As contractors, we’re typically consumed with the need to be the caretakers to both our staff, who rely so much on us for care and guidance, and to our customers, who have entrusted us to take care of them.
But, the commonly heard mantra “The caregiver must take care of themselves if they’re to be of any help to those they give care to” is all too often a nice mantra rarely followed by business owners who are always under pressure to help.
Here are some of the most common ways we fail to provide self care and what to do about it.
We don’t stop for lunch
At best, we resort to dashboard dining. Fast food consumed even faster gets us off to a bad start. We take better care of our vehicles by filling up the tank with the right fuel and providing routine maintenance to make sure the engine gets the tender loving care it deserves.
Even in the office, we’ll order in and eat away while we’re handling the phones, working the computers, texting and more.
Pardon the pun, but it’s all a recipe for disaster. It promotes weight gain, it never allows you to reset your stress coping mechanisms and it wears you down when you make bad nutritional choices.
What should you do? Do what I was taught years ago. Stop every day for lunch even if it’s just for 30 minutes to recharge the batteries and to shake off what’s transpired. Once I engrained this habit, I was always better prepared for the challenges that remained throughout the day.
We don’t take vacations, or we take vacations the wrong way
When was the last time you took a vacation from your business? Maybe never. Maybe you consider a vacation when you go to a training session or seminar. And it can be, but usually not.
Why? Because you know that going on vacation is a ton of work before you go, you’re always being interrupted while you’re away and there’s an even bigger mountain of stuff to do when you get back. Am I right?
But if you never go on vacation you can never reset your head and your body. The point of vacation is to get away and come back recharged and ready to go.
What should you do? Fix your company and get your life back one vacation day at a time.
Step 1: Cross-train people at your company so there is depth when you or anyone else is away.
Step 2: Require a rotation of staff vacations so there is time off taken primarily in your slow season. Today’s calendaring software makes this so easy to do.
Step 3: Lie about when you’re coming back to work. I did. When I came back a “day early” based on my fib, I was able to get back to people over a two-day period. No one was upset that I called a day early. In fact, they were flattered.
Step 4: Schedule your vacations so you get back midweek. It gives you a chance to catch up over the weekend.
We work too many hours and sleep too few
Going without sleep is the nature of pretty much everyone today, but especially for contractors. That’s because we have desktops, laptops, tablets and cell phones to keep us always available and always plugged in.
We work crazy hours all day. We try to catch up on things like billing and more the rest of the time. It’s never-ending. This business was never a 9-to-5 job or even a five-day-a-week job, but now we’re always on.
When we finally crawl off to bed, we’re wired from what has gone on today, our mind is racing on what’s ahead tomorrow and we’re never really sleeping because we’re thinking the phone will ring any minute.
There is never a break and never the chance to enjoy the benefits of restorative sleep.
What should you do? Learn now to take a power nap. It’s a 15- to 30-minute nap. Never longer than that or you’ll mess up your regular sleep. It’s just a chance to unplug and catch up on sleep. You’ll be shocked at how much energy you’ll have once you learn how to do this during your impossibly long workday.
I was skeptical at first when I heard about employees in Japan doing this. But, I had nothing to lose, so I made it a regular part of my workday. I actually used to pull my truck over and leave a business card in the windshield so if someone was suspicious (or, nosy), they’d see it. It was miraculous. It restored my stamina and problem-solving skills because I had greater energy and felt sharper mentally.
Attempt to take a half-hour power nap each day. It is a very effective habit for someone like you who has such a long day. Done correctly, you’ll find you have a lot more energy and improved ability to focus at the end of the day.
This article was originally titled “Take care of yourself first” in the July 2017 print edition of Plumbing & Mechanical.