Everybody is hustling.
At this point, this message feels spiritual. Business deities like Jack Ma and Elon Musk have gone on record to say employees should consider it a “huge blessing” to work 12-hour days.
On the self-employed side, many worship at the altar of Gary Vaynerchuk, the brash media titan from NYC who advises startup founders to work 18 hours a day.
Not even Hollywood is immune to the hustle culture. Dwayne Johnson, arguably the biggest star in today’s film industry, claims to have achieved his status by being the “hardest worker in the room.”
This lifestyle has plenty of drawbacks, yet few people talk about how to handle them.
Whether you’re self-employed or you’re in a high-pressure job, long work hours have to be balanced with adequate care for your physical, mental, and spiritual health. As a full-time freelance writer and marketer, I’ve experienced this firsthand — more than once.
And tearfully discussing how working 120 hours a week is “excruciating” or having to spend all 24 hours of your birthday at the office, as Musk did last summer, isn’t as glamorous as hustling to buy the New York Jets.
So what does self-care look like in the age of ordinary people? I spoke with coaches and other self-employed and busy people and uncovered four big themes about recovering from the grind.
“It’s hard to ‘leave work at work’ when you work from home,” says Samuel Levy, a freelance web developer. “Get up at 6 a.m.? Might as well start working. Still on the computer at 10 p.m.? Just doing some more work. It’s really difficult to find a hard ‘off’ switch.”
He’s right. As often as I try to set a hard stop, it seems like I always remember something I need to do at dinner, at the gym, or in the worst possible place: just after climbing into bed.
Even those who work in an office know the stress of bringing work home. It’s nice to try to set hard boundaries — no email after 6 p.m., for example. But these restrictions may be unrealistic for freelancers who need to respond to clients or salespeople who are expected to check in with their manager every day.
So the key might be blocking your internet time.
In his landmark 2016 book “Deep Work,” author and computer science professor Cal Newport suggests scheduling blocks of time for internet use outside of work.
This technique helps curb that mindless urge to check email that interferes with leisure time, but it still allows you to satisfy obligations. For example, you might allow yourself 15 or 20 minutes to work or respond to email after dinner or the gym.
Just remember to be flexible and forgiving with yourself. Newport advises allowing exceptions for important tasks, like confirming plans with a friend or getting directions. Life happens — don’t let guidelines on internet use bring you more stress than freedom.
The things we see, smell, touch, and hear around us all influence how we feel and think. To get a better grasp on a massive workload or decompress after a marathon workday, align your environment with your intentions.
For example, reserve certain areas of your home for leisure and certain areas for work. This can make it easier for your brain to slip into focus or relaxation mode.
Even your clothes can have an impact on how you feel. Research indicates that wearing more formal clothing can enhance cognitive processing and creativity.
That doesn’t mean you have to be fully suited, but when you want to get into work mode, wear something you’d be comfortable leaving the house in.
Two of my environmental cues are contact lenses and formal shorts. My wife ridicules me, but there’s something about putting on different clothes, taking off my glasses, and entering a specific room that cues my brain that it’s time to work.
While relaxing at home or running errands, I’m often in glasses and gym shorts. But when I’m ready to focus, I put in my contact lenses, change into a nicer pair of shorts, and walk into the office room.
It’s not ironclad: I still do plenty of work on the couch or at the dining table. But these kinds of environmental cues are helpful for quickly summoning inspiration and concentration.
No one should be consistently working ridiculous hours. Half of U.S. full-time workers who participated in a 2014 survey reported working more than 40 hours a week — and some worked 50 hours.
We all have to burn the midnight oil sometimes, but there’s a healthy way to approach it.
According to Natasha Durel, a San Francisco-based life, mindset, and meditation coach, the key to surviving these difficult work sprints is accepting the situation and deciding how to show up for it.
“If it’s a project immensely out of your comfort zone, ask yourself how you can take this opportunity to grow as powerfully as possible,” advises Durel. “How can I show up for myself in a way that may support and even surprise myself?”
She also spoke of the importance of positive self-talk and having a strong internal compass, a sense of purpose that guides us when times are difficult. “It’s a catalyst of navigation that connects us to our heart, values, morals, and current position and goals… from that point, that’s how we begin to move.”
Remember: There’s a fine line between hustling and working so much that you risk your health.
If a supervisor or mentor tells you that you need to always be working so much that it negatively affects your health or relationships, start looking for ways to get out of that situation.
In the side-hustle era, it’s easy to consider turning your passion for piano or that movie blog you do for fun into a way to make money. Don’t succumb to temptation.
Research in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology found a positive association between non-work creative activities and increased performance and creativity in the office.
Don’t think you need blocks of time to pick up something new? Whether it’s art, music, writing, or even collecting things, a leisure hobby will make you happier and healthier.
It’s also an easy way to build social relationships with new friends or even colleagues who have the same interests.
Dedicated hobbies might sound more time-consuming, but they could provide more consistency too. You could knit, draw, or play an instrument for just 10 or 15 minutes each day.
Try scheduling time for yourself to enjoy a creative hobby the way you would an important meeting or deadline. And make that calendar event public. You don’t want anyone interrupting that important time.
Don’t let anyone tell you how it should look or be achieved, though. In the era of Elon Musk, rest isn’t easy, but when you can align your professional decisions to a larger “why,” sorting through difficult times and prioritizing yourself can get easier.
It might seem impossible to find balance in our all-or-nothing culture, but with intentional effort, a bit of planning, and some honest self-evaluation, you can work hard without letting it consume you.
Raj Chander is a digital marketing entrepreneur and freelance writer who covers health, politics, and cannabis. Follow him on Twitter.