Modern Times, a 1936 movie by Charlie Chaplin, the director famous for his distinctive ways of presenting the harsh realities of life, portrays how a factory worker is caught in an ever-accelerating assembly line. Eventually, he suffers a nervous breakdown, gets stuck in a machine, and lands at a hospital.
Almost 90 years later, the scenario is still the same. As we go up the corporate hierarchy, the salary and other benefits increase as well. But at the same time, our workload increases along with stress levels. This stress level, in turn, impacts our health and family life. We lose contact with friends and other social networks that keep us rejuvenated. We also give up our pleasures such as reading, writing, and travel. We spend all our available time on work-related activities.
Meanwhile, our energy level is going down although the job demand is increasing. The gap between the two widens. We try to fill it up by sacrificing our capital – health, family time, social network, and pleasure. It may lead to heart failure or stroke, as a recent WHO study shows. But is it worth it?
We sometimes consider slowing down but don’t. By this time, we are in a mental trap of perceived needs that require the current income level to continue.
But it doesn’t have to be like that.
Escape from the job’s hamster wheel
There are ways to escape such a situation. That doesn’t mean you have to leave the job. You only have to set boundaries and priorities.
You may well continue with the job and at the same time craft an enjoyable career. I have already discussed it in another article, “Career Crafting: Career for a Living vs. Career for Passion.” In summary, slowly build your career by focusing on what you are good at and enjoy doing. That way, your earnings will become independent of any single job but a mix of enjoyable activities.
But that’s a longer-term plan. Here is what you can do in the meantime.
Start with a day or a few hours of Niksen, the Dutch art of doing nothing. There are already some excellent reading materials on it, including the book “Niksen: The Dutch Art of Doing Nothing” by Annette Lavrijsen. It will tell you how to find new ways to relax, slow down and combat burnout, and (most importantly) reset your priorities.
Slow down if you think that is good for your or the family’s wellbeing. You are the one to decide whether you will allow yourself to burn out.
Set your boundaries. It’s not going to be easy, though, because some companies are pretty stringent on how their employees should work. In today’s digital economy, you should be more vigilant than ever and dedicate time for yourself.
Set a time limit for checking emails and turn notifications off beyond it. Keep evenings, weekends, and vacations for yourself, family, and friends.
Avoid multitasking. The always-on digital workspace has raised expectations that employees can multitask. But it is counterproductive.
Don’t try to perform beyond your sustainable limit. Completing a task ahead of time isn’t going to give you any free time. Overperformance will raise your manager’s expectations, and they will reward you with more work.
Avoid back-to-back meetings. Keep some free time between two, take notes of the one just ended when they are fresh in your brain. A recent Microsoft study has shown that such breaks improve productivity.
Stop responding to chat messages instantly. If you see a WhatsApp, Viber, Teams, or any such message popping up, look at them at designated times only.
Maintain a personal routine — sleep enough, eat on time.
Finally, take adequate breaks, even if it is just for doing nothing.
When to leave the job
Having read this far, you should already know the answer.
If you have already decided, leave the job as soon as possible. That way, you save more energy for yourself. Use it for family, friends, hobbies, a business venture, or whatever pleases you. You may upskill yourself and start a new career. Keep an open mind. The possibilities are endless.
Be curious, and take calculated risks. Take a small step each time. Look at the kid in Chaplin’s other movie, The Kid (1921). His eyes show fear, but curiosity makes him peep into the future. He is taking one step at a time. You can, too.
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