Around the 15th of last month, I experienced the very thing I dreaded for the longest time. I maxed out my mobile internet data within 2 weeks. And I had another 2 more weeks to survive. This usually happened a few days before my data renewal date but this time, things got real.
I had 2 options: Boost my data for a fee or go on a ‘data diet’.
I chose to go with the data diet as an experiment to
1) Hold myself accountable for the data splurge I did
2) Not get into the habit of boosting data every month
A ‘data diet’ is somewhat like an Hindu temple diet where you only consume your meals at temples because it is free – except in this case you restrict yourself to consuming data only where you find free WiFi.
What I initially expected to a horrible ordeal turned out to be a refreshing experience.
My usual downtimes while travelling became notification-free, thanks to my 0 data balance. Initially I kept checking my phone for the latest notifications. Checking email and social media for updates during my downtime had become a habit. And I didn’t know what else to do with my phone. I kept it away and was left alone with my thoughts. I started reflecting.
Work Life Boundaries
That’s when I realised that I actually had no specific time to ‘shut down’. There was no clear ‘Boundary’ that I drew between work and other aspects of my life.
There is so much talk about work-life balance and work-life integration but have we really mastered work-life boundaries? With access to the internet on a 24/7 basis, expectations have shifted and boundaries have blurred when it comes to work.
Previously it was all about snail mail. Your work for the day was based on what appeared in your pigeon-hole. Today, it’s all about what’s in your inbox.
Previously, it took time to communicate between one another. Calls between colleagues from different countries and regions were expensive, fax machines were the technology they used to get documents across. Things took time, and were way less stressful back then – I assume.
Previously, the news for the day was scheduled every night at 9:30pm – 10:00pm. That was all there is to it. Today, it has become 24/7, reaching you from different sites and sources.
Millennials have become the Burnout Generation
It’s no wonder that Millennials have become the burnout generation. Having grown up in a highly connected world, their need for efficiency has evolved with the technology they grew up with. Expectations have changed with it.
Even if you’re on a holiday, you are expected to be contactable via phone
Work has become location independent and the work life integration that we fight for has become a double edged sword along the way. While it allows us to get work done outside the office, it also means that work will follow us wherever we go, with access to the internet.
In fact, many may stress out like me about not being able to access the internet because of the work that will pile up during the downtime. All of this leads to a feeling of never-ending exhaustion, and then some more.
Perhaps the reason why Millennials are given the title of being the burnout generation is because this has been the norm since young. Their helicopter parents have always made sure they had the edge to get into the best Universities and Colleges so that they can secure the best jobs. The expectations from them started from childhood and they have been trained to work in that environment. Optimisation with technology is just one of the commonalities of Millennials where they become more productive to do more work instead of less. This generation started this trend, for sure.
It’s not just work
When stuck in a rut between work and life, energy is then primarily directed to actions that promise a better return of investment (and energy). This is why most Millennials seem to struggle with #Adulting. To do the basic chores even when you detest it takes up a lot of willpower. They end up with decision fatigue – an inability to get things done because they’re so tired that they have nothing more to give from within.
Social Media Comparitivitis
It also doesn’t help that when we are on social media, we are exposed to how others are living their lives way more perfectly than us. We see their promotions, new house, new car or new travel destination and feel that similar feeling of envy creep up within us. Especially if we see our friends travelling the world, having a ball of a time, with the correct mix of work and leisure in it.
Social Media has become our diaries today. We are narrating our stories on social media the way we want it to be told, and it becomes an alternative reality that we have to uphold wherever we go. People who see your social media postings believe that you are living the ideal life. The conversations they have with you when you meet them in person stems from your social media stories. And if you’ve not shown any symptoms of burnout on Social Media, it probably doesn’t ‘exist’.
Which leads us to the next feeling of loneliness. The connectivity that social media has provided today that prevents us from having deeper conversations about our lives.
We put up our lives like an open diary on social media, but we only showcase the best parts of our lives. It comes to a point, that to keep up with the theme and consistency, some start to exaggerate the basic stuff. Not only does that feel inauthentic, it guilts us a little as well when we post this up for likes, comments and shares.
When all you talk about with the people around you are about your most recent ‘perfect’ social media posts, that’s when you know you have to break the cycle.
