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  • Jennifer Swartley

Hard Work Doesn't Equal Good Work

I learned one of the most valuable lessons at a recent startup that ultimately lifted me out of my endless cycle of burnout. For many years, I had been following the same patterns that had gained me success in the past. I would start a new job and quickly take on a wide range of responsibilities. I got to work trying to figure out the magic formula that would drive sustainable growth for a new and exciting product. I talked with everyone I could - consumers, every employee across the organization, colleagues at similar stage companies - and solicited a lot of strong opinions about what we should do to grow our business. And then I got to work!

Given a culture that was collaborative (read: meeting heavy), I found myself booked up at all times of day. I’d cancel doctor’s appointments, dinner with my kids, outings with friends, to make sure I was available for all the meetings I needed to be in. The people pleaser in me enjoyed being amenable and easy to work with, but there weren’t enough hours in the day to attend all these meetings and do my work. So, I brought work home like the "good worker" I was.

But unlike other places I had been, all this extra work wasn’t garnering the same results, both for the business and for my reputation at the company. I spent so much time searching for answers outside of myself, that people were unsure what my opinion was. I was so tired from staying up late, that I came to meetings less prepared than I should have been. I ultimately had no boundaries and so I was susceptible to the opinions, energy and beliefs of all those around me. And it created noise and confusion, draining me of the energy I needed to be creative and thoughtful in my approach.

I continued spinning, trying to “work” my way out of it, putting in more hours, and trying desperately to prove myself. I went out and got more opinions from people in and out of the organization and was more accommodating to everyone around me because I began to feel inferior.

But then I was talking with a friend and said “I’m killing myself for this job and I’m still not feeling successful,” she gently echoed back my words to me. “You’re KILLING yourself for this job. Is that really ok for you?”

I immediately saw a pattern I had been repeating over and over based on my belief that hard work was what delivered great results. Not seeing results, work harder. Not getting along with someone, show them how hard you work. Work yourself until you literally don't have another ounce to give. At least you'll know you did your best.

When I began questioning that belief, I came to some new conclusions.

  • Smart work is better than hard work

  • Know when to take shortcuts and when to see something through

  • Follow the 80/20 rule and find those 20% of inputs that will deliver the 80% of outcomes

  • Focus your efforts and make some big bets

  • Give yourself space to think and strategize, don’t burn out in the doing of all the things

  • Prioritize YOU, and then you'll know you were at your best

And with that, I began to set boundaries with my time, my after hours working schedule, my ability to be interrupted when I was with my family at night or on weekends, and most importantly with my energy. I realized my energy is a finite resource and so it became a prized possession I guarded very closely. I scheduled in thinking time and protected that meeting like I would a meeting with an investor.

I became very aware of the energetic exchange in any meeting and took radical responsibility for the protection of my own energy. It allowed me to be intentional with how I showed up in a room. It allowed me to be firmly rooted in my own ideas and opinions and to inspire others with my confidence.

It also cleared up lots of time for me because I began not concerning myself with what others thought and I declined meetings that would infringe on family time or thinking time. I asked to move things to accommodate my schedule. Oddly the fear I had that people would be annoyed was exactly the opposite. Those boundaries offered clarity on where I stood and also garnered more respect. With that I began leading with a much different energy and ultimately I was able to prioritize rest and joy which helped inspire new creative ideas.

Boundaries are something we have a hard time setting, yet they are the most necessary element of creating a life that’s full of fulfillment. Until you stand in your own power and protect your time and your energy, no one else will!

I’d love to hear how you set boundaries in your business and if it’s made a difference? Or if you’ve found boundary-setting challenging, let me know how I can support you!

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