DAY ONE: Jose Angel Vargas, 29, lives in Anaheim, California and works 60-hour work weeks at a nonprofit that seeks to break the cycle of child abuse. When he’s not at work, he’s fielding emails and phone calls about work, or going to community events or fundraisers on evenings and on weekends.
He has no time for family, though his parents and sister and brother live in the duplex right next door. If he meets new people, usually at work-related events, he’s finding he doesn’t have much to talk about outside his job. He feels passionately about the children and people he’s helping, but their stories weigh on him. He comes home late at night, feeling exhausted and too tired to do anything to release that tension.
“I’m starting to feel burned out,” he said. “I’m waking up in the morning and it’s getting harder to get to work. It just seems never ending.”
What he’d really like? A life outside of work again.
THE TIMEHACKS: Vargas worked with coach Melissa Heisler, of Its My Life outside of Chicago. Heisler suggested three Timehacks:
1. DRAW BOUNDARIES: In a country where long work hours are the norm, non-profits can be among the most notorious – the people who are drawn to work in that world tend to be passionate and driven, and the work is never ending. “Perhaps, being so young, he thought working more hours than necessary was the norm,” Heisler said. “Giving him permission to draw boundaries around work was powerful.”
2. GIVE YOURSELF SOME SPACE: Vargas’ work is emotionally draining, Heisler said. So learning to take some time for himself will not only be healing, but give him more energy at work. She suggested he start by turning his phone off on evenings and weekends. She encouraged him to make a list of healthy and fun ways to release the tension and emotional toll of the job, and to plan some trips or outings with friends and family.
3. DO YOUR JOB: Vargas was working so many hours for a couple reasons, Heisler discovered. He takes on more work than necessary. If he can do it, he does, even if it’s not in his job description. And after convincing management to hire two staffers to help him, Vargas finds himself stepping in and doing their work for them. Heisler suggested he learn how to step in and teach them how to do the work, and to stop micromanaging them. “Be updated by your staff,” Heisler said. “Don’t micromanage them.”
She also suggested reviewing all the community events he was attending, and limiting his attendance just to those directly related to the work he does.
DAY 21: By the time I caught up with Vargas, he’d been working to cut his work hours from 60 a week down to 40 or 50. He’s catching himself when he steps in and takes over tasks for his staff, and is instead trying to be better about teaching them, and training them to do the tasks on their own.
“I’m learning how to delegate better,” he said. “That’s been really helpful.”
He’s spoken with his managers about how to better organize work, and now is clearer on which community events are most important to attend, and which aren’t associated with his core mission. That’s freed up many nights and weekends. And he’s been getting better about completely unplugging, setting his phone to “Do Not Disturb.”
“It’s a lot better at work,” he said. “I’m sticking to what my job description is, focus on what I need to do, and get my job done effectively without as many distractions.”
Better boundaries and more delegation at work has opened up more time for Vargas to spend time with his family and reconnect with his passions – things that he’s let drop for the last five years. He and his family bought season passes to go to area amusement parks and are planning other trips and get-togethers. He’s making plans to attend hockey games. He started reading graphic novels and comic books again. “Now, I’m a familiar face at the local comic book store again,” he said.
And he joined some local Meet-Ups to meet people who share his passion for collectibles – he plans on attending ‘board game night’ – and for gardening. His father is a gardener, taught him how to care for roses, and planted a beautiful white one in front of Vargas’ apartment. “When I was too busy, they were overgrown and looked really hideous. It was an indicator of how I wasn’t taking time to do what I enjoy,” Vargas said. “Now, they’re nicely pruned. And all my hedges are trimmed.”
Now, when he meets new people, he has more to say. He’s not complaining about work, or stressing out about it, and can talk about his passions. “I hope that makes it a little more interesting to talk to me,” he said.
He’s no longer feeling burned out. “It’s great,” he said. “I’ve been able to help those who need help, yet still start my own life.”
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