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What to Do When You Find Yourself Overworking Even Though You Know You “Should Be” Doing Less

I just finished a work sprint that lasted two and a half months.

Despite having written Do Less, I was doing more. More than I would like to do, at least.

During the sprint that included two back-to-back launches and two back-to-back (mostly virtual) retreats, I caught myself feeling “overwork shame” a couple of times.

I got curious about it.

I let the mastermind I’m part of know about it because shame left in the dark really tends to fester.

(I can’t imagine doing business without this group, and I highly recommend you find one for yourself. Applications to the one I’m leading in 2021 will be opening soon, and you can get on the waitlist here.)

I realized a few things that helped me alchemize the shame into learning, and I’m sharing them with you because I know I’m not the only one who finds themselves overworking from time to time, despite “knowing better.”

I found myself wondering, “How the heck did I end up doing so much in such a short period of time?” And then I realized: I had 3 months without childcare this past spring (and I know so many others are still in that situation), we lost 2 full-time team members at the end of March, and I was running our company in 4 hours a day with a skeleton crew.

It was a massive contraction from a production standpoint. The promotions we’d planned simply could not happen. We needed to onboard new team members in order to prepare for our promotions, and I don’t like to launch in the summer because I want to be at the beach with my kids as much as possible.

Thus, my 2.5 month work sprint from mid-August to the end of October.

When I stopped beating myself up for overscheduling myself and looked at the reasons everything shook out that way, a lot of self-compassion became immediately available.

After every contraction comes an expansion. After every expansion comes a contraction.

The pursuit of balance can sometimes trip me up and trigger my inner Perfectionist Polly.

But making space for the pendulum to swing the other way when it’s been one way for a long time helps me feel more compassionate and accept what is.

Doing less when it comes to beating myself up or resisting what is helps me exhale every time.

Right in the thick of the sprint I found myself saying, “Seriously, Kate? Again with the overworking/overscheduling? Haven’t you learned this lesson yet? You know better than this.”

And then I remembered my own medicine: Everything is cyclical.

Each of us has some core lessons in this lifetime that we’ll circle back to again and again, just at a higher level of consciousness than last time.

When I took a closer look, I saw that I had more support and more systems and structures helping me to maintain spaciousness within my full schedule than I’d ever had before during a previous work sprint.

My communication with Mike was better. My presence with my kids was better. My sleep was dialed in, and I kept prioritizing moving my body, despite my little “I don’t have time for this” gremlin.

So, yeah, I was up against my tendency for my eyes being bigger than my schedule again. But I was refining and becoming wiser and wiser by the minute.

Since I’ll never be done learning the same things over and over again, I choose to celebrate how much more I know this time than I did the last time.

Never, not once, have I gotten the result I was after from beating myself up.

I found myself thinking that I was a f*ck-up who couldn’t practice what she preached.

But I knew that wasn’t helping me with anything.

So instead, I decided that everything was happening exactly as it should be and that I was doing everything precisely the way I needed to in order to receive the lessons I needed to receive.It also allowed me to redirect any energy that I might have wasted beating myself up toward my creativity, focus, rest, presence, and learning.

Will I find myself overworking and overscheduled again in the future? Based on past experience: yes.

Will I be more compassionate with myself and quicker to find spaciousness and ease each time? Undoubtedly.

Facing the same challenges again and again is inevitable. Learning from them each time is a choice.

What’s one of the challenges you find yourself facing over and over again? What have you learned and changed over time so that you’re facing it from a higher perspective each time? Leave a comment and let me know!

  • Eileen says:

    Procrastination

  • Angela says:

    Yes yes yes yes yes! Thank you. I so needed to hear this. It’s not about arriving – It’s about the noticing, understanding, shifting and bit by bit, cycle by cycle, doing it differently. Knowing this will happen again and again and again…and that’s OK!
    Big breath out. Now I have some space. Thank you thank you!

