A new meme called “Old Economy Steve” will, according to Buzzfeed, “enrage millennials everywhere.” Considering a millennial probably made the meme in the first place, the meme is designed more for millennials to commiserate with one another and communicate to parents on Facebook about horrific job prospects and conditions.
Born and raised on a Protestant work ethic and the baby boomer parental evidence that hard work produces success, many millennials struggle with self-imposed overwork chasing undefined success. A culture of excess. A culture of overwork. For some of us that means grad school. Others are in their first few years of teaching, wading through hours of unpaid lesson planning and grading. Others have landed that great job Old Economy Steve always told them about, but with technological advances and job scarcity the 40-hour workweek is a distant dream.
The assumption for many is that work should be the highest priority of a person’s life (Bourne & Foreman, 2014). For those of us who overwork, it’s sometimes hard to recognize when we’re not working (Beatty & Torbert, 2003). Thus, without further ado: the top 5 ways to divorce your work from your life.
1. Don’t Drink Wine while you work. Or watch Gilmore Girls or 24. Or eat your favorite food (cookies!). Combining work and leisure is called “working lite,” and it’s the easiest way of extending your workweek. Work bleeds into leisure until you can’t tell when you’re taking the night off or not when you’re grading tests and drinking wine. Save the luxuries for leisure time; you’ll enjoy them more.
2. Be Old-Fashioned about your phone. For some people this will mean avoiding email after work hours or (for those who can’t be so strict) at least during meal times and the hour before bed. Studies show that electronics before bed make it harder to fall asleep. If you have to, avoid the internet while watching television or reading books. Other studies show that switching from task to task (even between tabs on a browser) exhausts your brain.
3. Protect Your Living Space from work. This is an old creative writing technique: you have your workspace and your living space. Don’t confuse the two, or your work will consume your life and your life will bleed into your work. In some ways, that’s okay (my co-author Virginia will inform you why later). But making life and work synonymous also increases less-productive working hours and makes leisure hours less enjoyable.
4. Pick Your Moments of productivity—and exploit them. Corollary: Know Thyself. I visited home a couple weekends ago and when I arrived, dead tired, at around 9:30 p.m., my mother was already asleep on the couch. By 10:00 p.m., the rest of us were similarly unconscious. Like my mother, I’m freshest in the morning. By around 8 p.m. I’m useless. Everyone has a different schedule for productivity: know when you can work hard and work then. Know when you can’t and use those times to unabashedly relax.
5. Look At Your Feet. Frederick Buechner writes, “If you want to know who you are, if you are more than academically interested in that particular mystery . . . watch your feet. Because where your feet take you, that is who you are.” Where you go and where your feet spend their time reveals your deepest values. If you want to value life, spend some time living outside of work.
Caveat: I have broken most of these rules in the last week. Good luck to you!