Make "Work Mode" Work For You

As featured in Essential Living Maine's Sept/Oct 2017 Issue! A free digital copy of the article can be viewed here.

Summertime is ending. Schools are about to reopen. Office hours are about to return to normal. Your supervisors are back from their vacation exoduses. Your clients are back with high demands. The time has come to get back into “work mode.” If any of these sentences made you feel nauseous, then this article is for you.

The conversations that we tend to have around the end of the summer can come off as mourning. We speak of the dread of getting back to early mornings and late evenings. We regret not taking one more trip to beach while the weather was still nice enough. We wonder how we will get back into the swing of a routine, and for some, there is that added pressure of getting kids back into their routines as well. And as a result, much of our focus is put on motivating ourselves—in particular, I assert that most people hone in on how to get “re-motivated.” Predictably, efforts to get re-motivated go a particular way:

We make lists the night before to plan our day, but those lists become so long that we become overwhelmed and eventually abandon them.

We say we’ll start with the small stuff, but suddenly we are staying late or taking work home with us because it feels like we will never catch up.

We promise to plan that vacation or personal day to look forward to, but we trap ourselves in the grind and the next time we look up, it’s Thanksgiving, and we are ready for a food coma and a nap.

I know this pattern intimately, because it used to be my own. And I see it over and over again with the clients that I coach that claim they are ready to achieve that work/life balance. We all develop an unhealthy relationship to what we call, “work mode,” and eventually have it be the thing that burns us out.

So, how do we go about creating a new pattern that works for us?

First, get clear on what about the pattern isn’t working. In my experience as a coach, the most common reason clients burn out after getting into work mode is because their goals aren’t clear.

If in your mind you set work as the goal, then inevitably you will overwork yourself to the point of overwhelm. To visualize this, think of going for a bike ride. Is happiness your goal in life? That is your destination. How you get to that destination (or goal) is then determined by how much work you are willing to put into riding your bike towards it. All goals require some level of effort to achieve, but when the goal is big enough, we usually make the effort worthwhile.

When we get into the work grind, we sometimes lose sight of that original goal. And as I suggested before, we collapse our goals with our work, meaning that working seems to become the goal. In this case, you are still going for a ride—on a stationary bike. While you may find enjoyment in peddling for the sake of peddling for some period of time, predictably, at some point you will end up worn out, out of breath, and wondering why the heck you are still on the bike. In real life, here is that moment when we crash and burn, when we take an extended vacation in hopes of recharging, or perhaps even when we have had it with our current position and seek a change.

This crash and burn is a trap: no matter how you try and recuperate and re-motivate yourself after hitting this point, you haven’t actually created a new pattern for yourself. You are simply in the stage of “feel a little bit better for long enough to go back at it again.” And so from here, you will continue this loop over and over again—much like the kind of distance progress you make while on a stationary bike. This disappointing truth is why we mourn the end of the summer. Subconsciously, we are somewhat aware that we are about to dip back into our unhealthy pattern around “work mode.”

Once you are clear on why your pattern doesn’t work, the second step is to create a new pattern to practice. This new pattern should be closely linked to those big enough goals previously mentioned. Making your work mode about reaching the goals you actually care about offers tremendous value. Not only do you create the things that you say you want to, you have the opportunity to love the process of the creation as well.

Here is where a coach comes in: getting back to the root of your goals and actually creating something new requires courage and a ton of practice. A trained and devoted coach will partner with you in figuring out what to dedicate yourself to achieving and how to go about doing so. Why is this important? Because on our own, our old patterns are habits, and it becomes comfortable to slip back onto that stationary bike and stick to the grind over, and over, and over again. In partnership with a coach, you have someone to keep calling you back until you have recreated your relationship to work and goals. It might even reach a point where life feels easy.

And just imagine, what if working felt so easy that you were actually excited for it?