  • Aliza says:

    Wow. This really resonated with me today. I went through a spring from March to September. Very little break. I’m a one woman show in my business so when I started to get some down time around the end of September, I started to feel like a slacker. One of my girlfriends told me yo stop being so hard on myself as the voice in my head kept saying, “you should be making calls. You should be following up with clients. There are only 51 days left in 2020. You’re buying a house, now is not the time to slow down.” No matter what I do though, my body and my mind are not cooperating. Sigh…

    Then I read this line and it all made sense; Everything is cyclical.

    • Kate Northrup says:

      Yes! Give yourself a freaking break. The planet takes a break 1/4 of every year during winter. Give yourself that same gift. Your results will actually be better because of it.

  • Sofie Hoste says:

    Hello Kate

    I have the ‘Do Less’ planner here next to me, but I-have-no-time to fill it in :-) The last 2 months I am in such a hurry hurry mode and I don’t know how to get out of this modus! Strange because I KNOW and FELT earlier already that I am ways more productive when I work less and when I take more time for self care, but cannot get the ‘click’ to relax. Even in the weekends I find it difficult to relax and this is ringing alarmbells! I know I am close to find the ‘click’ and to change my behaviour but isn’t it strange that you KNOW that it would be better to take more rest and still you don’t do it! As an entrepreneur I want to prove myself but WHO does care how much I earn? Last weekend something clicked already as I enjoyed the warm nest of my kids and husband. Now still more clicks of more balance in work life…. Big exercise for me!!!! Glad you share your honest story!!! Sofie – Belgium

    • Kate Northrup says:

      Yes Sofie – sometimes overdoing becomes automatic and we really need a pattern interrupt! I highly recommend walking barefoot and laying on the ground. They help slow it right down automatically and if you do it every day you really do shift pace.

  • Tarryn says:

    I needed to read this. I’m at a new job right now where I’ve been working more intensely than I know is sustainable. It’s a contract job that should end in December, so part of me wants to prove how much I can bring to the team. The other part of me realizes, if I “sell” myself at this speed, it’s the speed I’ll be expected to go when hired.

    I don’t want to slow down so much, as I did at my last contract, where I lose a job opportunity potentially. I know that my last contract didn’t hire when they were meant to because of COVID, so I know it wasn’t me to some extent. But I other contractors were extended. It worked out for the better since it wasn’t the best place for me to work, but I like this team, so it’s hard not to rev up on the work and burn myself out.

    • Kate Northrup says:

      Definitely stay in the inquiry about what will work for you long-term because YOU get to choose what works best for you and then you’ll attract the ideal gig based on that!

  • Sherold Barr says:

    Kate – this was a wonderful reminder to all of us that as we expand our consciousness, we can be self-compassionate with ourselves.

    It feels so much better than my harsh inner critic Helga who had me overworking constantly. She’s not so loud now due to a big leap in consciousness after a near fatal car wreck three years ago. I have so much compassion for my younger self and all of the striving and driving she did without this awareness.

  • Alexandra says:

    Yes! Totally resonating with me this week, and thinking it’s time to be okay with a day with ‘less’ maybe not fully being ‘off.’ Thanks for voicing this :-)

  • Booth says:

    Kate,

    I feel you on this. I am in the middle of a sprint right now and “all in” doesn’t ever seem to be quite enough. I was actually thinking of the cyclical nature of things (that I have learned from you) when I teased myself in my own mind that the Fall is when I drink from the fire hose I spent the Spring and Summer creating!!! LOL This has been the pattern for the last two years. What I have also learned from you is that after the sprint, after the intense season of production, there is a season of rest, reflection and integration waiting for me IF AND WHEN I choose to seize it, honor it, and relax into it. This perfectionist, super hero, soloist (drawing from my friend Catherine Porth’s work on Imposter Syndrome) is still pretty hard on herself, but I am learning. And that journey has become richer and more sustainable because of your work.

    xoxo,
    Booth

  • Kah says:

    Wowww this is just gorgeous! I found myself yesterday in this very same situation. “You should know better by now” . Thanks for sharing your vulnerabilty. Make room for the pendulum to swing. Akiba/thanks Kate!

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