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How to Step Off the Hustle Treadmill

For most of my life, I lived within the rhythm of a school calendar. Each August, I found myself in the school supply aisle, feeling the jittery excitement in the crisp new folders and backpacks. And as late May approached, the bliss of summer blossomed within me—the promise of sun-soaked days and lightning-bug-filled nights. First as a student, then as an elementary teacher, I lived in the ebb and flow of structured schedules followed by a season of play.

I’m no longer in an academic-based career so I don’t have that three-month stretch of summer break to break up my calendar. But come June, I crave that Summer Break Feeling. I long for slow mornings with no alarm clocks and unhurried days spent outside.

I especially miss the freedom from the hustle. Sure—May might be a flurry of activities and cramming to get all the assignments turned in, but on the last bell on the last day, it’s all done. Nothing hanging over your head. Full permission to actually relax.

As a business owner, I have the freedom to structure my days how I want. I could sleep in and forego my to-do list at any point. (But just even writing that sentence made me feel stressed.) My deep-seeded addiction to productivity as my source of self-worth makes me the hardest boss I’ve ever had. My inner taskmaster makes it hard to step away from the hustle.

But I recently took two weeks off work, for my wedding and honeymoon. The timing felt nostalgic—right around the end of May. It felt like the end-of-the-year scramble to get everything done, to tie up all loose ends, and be ready for the break. And as we drove out of town, I felt that giddy beginning-of-summer feeling.

I decided to embrace that extra permission you get when you’re a bride to do what you want and committed to not doing any work, or even checking my work email for the whole trip. It took a few days to part ways with my to-do list, but by the time we arrived at our all-inclusive resort, I felt fully present. I played and relaxed and lounged by the pool without guilt.

On the Monday after our return, I expected to dive right back into work mode. After all, I needed to make up for all that “wasted time” relaxing—I had clients waiting and deadlines to meet. Normally, I would have made up for my extended break by working long hours, ignoring my body’s need for rest or food. I would have attempted to cram as many tasks into my day, chasing after the high of a fully crossed-off to-do list. I was expecting to get right back on the Hustle Treadmill and crank it up to the highest level.

But this time, my inner-hustler’s attempts to “hit the ground running” didn’t work.

Maybe it was the lingering effects of my wedding after-glow. It could have been a bit of the post-Covid funk in the air, mixed with well-timed conversations and podcasts encouraging me to slow down and pointing out that Hustle is an inefficient fuel source. And it certainly had something to do with the “school’s out for summer” vibe that I had been used to in my former life.

Coming back, I gave myself permission to ease back into a work rhythm. While I have still been crossing items off my to-do list and following up on the necessary items, I have been allowing more margin and rest in my day. One morning I gave myself the luxury of a slow morning while reading a chapter of my book. Another afternoon, I ended work early to go to the beach. I’ve been more realistic about the tasks I want to get done in the day and stopping when I reach that point.

And I know you’ve already guessed what I’m going to say next, but somehow it still surprises me—I am getting just as much done. If anything, I’m more effective and able to make good decisions for myself and my business. I’ve certainly got less anxiety and more creative energy.

This isn’t the first time I’ve arrived at the conclusion that the relentless pursuit of productivity isn’t a satisfying way to live. It’s a lesson I need to keep learning, again and again. When hustle is the undercurrent of my work, I will burn out. When I allow the rhythm of rest and work, both feel more playful and nourishing.

I’m willing to bet I’m not alone in needing the reminder to step off the Hustle Treadmill. I’ve been feeling it in the air. Especially as pandemic restrictions lift and businesses are now able to return to normal—there’s a magnetic pull towards busyness and hustle culture. And yet, I can sense a bigger resistance to stepping back on the Hustle Treadmill. Many of us are grappling with just how we want to orient our lives coming out of this pandemic and realizing we will never ever go back to the old ways of being.

Here are some guideposts that have helped me in my attempts to hustle-less.

Question the assumption that something worthwhile has to be hard.

