Time out: You need to hit pause on your busy work life

The Washington Post Sunday - - BUSINESS - Michelle Sin­gle­tary

It’s the va­ca­tion sea­son, a time to get away. Re­gret­tably, many va­ca­tion­ers take their work with them.

Some peo­ple don’t even take the time off. Among em­ploy­ees who re­ceive paid leave, only about half (54 per­cent) fully took their earned va­ca­tion time in the pre­vi­ous 12 months, ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey by the job-search site Glass­door.

Of the re­spon­dents who did take leave, 66 per­cent said they still ended up work­ing. We’ve be­come so teth­ered to our tech­nol­ogy that we think noth­ing of check­ing our email or text mes­sages while we are sup­posed to be on hol­i­day. (Guilty!)

Just pause for a mo­ment to con­tem­plate how far out of bal­ance too many of us have be­come. We work so hard that we end up not be­ing able to take time to en­joy the good life we are try­ing to fund.

Imag­ine how much hap­pier and less stressed we’d all be if, through­out our ca­reers, we learned to slow down and stop — even if for just a lit­tle while.

That’s what Rachael O’Meara did. She was a cus­tomer sup­port man­ager at Google, and she was mis­er­able. Her em­ployee per­for­mance eval­u­a­tions weren’t good, and she was get­ting the mes­sage that she wasn’t work­ing out in her po­si­tion.

But be­fore her ca­reer

im­ploded, O’Meara took a break. She re­quested three months of un­paid leave to re­boot.

And out of her ex­pe­ri­ence came the pick for this month’s Color of Money Book Club, “Pause: Har­ness­ing the LifeChang­ing Power of Giv­ing Yourself a Break” (TarcherPerigee, an im­print of Pen­guin Ran­dom House, $15).

“All I could think about was work,” O’Meara writes. “I would be at friends’ houses, and while every­one else was en­gaged in con­ver­sa­tion, I was in my own world, two feet away, lost in my emails and wor­ries.”

O’Meara is still with Google, now a sales ex­ec­u­tive. But her break led to a break­through in what she calls “the power of the pause.”

I know many of you don’t have the lux­ury of tak­ing ex­tended time off, ei­ther be­cause your com­pany doesn’t of­fer un­paid or paid leave or you can’t af­ford to take it. Nonethe­less, when was the last time you stopped to re­ally con­sider what’s work­ing for you — in your re­la­tion­ships, your mar­riage, your fi­nances?

“Paus­ing isn’t tied to any amount of time,” O’Meara writes. “It’s about the qual­ity of how that time is spent. I de­fine a pause as any in­ten­tional shift in be­hav­ior that al­lows you space to ex­pe­ri­ence a men­tal shift in at­ti­tude, thoughts, or emo­tions that oth­er­wise wouldn’t have oc­curred.”

As some­one who is al­ways on speed dial, I get what O’Meara is say­ing. I also see how this con­cept is needed in per­sonal fi­nance.

I sit down with a lot of peo­ple to help them get out of debt, make a bud­get or de­velop a plan to save. They of­ten be­lieve their prob­lems are rooted in not mak­ing enough money. That’s not what I see. It’s not al­ways a lack of money that causes fi­nan­cial stress. They’re off bal­ance.

They haven’t spent any mean­ing­ful time cre­at­ing a work­able plan for their life or their money. So is it your time for a pause? O’Meara says there are at least five signs that you need a break.

You loathe the job you once loved.

Your man­ager is com­plain­ing about your per­for­mance.

You spend too much time with tech­nol­ogy. Not be­ing plugged in makes you panic. Think about it: How of­ten does some­one close to you com­plain about your in­abil­ity to put your smart­phone down?

You’ve been hit with a ma­jor change — good or bad.

You’re faced with a new op­por­tu­nity. You could get laid off, but it might be an open­ing for you to set up a new busi­ness.

If you’re go­ing to pause for five min­utes, a few hours or months, you’ll need a strat­egy. O’Meara pro­vides a wealth of tips and re­sources, in­clud­ing how to bud­get for a break. At www.RachaelOMeara.com/ pausere­sources, click the link for the “Don’t Break the Bank Work­sheet.”

I re­cently fell and badly sprained my right an­kle. The pain lasted for days, and I was forced to pause. O’Meara is right. My brief respite helped me re­al­ize how over­sched­uled I was and how hard it was to be still.

Let me leave you with a ques­tion from O’Meara: With­out the aware­ness gained from paus­ing, how do you know how you feel, what mat­ters or what aligns?

I’m host­ing an on­line dis­cus­sion about “Pause” at noon Eastern time on Aug. 31 at wash­ing­ton­post.com/ dis­cus­sions. O’Meara will join me to take your ques­tions. Take a break and join us. Read­ers may write to Michelle Sin­gle­tary at The Wash­ing­ton Post, 1301 K St. NW, Wash­ing­ton, D.C. 20071 or sin­gle­tarym@wash­post.com. Per­sonal re­sponses may not be pos­si­ble, and com­ments or ques­tions may be used in a fu­ture col­umn, with the writer’s name, un­less oth­er­wise re­quested. To read pre­vi­ous Color of Money col­umns, go to wapo.st/michelle-sin­gle­tary.

RACHAEL O’MEARA

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