Like so many in the human services field, I entered my profession with a deep commitment to helping others. As an ex-perfectionist, I did it with one standard in mind–to always give 150% to everyone and everything I did. This singular focus worked well until a life-challenging illness forced me to rethink my time and energy distribution. If there are only 24 hours in a day, and ideally only 8 hours should be devoted to work, 8 to rest, and 8 to enjoying life, clearly giving 150% to work meant I was short changing two of the most important aspects of my existence. I probably would have continued expressing my work ethic in this manner for my whole life, until the life-threatening need to regain health and wholeness stopped me in my tracks.
Reinventing my life meant honoring my deeper needs while questioning the 150% expectation. I had to reformulate my distribution of time and energy. Could I still express excellence in my work without compromising my health, enjoyable time with my family and friends, and the new need for life-sustaining self-care? The solution to my dilemma was found in quantifying my work time and dialing it down by 20%. This new formula for excellence was perfect in that all I had to do was tally up the amount of time I was giving to work pursuits and reduce it by 20%. For instance, I used to give 60 minutes to each of my clients. Dialing it down put me in the range of 48 minutes, which was still within my professions standards. Recalculating my people-helping time resulted in the ability to complete my paper work by the end of my 8 hour work day, without taking time away from the rest of my life. The feeling of balance between work, home, and personal life was not only a gift I gave myself, but one that included better quality of time for all the people in my life–including my loved ones.
I find that many people working in human-helping professions, like teaching, nursing, mental health, etc., often give 150% and then feel exhausted at the end of their work day. To you I offer the 20% less option. Calculate the amount of time you give to grading papers, reading journal articles, answering emails, talking on the phone, documenting your work, and conversing with the people you service. If you’re the type who gives 150% to these aspects of your work– at the expense of your self– try dialing it down. 20% less means instead of giving 150%, you now provide 120% (which still puts you over 100% and on the side of excellence). It starts with a commitment to valuing your health by giving your self permission to apply the new 120% formula for excellence into the time you devote to your work. The outcome for you, as it has been for me, will include more energy, health, balance, wholeness, and happiness. And because of these essential wellness benefits, I hope this new formula for excellence will remain with you for your whole life.