Five weeks into dating Vijay, fear crept up on me. Not so much about the relationship itself, but about how I was going to manage my job on top of it.
I was locked into a routine centered on working after hours and answering emails every night. Now, suddenly, my evenings were with him. How was I going to make up for leaving work earlier? Would my output and impact plummet?
What I discovered surprised me. My work didn’t suffer at all. In fact, my team thrived, and my manager praised what she saw as a positive shift.
Working less had actually made me more effective, as well as happier. I had a better attitude and a clearer head. Rather than working longer hours out of habit, I was becoming more aware of what I needed to do to be effective, and more thoughtful about when to sprint, and when to ease off.
I learned, and am still learning, three big, important lessons from that experience:
1. Attitudes Are Contagious
When I was teaching fourth grade, one of my mentors told me to embrace the maxim, “You are the weather.” If I showed up in a bad mood, I’d pass it along to my students and have a room full of grouchy kids on my hands.
The same principle applies to my interactions as a manager—if I’m exhausted and snappy, it doesn’t take long for my team to catch the negativity bug.
When I started working less, I was able to bring more joy and enthusiasm to the office, and I saw that reflected in my team. I realized that, as a leader, it’s my responsibility to show up in the best way I can so everyone else does, too—which means giving myself time to rest and recharge.
2. Important Decisions Require Breathing Room
I make a lot of decisions over the course of a day. Should we hire this person? Should we launch this feature? How do we handle this upset customer? Those choices require me to step back and look at the big picture, to listen patiently and carefully to stakeholders, and to objectively consider everyone’s input before making a call.
When I was stuck in the pattern of working constantly, I could easily fall into panic mode and execute something too quickly.
Once I started giving myself some downtime, I was able to make smarter choices. And the change had a ripple effect: Because my team saw me reacting calmly to tricky situations, they were able to stay grounded and make better decisions, too.
One of my reports recently told me that she looks to me in crisis moments in the same way that she looks to a flight attendant in a plane traveling through turbulence. Because I seem cool and collected, she doesn’t panic. If I were scrambling, she’d assume we were going down. That comment was a good reminder of the importance of giving myself the space I need to think through things.
3. Work Needs Life to Be Successful
In our career-oriented culture, we often think of work-life balance as a zero sum game: The more you add to life, the more you take away from work, and vice versa.
But our lives aren’t so neatly compartmentalized. If you want to show up at work as a well-grounded, relaxed, and focused colleague, you need to do the things in the rest of your life that make you a grounded, relaxed, and focused person. Maybe that means taking a weekend away once a month, spending an hour reading in a coffee shop every evening, or signing off from all technology by 9 PM.
The important thing to remember is that taking time off isn’t an indulgence—sometimes, it’s the most responsible, professional, and productive thing you can do.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering what happened with Vijay—we just celebrated our first wedding anniversary with a vacation.