know when to stop working. When should breaks be taken? How do we figure out how to be productive in work and set boundaries for life and leisure?
The Ants had the reputation of working the whole summer. Work was their full identity. In life this is risky. If you lose your job, then you lose a sense of self. You become lost without an identity. If you consider your passion as your work, many people gain their competitive edge from this. Without the benefit of hindsight, realizing that diversifying where resources are spent is challenging.
I come from a place of gratitude for having job security and health. I am tempted to give my job my all, all the time, in order to justify my existence in my position. According to Gallup’s burnout study, employees are 43% less likely to experience high levels of burnout when they have a choice in what tasks to do, when to do them and how much time to spend on them. On the flip side, with more autonomy and ambiguity from being full-time remote, it can create this same burnout risk.
Nobody aspires for a physical or mental collapse caused by overworking or stress. The ants had such a deliberate habit of gathering food– who knows if they even know how to have fun? Perhaps, it is wise to give in to the temptation that the Grasshopper did. The objective is to become a part like the Ants and the Grasshopper. Both are key factors in finding fluid levels of work and leisure in life. It is a never-ending learning journey. There is no one size fits all.
James Clear has written about the four-burner theory where we have four different buckets in life to focus on. It is challenging to focus on all four simultaneously. He explains different strategies to overcome this barrier: outsourcing a burner, embracing a constraint, or accepting your season of life. Clear has written, “Goals can provide direction and even push you forward in the short-term, but eventually, a well-designed system will always win. Having a system is what matters. Committing to the process is what makes the difference.” We need to intentionally go about creating altered systems.
What is the solution?
After being inspired by Jesse Itzler, whose “Build Your Life Resume” course I took last year, this month of April I’ve had more focus. I have been moving the needle in each of these buckets in my life. Figuring out what you value and put them on a sheet of paper. I put 3 different columns on a sheet of paper to make sure the I achieve something that moves the needle in my wellness, relationships, and professional development.
Wellness: How am I getting outside and moving my body today?
Relationships: Who am I checking in on or connecting with today?
Skill building: What professional skill did I improve upon today?
Looking back on this sheet allows me to look back on the month of April thus far, and have momentum. I feel like I am still making small wins and moving forward despite physically being in the same place day after day. I encourage you to lean into be part Grasshopper and part Ant. How will you narrow in on what is important to you and make time for it?