I have a client who thrives while moving from one task to the other, often without planning or time in between jobs. He likes having different jobs thrown at him at different times. He rolls with the changes and the barrage of details to be handled. His wife feels different about such juggling and pivoting.
Need continuous work time
I believe I’ve had one full workday this summer. Every other day has been filled with kid time, travel and doctors’ appointments. My kids are home with me a part of almost every day. Since I work from home, they are essentially at work with me, which honestly… doesn’t work. As a writer, researcher and personal coach, I spend a lot of time doing tasks that require deep concentration. I need quiet time to read, let patterns develop and associations to form. I need uninterrupted time to put myself in my client’s shoes, understand why they feel the way they do and formulate ways to help them move through the trouble they are experiencing. Broken up time periods do not support such deep work. I just get into a flow of ideas and it’s time to make lunch for the kids or time to take my daughter to the orthodontist.
I am grateful I have a flexible schedule and can be there for my children but it takes a toll on my energy and ability to remain calm. As an introvert, the removal of my time and space to go internal, leaves me at a deficit. I use all of my willpower to move from task to task, request to request. But, like being on a diet, eventually I just want a big juicy cheeseburger or a juicy four-hour escape to my happy place of thoughts and creative work.
My client’s wife, who also has a hard time with a fast-paced, task driven lifestyle, is an artist, athlete and an introvert. Her peace is found doing continuous work. Interruptions from others pull us out of our deep reveries or focused attention. Linking patterns and ideas is a fragile process. Getting back into that state of concentration is effortful and time-consuming.
As much as we would like to keep all of our special people feeling seen and heard, it is often at the sacrifice of our own tranquility. I’ve had two clients tell me this summer that they don’t feel like they have any joy in their lives. Another just said she is exhausted. All three are parents living in achievement driven environments. Having space to connect with ourselves is a vital part of well-being. Unfortunately, society pushes constant distractions and busyness as normalcy and badges of honor.
Is it empathy burnout?
This week I talked to two friends about recent losses in their lives. I happened to talk to them both on the same day. By the end of that day, I was zapped. Pair the empathy I felt for them with a day of no real free time or deep concentration, and my energy reserves tanked. The next day I managed to recover some lost energy. I slept well which always boosts my outlook. I also had a client cancel her session in the afternoon. In true introvert form, I felt a sense of relief at her cancellation. It’s not that I don’t like working with clients (I actually love my job!), it was just that it freed up three hours that afternoon. Three glorious hours to do other things in a more leisurely way. Aaaah.
Some people don’t have the intense empathy for others so it’s easier to move from one thing to another without taking in the effects of each move on each person. This frees up a lot of head and heart space. It’s easier to accomplish and quantify tasks than it is to sustain harmony. In her article ENFJs, INFJs and Empathy Burnout, Susan Storm talks about not being able to rest if someone is suffering in her home. Many empathetic types find it difficult to find peace inside themselves when there is conflict outside.
Even on vacation I was conscious of my kids’ perception of how much time I spent with each of them. I did my best to divide my time evenly among them. The result was less relaxing for me. I didn’t get to connect as deeply with my relatives because that kind of connection can’t be rushed. It can’t be split between six people and it can’t be fragmented into six-minute sound bytes.
Remedying the burnout
Over the last two years, I’ve really worked to find ways to relax WITH my kids. Now that they are all teenagers it is easier. They like to watch shows that I like. They like to have thoughtful discussions about things like politics or education. I ask them to help with driving and housework more. I take naps when they are home.
Another burnout salvation I have discovered is letting someone care for me. My boyfriend’s support and caring attention restore lost energy. Having someone who provides a safe haven is fortifying. Granted, there are times when we have to ask of each other, but overall there is a surplus of energy-creating support.
Slowly, I am learning to manage my anxiety about not finishing every little thing each day. Sometimes jobs linger over several days. Some days I just don’t get things done. I’ve put some of the marketing for my book on hold. I’m doing the major work but realize I will be more engaged and engaging once the kids are back in school.
I’ve learned to lower my standards for how our house and yard look. I value time with my kids more than time pulling weeds, although … I could pull weeds with my kids. I’m sure they’ll love that.
In couples when one is a doer and one is a feeler or introvert looking for continuous work time, the important thing is to appreciate the differences and use each other’s skills to the couple’s advantage. The trouble comes when one is valued more than the other (usually the doer). A better approach is to support each other so each person feels validated, thus giving everyone maximum energy.
Do fragmented days stress you out? Do things take you longer to accomplish because you consider everyone’s feelings? How do you avoid burnout?
My book, The Quiet Rise of Introverts: 8 Practices for Living and Loving in a Noisy World, is available for pre-order on Amazon now. I’d love it if you’d check it out.:)