I grew up in a midwestern culture that highly valued a strong work ethic. Somewhere along the way, the goodness of hard work got conflated with overvaluing struggle and exhaustion as a sign of worthiness. A suspicion of ease.

As Greg McKeown says in his latest book, Effortless, “Perhaps the biggest thing that keeps us from doing what matters most is the false assumption that it must take tremendous effort. What if, instead, we considered the possibility that the reason something feels hard is simply that we haven’t found an easier way to do it?”

Rather than having the mindset that all-important work will feel like pushing a rock uphill, build in a practice of asking “how can I make this easy?”

Recognize the difference between nourishing and numbing rest.

When I’m on the Hustle Treadmill, I cycle between pushing myself to work as hard as I can and feeling so exhausted that I can only drink wine on the couch watching Netflix or scroll endlessly on my phone. While I can crave mind-numbing screen time, it rarely leaves me feeling refreshed.

Some rest feels like drinking a green smoothie (taking a bath, going on a walk, reading a novel) while other forms feel more like eating junk food (binge-watching shows, getting sucked into a complain-fest with coworkers, going down a YouTube rabbit hole).

Pay attention to what activities feel draining, which feel life-giving, and which ones you turn to when you want to numb out. Build in habits and block out time in your schedule to find ways to access the life-giving ways to rest and feel refreshed.

Be strategically realistic about what you can get done in a day.

Optimism can be an asset—but not when it comes to your calendar. If you’re a Type A personality like me, you tend to overestimate what you can get done in a day but underestimate the positive cumulative effects of knowing and sticking to your limits. Even if you can force yourself to get everything done on your to-do list in a day (while foregoing meals and ignoring the pain in your back), you’ll find you have little to no energy to repeat that hustle later in the week.

Try picking just three realistic tasks to focus on—ones that can be completed within the constraints of your schedule and your energy level. If you get those done early, then you can decide if you want to keep going or celebrate and be done for the day.

Honor when your body is speaking to you.

Ignoring your body has a law of diminishing returns. You might be able to push yourself on any given day or week, but it’s impossible to sustain that over the long haul. Nor does that kind of push actually make you more effective. Do you really get that much more done in a 12-hour day? Or does that make up for the wasted hours of spacing out and struggling to stay focused the following day?

What if you started treating your body with the kindness and pampering that you treat your pet? Build in a routine of asking your body what it needs—a nap? a walk? a treat? You got it, buddy.

Cultivate friendships that help you flourish.

Hustling is a part of our culture, and as social creatures, we are wired to emulate the values of those we are around. When our social media feeds and conversations with our friends center around the relentless pursuit of productivity hacks, bragging about how busy we are, or an unspoken judgment towards the need for rest, we are going to struggle to get off the Hustle Treadmill.

Be wary of people who can’t respect your “no” or those whose company continually leaves you feeling drained. Seek out people who are comfortable in their own skin—people who find ways to live a balanced life.

Turning down and stepping off the Hustle Treadmill is a process. I can see a cycle in my own life of realizing I want to get off, setting up new boundaries and healthy rhythms, and sticking with that for a while. Inevitably, busyness will creep back in, and I’ll realize I’m right back on.

There will always be an ebb and flow of seasons that are fuller and seasons that invite a slowing down. Both are necessary and ok, and I don’t need to try and set up camp in one or the other.

Regardless of how much remains on our to-do list, I don’t want to confuse my desire for excellence with an anxiety-fueled pressure to do it all. May we be brave enough to step off our Hustle Treadmills so that we can truly be effective.

P.S. I love helping people reconnect with their purpose and crafting habits and goals that support their flourishing. For the month of July, I’m offering $50 off my Intentional Goal Setting Session. We’ll connect over Zoom and delve into where you need to hit the “reset button” and brainstorm ways to help you establish a more healthy rhythm. I’ll also give you a tailored guide outlining your mission, goals, actions, and habits you can implement on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis, and tools to help you stay on track.

Click here to book your session today. Just enter SUMMER21 at checkout to get $50 off!

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