Why (and how) I don’t work myself to death


one + two

One of the most difficult things about working at a TV station and one of the main reasons I quit was the thick fog of stress that constantly surrounded me. My coworkers were always rushing around, drowning in work, freaking out over tiny errors, yelling at each other about who was busier or more in the weeds. And I would just sit there, calmly kicking my to-do list right in the ass, and think “If you’re so stressed out…then change it.”

I was a great worker, but a terrible employee. I was always the last to arrive and the first to leave. I walked into the station well rested, I got through my work in a couple hours with enough time left over for my own projects. And then…when I was tired of working…I went home. CRAZY, right?

I just never bought into the idea that running around like a chicken with my head cut off was an effective way to get things done. I know if I’m stressed out, the designs I create or the circus routines I build will not be the best they can be. And so, I work when I’m full of energy and ideas and when I’m not, I give myself a break.

And this is not to say I don’t have a ton of work on my plate or looming deadlines or I never get stressed, I do, I’ve just honed my eagle-eye focus and my time management skills. Here are some things I’ve found helpful…

+ FOCUS Are you actually getting work done or are you doing 10 things at once? Multitasking is highly overrated – I recommend conquering one task at a time. Try the Pomodoro technique to help keep your focus. Spend 25 minutes on each item until they’re all complete.

+ TRACK YOUR TIME There are 24 usable hours in each day – how are you spending your time? Try an app like Toggl to see where time is being wasted and then use that time to do something productive instead.

+ LISTEN TO YOUR BODY When you’re tired of working and things are starting to come out like crap, your design isn’t meshing or you’re making a ton of errors…it’s time to stop.

+ LET IT SLIDE You do not have to do everything. You can ignore that email from your annoying coworker. You can say no to a client you don’t really want to work with. You can do it tomorrow. No one will die, the world will not end, someone may yell at you and then you can apologize and be happy that you are not stressed.

+ STOP PUSHING YOURSELF Do you know what I’m about to do? It’s 12:55 AM and I’m tired. I’m not done writing this post and I’m totally going to shut my computer, get in bed and read a book.Which leads me to my next point…

+ PLAN AHEAD I wrote this post a week in advance, so now there’s no spazzing out because I can’t think of anything good to blog about. I plan my days so I know when I’m rehearsing, when I have show and when I’ll stay home to design.

How do you keep your head above water when you’ve got a ton to do?



  1. says

    Wow Sarah, it’s like you read my mind. I just started my 1 week holiday from the TV Station where I work, and I admire your ability to ignore the whirlwind of freaking out, it’s hard to do! People seem to think you’re a slacker if you’re not in panic mode all the time.

    But thanks to my day job combined with long hours blogging and trying to build my own business, I am on holiday and have the flu. I was just looking at Pomodoro this week and trying to work out ways to minimize my rushing about and allow myself some rest while still achieving my goals.

    Sorry for the essay, but your advice always seems to resonate with me, so thank you!

    • says

      I was in the same boat – working three jobs at a time while I was trying to quit my 9 to 5. People at the TV station have no idea how much is on your plate! I always tried to give myself one day off a week or one night where I absolutely stayed away from my computer and email. Keep going though – it will be worth it when you finally do escape :)

  2. says

    You are awesome. I work at a publishing house right now, and it’s the same here–people run around like nuts, and if you don’t stay late, you’re a horrible employee. I sneak out “early” (on time) because I carpool, and I got in trouble for taking my full lunch break because I was 10 minutes “late” on a snowy day. I don’t get enough work to do, and never enough explanation on how to do it (or the explanation changes after the fact).
    I feel so strongly about everything you’ve written, it’s the way I work, and I can’t wait until I can do it all the time. I am an awesome worker, and I can do a lot… if they’d let me. So I’m going to let myself.

    • says

      Good for you! I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one shirking the rules but still getting a ton of work done. I hope you get a little more freedom soon. Who knows what you’ll accomplish when you don’t have someone watching your every move.

  3. says

    Great advice! The Pomodoro technique really works for me, I am such a terrible procrastinator! I also like to make lots of lists, I find it helps me to prioritise and not forget things if they’re all written down. I also like having little tasks to do so that if the big thing I’m working on is going badly I can switch to something easy! Getting that done and feeling productive helps me feel motivated for the big things!

    I often find that the people running around in a panic and complaining about their stress levels are actually not being all that productive. Feeling stressed is not conducive to good work! It’s the problem with working for a business, there are set rules about how they think you should work, and it’s not always the best way to get things done. That said, I’ve definitely come across people who need clear boundaries to get anything done!

    • says

      Yes – there’s a difference between having a lot to do and being busy. That was one of the hardest things working in a corporate environment – if you weren’t slammed with work then there was something wrong with you or your work ethic.

  4. says

    I worked for a major music company making websites, and there were days while I was working there that were extremely stressful… There were projects that had impossible deadlines, people who would make emergencies over things that well… weren’t, and people from record labels that loved to circumvent all of the procedures put in place to keep developers on task to try to get you to work on their pet project. I had a coworker who was one of the most laid back guys I’ve ever met, and he’d be all… “When everyone’s all putting the pressure on me to have things done yesterday I just ask myself, ‘Is anyone going to die if this isn’t done right on time?’ and you know what? Nope. No one’s going to die. I used to know a guy who dissembled bombs for a living, if that guy didn’t get his job done on time… well, THEN people might die.”

    • says

      Exactly! People working in an emergency room, with actual emergencies are more calm than most people in stressful situations. And then it makes everyone else’s life more difficult from being in that environment.

  5. says

    This is so timely for me! Grad school has been way more work than I bargained for! When I feel like I’m going to snap, I go take a hot bubble bath and read something for about an hour. After my bath, I feel ready to dropkick my classwork.

    • says

      Love that! There’s no reason to keep working when you’ve hit a wall. A hot bath is a good idea – I usually go for a book or walk the dog.

  6. says

    Yes! I have never stayed late and yet I’ve consistently been the most productive person in any of my workplaces. When I was a temp, I used to get hired out as “the person who will clear your six month back log in a week”. And my secret? Just plodding away at my to do list instead of wasting all my time going on and on and on at people about how busy and stressed I thought I was.

    • says

      Yes! What a crazy idea…just keep your head down and work. I was worried I was going to get comments from all these stressed out people saying I don’t have enough work to do. Glad we’re all on the same page here!

  7. says

    Very great tips! I will be going to school as a full-time student and I should be working full-time again soon. It’s going to be hard to manage all of that, plus blogging and making time for my family and friends. I’m sure I will work myself to death often. These will really help! Thanks for sharing!

    XO Krystin

  8. says

    Yes!! this is the best post ever! So often we let other people – especially employers – make us feel so bad about “not working hard enough” as if being anything less than a robot would cause the world to end. I definitely share your philosophy on this, but need reminding often to take control of my own stress levels.. So thanks for this post, you’re great! x


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