While studying for her degree in biology at Arizona State University in the summer, Kadel stayed behind in Phoenix with a friend, spending days and nights soaking up the sun, swimming in the Aquatic Science Center, and hanging out with her roommates. When they hit campus for their first semester, she was desperate to avoid the sometimes brutal academic demands of her science field, and craved days of relaxation and normality. So she headed back home to San Diego and rented a small beach house, where she ditched homework and kept a journal to give herself more structure. She then called the owner, and within hours a gardening company showed up to come fix her window for $50, making her more than half-way to what she thought would be a full-time gig. The summer wage was equivalent to what she would have earned during the rest of the year. “It gave me a huge freedom, and it was definitely a huge step for me,” says Kadel.
Like all workers, Kadel could reap financial benefits in return for taking off-hours time, says Wanda Bailey, an executive coach and co-author of Lean in, Go for It! (Routledge, 2017). “If you can take time off, that’s a huge benefit, because once you re-enter the workforce you’re coming back to an environment and work environment that’s changed,” she says. A shift in career aspirations, lower income or promotions might be in the offing, so having downtime will help a worker think carefully about career moves. “They feel secure and more capable of taking on more in the future,” Bailey says. Finding a way to get some well-deserved down time can take creativity, and for many people, it may be the difference between flexibility and being burned out.
Segment your schedule
Asking yourself the big, “What can I get done by the end of the day?,” question can be a real game-changer. It will help you find projects that can be done in a short time period that do what you do well. Instead of scrolling through social media, catch up on emails, or talking on the phone with a work contact, make a list and figure out which tasks will yield the largest immediate return on investment. Be aware that your idea of not doing too much will likely differ from your boss’ plan. “When people come into the workplace and don’t have a specific job description, those are the moments that break the grid,” Bailey says. Instead of being overwhelmed with late projects, Bailey advises these employees to follow the golden rule and take two or three steps back before starting a second or subsequent attempt. For example, you might dedicate an evening to manually drafting your next plan of attack rather than jotting it down on a whiteboard. “If you put the concrete evidence of your work in front of you, you can reduce what you need to do to do a good job,” she says.