It is a never-ending loop of posting only the good stuff for others to get that hit of dopamine. When you realise that the conversations you have in your life are about the superficial and surface level stuff, then it becomes hard to form deep and meaningful relationships with people you can talk about life with.
So what can we do?
There is no easy solution to this because it has become part of the environment. Expectations have risen, and not many can cope with the high level of work and stress combined. And yet we are living. Just not happily.
It’s not like having a bad week or a bad phase. There are many ways to change your state and improve your moods – you can read more about that here. But burnout is more than having a bad week.
To break the cycle, one really needs to overhaul their lifestyle. And this is where I want to introduce the wisdom of my productivity role model – Tim Ferriss:
1. Interest and Energy are cyclical
According to Tim Ferriss, if your company offered you $10,000,000 to work 24 hours for 15 years and then retire, would you do it? Of course not – because it is unsustainable. But this is what most people define as careers today. Doing the same thing for 8+ hours per day until you break down or have enough cash to permanently stop.
Alternating periods of activity and rest is necessary to survive, let alone thrive. Capacity, interest and mental endurance all wax and wane. I am very passionate about the work I do, but put me in that kind of working environment and I might lose all interest all together. By working only when you are most effective, life is both more productive and more enjoyable. Have your cake, and eat it too.
2. Have a conversation about Work-Life Boundaries
Doing less meaningless work so that you can focus on things of greater personal importance is NOT laziness. Few people are able to measure the results of their actions and hence measure their contribution through time. More time equals more self worth and more reinforcement from those above and around them at work.
This is the first thing to change at the workplace. There is ZERO value in following the 996 way of life – working 9am to 9pm for 6 days a week as an employee. This also means that even if you can bring back work, you choose not to. It is common to stereotype Millennials as ‘having more time’ as they have lesser responsibilities because they have not settled down with a family.
Doesn’t matter. It is your duty to protect your lifestyle so that you can do other things outside of work. You will never be in your 20s/30s again.
Set new rules for your life. Check with your higher ups on their expectations of you after working hours. Then set up specific boundaries of what can be expected from you after working hours. Negotiate to a win-win solution.
Maybe you have the capacity to finish some work at night because you’re more productive then. But it does not have to mean you are contactable during this period to take on more work or look into something that just popped up.
Some self-rules to consider:
- Any URGENT messages should come as a call, not as a whatsapp text or an email
- Let people know that I only check my emails from 8am-9am and 2pm-3pm daily
Set up rules about work life boundaries. I imagine this may be a challenging conversation for many but really, I urge you to think long term
Ask yourselves these questions:
“Do you think you work hard now?”
“Do you think you can work just as hard for the next 10 to 20 years?”
If the answer is a resounding NO, then perhaps you need to consider what options you have in front of you.
Renegotiating work life boundaries is just one option.
3. Practice the Parkinson’s Law
Parkinson’s law dictates that a task will swell in importance and complexity in relation to the time allotted for its completion. It is the magic of the imminent deadline. If you have 24 hours to complete a project, the time pressure forces you to focus on execution, and you have no choice to do only the bare essentials.
Set aside time in your calendar for the things that need to get done. Don’t just add it to your to-do list. Schedule it on your calendar. Just like good old school days, have a timetable and set a specific time frame around the task.
If you need to do grocery shopping – set it on your calendar from 6pm-7pm
If you need to clear emails daily – set it on your calendar daily from 8am-9am and 1pm-2pm
If you need time to clean your room and do all the miscellaneous time, set it on your calendar from 8pm-10pm.
Schedule it instead of adding it to your to-do list. Your life will become less stressful.
This need not be a strict routine that you do daily, but the scheduling is a best practice/habit you can follow. Keep at it and you will be back on your feet getting things done and having more time for yourself.
I guess I could go on and on about this topic and add more to the list. But to avoid overwhelm, let’s stop here. Getting these 3 things in order is a mountainous task in itself.
No one should ever have to wait until their monthly data limit bursts before they start thinking about how they want to manage their life and work at the same time. Be proactive and look into the areas that you can overhaul – and overhaul them.
Think long term.
It’s not just about the $$$, its about having $$$ and the time to enjoy it to the fullest.
Share your thoughts! Let me know in the comments below.
I release an article every Monday. If you love this blog, please share it with someone else so they could benefit too.