I never really notice when my happiness falters until someone else points it out.
“Over the past two weeks, you just seemed happier and re-energized,” my husband said on a much-needed date night.
It’s like that moment when your entire family tells you that they hated that boyfriend that you just broke up with or they never really liked that favorite sweater you finally gave away.
“Wait – how long did you feel that way?” you may want to ask, but you usually know the answer. Since you made it Facebook official. Since you bought it. From the moment your laptop was attached to you.
The change? Suddenly, I have help and there is finally more time in my day to come up for air and talk to other people about their days and lives.
Over the past year, I prioritized a lot of the things that feed into happiness – making time for my own workouts, setting attainable goals and attempting to get enough sleep. But I neglected my closest relationships – again, the scale tipped and the balance is off. This is an overwhelmingly common theme in my life.
A long-running Harvard study reported on by the New York Times‘ Well blog found that, “one of the most important predictors of whether you age well and live a long and happy life is not the amount of money you amass or notoriety you receive. A much more important barometer of long term health and well-being is the strength of your relationships with family, friends and spouses.”
And in a more ominous language choice, these close relationships or lack thereof can predict whether or not you “descend into loneliness, sickness and mental decline.”
The pace and priorities we set for ourselves matter immensely. In fact, neglecting the whole picture of your happiness – achieving professional goals, allowing yourself time to learn, taking care of your whole health and nurturing your relationships – in favor of just one piece of that pie can often lead to burnout. And we know which one we usually let take over: J-O-B.
Millennial women in particular are afflicted with early burnout, Salon reports, and they’re dropping out of the workforce full-time for a surprising and new-ish reason. “Only 11 percent are out of the workforce to care for children full-time,” Harvard Business Review reports.
So if you’re reading this and you’re thinking about all of the dinners you’ve canceled lately or the fact that you haven’t even needed to apply SPF this summer due to a case of severe indoor, office-induced adulting, there’s still hope for you.
If this word feels terrifying and like you’re quitting some piece of your climb to the top, take heart, setting boundaries tends to be a boom for your career rather than a bust.
The list of high-performing people who set some sort of scheduled boundary is long, but it’s generally listed as a productivity hack. Generally, these two things go hand-in-hand. According to data compiled by Atlassian, you’re wasting a lot of time at work doing things that are probably driving you crazy anyway. Answering a barrage of emails, filling your day with “back-to-back” meetings and attending to the distraction machine in the palm of your hand.
And if you were doing your job with that time and getting your butt out of your seat at a reasonable hour, you could spend your newfound freedom on one of your other pillars of happiness.
You can start setting these boundaries today, but first, a PSA: Manage up. Tell your boss or team that you’re trying something new so they don’t lose their minds and start calling your desk when then don’t hear from you within 15 minutes of sending an email.
Because no one loves picking up the phone to, “Did you get my email?”
Pick times of the day during which you will answer emails
This doesn’t work for every job or workplace, but if you can get your team on board, it’s a serious productivity booster. Try booking 30 minutes to handle email communication at 9 am, 11:30 am, 3 pm and 5 pm. Those times allow you to start your day knowing what’s coming at you, handle anything before lunch, put your feelers out for anything that may delay your departure and to finish your day. If that sounds terrifying, try closing your email and hiding your phone for just one hour today and see how that feels.
Actually take lunch
Take a walk. Meet a friend. Leave your desk for even 20 minutes. This may sound counter-productive, but a lunch hour walk enhances energy and focus The New York Times’ Well Blog reports. Step out of your stress bubble, clear your head and return to take on the rest of the day.
Ask your team to establish a day or two that are meeting-free
If anyone questions this request, point them to this: $37 billion is wasted on meetings in the U.S. every year. Or direct them to the fact that 73 percent of meeting attendees admitted to doing other work in meetings.
Stop making to-do lists that are filled with things you won’t get done
Prioritize your list by what you absolutely need to get done today to fulfill the expectations of your job, to feel smart and to manage your stress. Creating a running list of stuff that just rolls over day-to-day is insane. Think about project-managing your work-life. Grab something like this to-do list template and take 30 minutes to prioritize everything on your list. If you’re addicted to paper to-lists (I get it), just write down the stuff that’s mission-critical each day.
And once you realize how productive you are and how much time you can devote to your personal life, institute some of these habits from happiness expert Gretchen Rubin and start taking care of the ties that bind.